Religion Incompatible with Racism, Vatican Aide Tells U.N.

Archbishop Martino Analyzes Conclusions of Durban 2001

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NEW YORK, JAN. 30, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Religion is incompatible with racism, the Vatican told the United Nations this week. At the same time, the Holy See wondered why it is so hard for the international community to address the problem of racism.



Archbishop Renato Martino, the Vatican´s permanent observer at the United Nations, addressed the Committee of the General Assembly on Monday, to evaluate "The Report of the World Conference Against Racism," which was held in Durban, South Africa, last Aug. 31 to Sept. 8.

"True religious belief is absolutely incompatible with a racist attitude and racist practices," the archbishop said, quoting the Holy Father.

The apostolic nuncio affirmed that the interreligious dialogue is critical in promoting peace and understanding, and overcoming divisions.

"In a world in which religion is often exploited as a means to deepen existing political, social or economic divisions, it is encouraging to note the growing number of initiatives, both at the local and on the international level, of dialogue among religions," Archbishop Martino continued.

"Interreligious dialogue, today more than ever, is a vital element in fostering peace and understanding and in overcoming historical divisions and misunderstandings," the archbishop added. "Such dialogue can and should be a strong contribution to the fight against racism."

Turning to the Durban conference, the Vatican representative challenged the countries´ delegations by asking, "Why did the family of nations find it so difficult to address the question of racism?"

The South African U.N. summit was meant to address problems such as xenophobia and intolerance. But representatives of certain Arab countries, particularly Syria, tried to turn the event into a debate on Zionism. They even demanded that Israel be declared a racist state.

On the eve of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Middle East question monopolized the conference´s attention, and some speeches were altogether racist. As a result, the United States and Israel walked out of the conference at the height of the debate.

"In the end, every state came here to Durban attempting to defend its own interests," the head of the Vatican delegation to the conference, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, said in statements published Sept. 9 by ZENIT.

Given the above experience, Archbishop Martino now calls for an "urgent" fight against racism. "It must be explicit and direct," he said.

"Too often in history, uncritical societies have stood by inactive as new signs of racism raised their head," the archbishop said in his latest address at the United Nations. "If we are not alert, hatred and racial intolerance can reappear in any society, no matter how advanced it may consider itself."

The struggle against racism must begin at the level of national legislation and practice, "using the many positive elements of the Durban documents," the Vatican representative affirmed.

"The world conference urged all states to ensure that their legislation expressly and specifically prohibit racial discrimination and provide effective judicial remedies and redress," Archbishop Martino continued.

"Such legislation must address in particular the situation of refugees and migrants, who are often victims of discrimination," he said. "It must address the situation of indigenous peoples. It must address minority groupings."

"Legislation must be accompanied by education," the Vatican representative concluded. "Education on racial tolerance must be a normal part of the educational programs for children at all levels. The family, the basic social unit of society, must be the first school of openness and acceptance of others. Government agencies may never justify racial profiling and the mass media must be alert to avoid any type of stereotyping of persons on a racial basis."