In Diwali message to Hindus, Vatican officials call for mutual respect

By Elise Harris

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With tensions between Christians and Hindu nationalists in India increasingly on the rise, the Vatican sent a message marking the Hindu feast of Diwali, urging members of both religions to go beyond mere tolerance of one another, and to foster a genuine mutual respect.

Diwali is a Hindu festival of lights, and is being celebrated this year on Oct. 19.

“May this festival of lights illumine your minds and lives, bring joy to your hearts and homes, and strengthen your families and communities,” read a greeting to Hindus sent Oct. 16 by the Pontifical Council for Interreligous Dialogue. The message was signed by the council's president, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, and its secretary, Bishop Miguel Ayuso Guixot.

In their message, titled “Christians and Hindus: Beyond Tolerance,” Tauron and  Ayuso acknowledged that there are many good things happening in the world for which to be grateful, but said there are also difficulties that “deeply concern us.”

They said, “the growth of intolerance, spawning violence in many parts of the world,” is one of these challenges.

In India this intolerance has been acutely felt with an increase in violence against minorities in the country, including Christians and Muslims. While there is no state religion in India, nearly 80 percent of its population is Hindu.

“On this occasion,” the Vatican officials wrote, “we wish to reflect on how Christians and Hindus can together foster mutual respect among people – and go beyond tolerance, in order to usher in a more peaceful and harmonious era for every society.”

“Tolerance certainly means being open and patient with others, recognizing their presence in our midst. If we are to work for lasting peace and true harmony, however, tolerance is not enough. What is also needed is genuine respect and appreciation for the diversity of cultures and customs within our communities, which in turn contribute to the health and unity of society as a whole,” the letter read.

They wrote that “to see pluralism and diversity as a threat to unity leads tragically to intolerance and violence.”

“Respect for others is an important antidote to intolerance since it entails authentic appreciation for the human person, and his or her inherent dignity.”

This respect encourages mutual esteem for different social, cultural and religious practices, while at the same time recognizing the inalienable rights of others, “such as the right to life and the right to profess and practice the religion of one’s choice,” they said.

In order for diverse communities to move forward, then, the path must be one “marked by respect,” they said: “While tolerance merely protects the other, respect goes further: it favors peaceful coexistence and harmony for all.”

“Respect creates space for every person, and nurtures within us a sense of 'feeling at home' with others,” and rather than dividing and isolating, “respect allows us to see our differences as a sign of the diversity and richness of the one human family.”

The Vatican officials then urged members of different religious traditions to “go beyond the confines of tolerance by showing respect to all individuals and communities, for everyone desires and deserves to be valued according to his or her innate dignity. This calls for the building of a true culture of respect, one capable of promoting conflict resolution, peace-making and harmonious living.”

“Grounded in our own spiritual traditions and in our shared concern for the unity and welfare of all people, may we Christians and Hindus, together with other believers and people of good will, encourage, in our families and communities, and through our religious teachings and communication media, respect for every person, especially for those in our midst whose cultures and beliefs are different from our own.”

Thus, they concluded, “we will move beyond tolerance to build a society that is harmonious and peaceful, where all are respected and encouraged to contribute to the unity of the human family by making their own unique contribution.”

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