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Religion and Society

Unesco Wonders on the Intercultural Dialogue

Msgr. Follo

Intervention of H.E. Msgr Francesco Follo,


Permanent Observer of the Holy See


At the 180th Session of the Executive Board of UNESCO


Point 4


Report by the Director-General on the execution of the programme adopted by the General Conference


The Basis of Intercultural dialogue,


Referring to the strategic objective of program 10 of the middle-term strategy 34C/4 and the decision 174 EX/46 of the Executive Board


Mr President,




Ladies and Gentlemen,


Recently intercultural dialogue has aroused considerable attention and comments. In this context it seems reasonable to ask two fundamental questions: "How should we understand intercultural dialogue? Why should we engage in it?".


Down through history, cultures and peoples have confronted economic and legal systems, languages, and practices different from their own. The attempts to understand and to learn from diverse culture have culminated in the present phenomenon of globalization. It leads many to ask: "How can a particular cultural identity defend itself from the onslaught of mono-cultural globalization?" Much of the western world embraces an ideology of postmodern multiculturalism, in which all epochs and all cultures are seen to be equal in their dignity and consequently possess the right to preserve themselves autonomously. The absolute affirmation of one's own culture however, and multiculturalism, are essentially flawed. The Church, by engaging in cultural dialogue, proposes to direct attention away from the political conflicts based on national interests, to the philosophical and theological problems that underlie many of these conflicts, in particular to the understanding of the human person and human rights.


Every person is endowed by nature with a special dignity. If we are to promote the individual and the common good of society and culture, this dignity must be respected. The human person possesses a dual dimension, on personal and individual, the other social and cultural. Thus the person has been


described as zoon politikon, which stresses the fact that human beings live together. A proper comprehension of the human person is needed in order to grasp correctly these two aspects. When we accept and understand each other as persons possessing an inherent value that may never be used as a simple means to end, only then do we truly respect each other. In this view of the human person, both individual dignity and social character are mutually respected. If the essence of living together, based on natural right, is respecting the dignity of each person, then we must also respect and protect the uniqueness of particular cultures from the forces of the global market, while supporting the global common good which is essential to every person and every culture.


The success of any cultural dialogue is based on mutual interchange and understanding of ideas concerning the fundamental concept of 'person'. Indeed the dialogue itself, in its respectful openness to others, is based on a genuine conception of 'person'. It necessarily takes into consideration the reciprocal relationship between culture and the human person, not only seeing how culture educates and influences the individual person but also how persons are integrated into particular cultures.


Education has two main aspects. It facilitates assimilation of the values that are fundamental vis-à-vis the common good of society. Education on the other hand promotes the development of the human person through self-knowledge and character formation thus assuring that transcendental basis which is so essential for human social interaction. From the perspective of respecting the dignity of the human person, it is clear that the criteria of efficiency and expediency, often employed in seeking solutions on the level of economics or technology, are severely inadequate. To see persons merely as players in a worldwide marketplace in which things are sold and bought continuously, can have dangerous consequences. Persons are reduced to mere commodities, to objects. This stems from the underlying concept of 'person' which fails to grasp the essential inner dignity of each human being and his or her relation with others, which is rooted in the transcendental foundation of human nature itself. It cannot relate persons with culture and religion.


In this regard, two ideologies, both of which are incapable of offering a proper education of the human person, are secularism and fundamentalism. Secularism treats cultures and religions as private options, and culture and religion remain only in the private sector. Secularism shows that it, in some fashion, accepts the longing of man for personal and transcendental relations and orientations, but it does not accept them as objective truths and values but only as optional goods for sale. But in this way the possibility of culture, which is never merely private, is ultimately destroyed. Fundamentalism, on the other hand, attempts to protect the public character of a culture or religion from other ideas or the forces of the global market. But man's choice of belonging in freedom to a culture or religion is destroyed. In this way, the relation of man to culture and religion becomes determined by forces outside the person.


In conclusion, the Christianity proposes two reflections when reflecting on intercultural dialogue. Firstly, education must be more than simply learning methods and technical skills, it must include the vast fields of culture and religion. Secondly, persons must exercise their free choice and receive an education that disposes them to do so. In particular, it means, that on should have free choice of religion and that one should be free to practice his or her religion in public.


Thank you for listening.