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Alfano: “May the path of dialogue lead us back to Jerusalem” (Avvenire)

The year that is about to end has marked a significant anniversary for Franciscans: their 800-year-long presence in the land of Jesus. This anniversary is the focus of the two-day international conference “Inter-cultural and Inter-religious Dialogue in Promoting Peace: the 800-year presence of Franciscans in the Holy Land”, organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Observatory on Religious Minorities in the World, the Custody of the Holy Land, the Theological Institute of Assisi and the Pontifical University Antonianum. Today, the Auditorium of the Pontifical University Antonianum in Rome will host a conference entitled “From Francis to Pope Francis: Prophecy of a Reconciled World” with speeches by Angelino Aliano and Salvatore Martínez, followed by a discussion panel between Brother Francesco Patton, Franco Cardini, Fausto Bertinotti, lyad Zahalka and David Rosen, moderated by Marco Tarquinio,. The closing remarks will be made by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri.

“Franciscanism in the Holy Land, from the Origins to Contemporaneity. Words and Gestures” is the theme set for tomorrow’s conference in the Papal Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi with a keynote speech by Brother Mauro Gambetti. This will be followed by a panel discussion in the Papal Hall of the Sacred Monastery of Saint Francis of Assisi, with Francesco Patton, Ernesto Galli della Loggia, Brother Giuseppe Buffon and Andrea Maiarelli, moderated by Giovanni Maria Vian. The conference will close in the afternoon.

Dear Editor-in-Chief, while the 5th Crusade was raging, Saint Francis crossed the frontline of war to go meet the Sultan of Egypt, the Saladin’s grandson. Putting his life at risk, Francis showed that the path of dialogue is always possible. The Sultan was impressed by the gesture of the Saint of Assisi and reciprocated, in great respect and esteem, with talks that lasted several days. This was the founding act of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land which, for 800 years, has played a fundamental role in protecting the Holy Places and in promoting inter-religious tolerance and dialogue.  

It is an essential role because religious freedom is a fundamental principle in human coexistence, both in individual relationships and in the relations between communities and consequently between States. It is sufficient to look at the international scenario to see that promoting tolerance and protecting religious freedom are key issues in settling a multitude of conflicts.

It is in this perspective that we have decided to organise an intense two-day event dedicated to the 800th anniversary of the Custody. The event, which is organised at the Farnesina by the Observatory on Religious Minorities in the World and on the Respect of Religious Freedom and by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land and chaired by Professor Salvatore Martínez, will be simultaneously held in Rome and Assisi under the patronage of the Holy See and in conjunction with the four branches of the Franciscan family. The guest of honour at the event is the Custos of the Holy Land, Father Francesco Patton.

The initiative follows up on other activities promoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to reaffirm respect for the freedom of religion and the protection of religious minorities as the priority of Italy’s foreign policy, in addition to being the qualifying elements of our candidacy to the United Nations Human Rights Council. We also support the principle that peaceful coexistence must necessarily be achieved through the guarantee of individual freedoms, starting from religious freedom and the freedom of access to places of worship. This is truer still for the Holy Places of Jerusalem – the Holy City for the three great monotheistic religions – whose status quo has been rooted for centuries in the conscience of those who have inhabited and governed it. And it will have to continue thus also in the future, regardless of the city’s political status. Italy is convinced that negotiation – and certainly not violence – between the parties is the only way of deciding the status of Jerusalem. And we are also convinced that it must be decided between Israelis and Palestinians, in a peace process based on the “two-State” solution.  

This should be done without questioning either the ties of brotherly alliance that we have with the United States or the profound friendship that binds us to the Jewish State and to whose security we have long been committed. It is also by virtue of these ties that we have wanted to put combating antisemitism at the centre of the Italian Presidency of the OSCE in 2018. On this last theme we are planning to organise an international conference at the Farnesina at the end of January.

With this two-day event we do not only intend to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the Custody but also, and above all, to exalt its exemplary contribution to peaceful coexistence, tolerance and respect of religious freedom. Recalling the extraordinary story of Francis’s heroic mission 800 years ago will thus serve to support our foreign policy actions in favour of dialogue, pluralism and peace.