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Religions can help to renew democracies, says Ecumenical Patriarch

10 November 2023


The Eccumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople, attends a vigil prayer in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican, in September

The Eccumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople, attends a vigil prayer in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican, in September

THE Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople, has insisted that religious institutions can help to resolve current world problems by offering “hopes for unity” based on their accumulated historical wisdom.

“The crisis of democracy, increased crime and xenophobia, the weakened sense of citizenship — these are the direct results of a spiritual and ethical regression,” Patriarch Bartholomew said.

“Yet religions have resisted this trend. Having often been marginalised, in part by their failure to adapt, their resistance is now becoming an asset. . . As more and more people turn to them in search of spirituality and hope, religions have the necessary elements to fill the void that has settled in souls. They can contribute to breathing new life into democratic societies.”

Speaking on Sunday at a World Policy Conference in Abu Dhabi, the Patriarch said that the end of the Cold War had released a “wave of hope” around the world, which had been curtailed by financial, environmental, climatic, and energy crises, followed by the pandemic and latest wars.

He said, however, that religion could “inspire significant hopes” in an interregnum between old and new world orders, by countering the “reductionism” forged from an over-reliance on “physical science methods” in human relations.

“Globalisation has unified the world superficially, and today we see strong trends towards fragmentation, as memories of the colonial era resurface, and the Russian invasion in Ukraine and terrible war between Hamas and Israel reveal a growing spiritual gap between the West and global South,” the Patriarch said.

“Most religious networks extend across continents and borders, thus forming a spiritual structure that can attenuate the forces of dissociation and division. . . In a world currently threatened by fragmentation, religions can offer a hope of unity, a role of mediation between economically, politically, and culturally distinct worlds.”

The annual World Policy Conference, founded in 2008 by the French economist Thierry de Montbrial, brings together politicians, diplomats, media, and civil society representatives for a discussion of current global issues, and was also addressed by Muslim and Jewish leaders.

In his speech, Bartholomew said that religious institutions, although declining in the West, were growing elsewhere, and had a greater potential reach in areas such as environmental protection than other international organisations, think tanks, or NGOs.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate had long assisted Christian “coexistence and dialogue” with Judaism and Islam, and said that the “rich experience” of religions should be taken far more seriously by political and social scientists.

“The geopoliticisation of religion confers enormous responsibilities on religious institutions: they cannot ignore popular aspirations for independence and freedom, but they can also play a calming and peacemaking role,” he said.

He continued: “With their teachings, rituals, and social bonds, the centuries-old religious institutions hold a heritage of wisdom that allows them to counter the ravages caused by ideologies of modernity void of historical depth.”

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