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Education the key to dispelling violence

CAIRO (SE): Pope Francis began his epic and much publicised visit to Egypt on April 28 by stressing that one of the prime obligations of a religious leader is to denounce violations of human rights and expose attempts to justify hatred in the name of God, in speaking to an International Peace Conference hosted by the seat of Islamic wisdom in Cairo, the Al-Azhar University.

Arguably the main event of his two-day visit, it was the first appointment on the agenda after a courtesy call to the president of the country, Abdel-Fattah Al Sisi.

It was also significant as the Vatican has had a long relationship with the university, as although they have had periods in abeyance, it has held high a level annual dialogue with its scholars over a longish period of time, with gatherings alternately hosted by Cairo and Rome.

The pope praised the value of the regular gatherings, saying the work of the Mixed Committee for Dialogue from the Catholic and Islamic faiths have taught people from both sides the value of respect for self-identity, as well as the identity of others, which if approached with sincere intentions, breed the courage to accept each other’s differences.

He stressed that in true dialogue, both acceptance and appreciation are necessary, as any ambiguity or willingness to sacrifice a value in order to please the other spells the end of the necessary belief that the other is acting in the genuine conviction of doing good.

Pope Francis then pointed out that if such a relationship cannot be reached there is the grave danger that civility will give way to the incivility of conflict, which results in the disruption of the peace in society.

In addressing the peace conference, Pope Francis spoke of the rich cultural heritage that Egypt holds, saying that its ancient advances in mathematics and astronomy, as well as architecture and figurative art were the product of its dedication to education and the creativity of its systemic approach to it.

“The quest for knowledge and the value placed on education were the result of conscious decisions on the part of the ancient inhabitants of this land and were to bear much fruit for the future,” Pope Francis told the prestigious gathering at the university-sponsored peace conference.

“Similar decisions are needed for our own future, decisions of peace and for peace, for there will be no peace without the proper education of coming generations. Nor can young people today be properly educated unless the training they receive corresponds to the nature of man as an open and relational being,” he continued.

He described education as being a process of drawing out of men and women the very best in themselves and encouraging a sense of identity that is not self-centred or closed in on itself.

In saying that authentic education breeds a wisdom that is not rigid and not closed off to new information, he said, “It is open and in motion, at once humble and inquisitive; it is able to value the past and set it in dialogue with the present… in which people do not attempt to push their own agenda, but rather to include others as an integral part of themselves.”

In stark contrast, he then quoted the commandment, “You shall not kill,” as a negation of wisdom, which religious leaders are also called to unmask and show up the selfishness masquerading as sanctity.

He called this the vocation of all believers, whether Christian, Muslim or whatever, as each one is called to offer their own specific contribution, as we all live under the sun of the one merciful God.

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