Sacrilege: religions taken in vain

Although the central theme of all major denominations is the protection of human life, the world is witnessing more and more scenes of religious violence and bickering, as Mankind takes the name of God in vain.

The recent spate of violence between Hindus and Moslems in the Indian state of Gujarat, leaving hundreds dead, is not the only religious conflict around the globe, not to mention the Middle East, where the death toll from the current Intifada has passed the 1,000 mark.

Even between Christians, the relationship is tense. At present, the tension between the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is tangible. The Patriarch of Moscow, Alexis II, is hesitant to allow the Roman Catholic Church to encroach on Russian territory, claiming that the Russian Orthodox Church is by far the most important denomination in the country and that outside interference is not necessary.

The response from Rome was to create four Catholic dioceses in Russia, followed up by a “virtual” visit of the Pope via satellite, which caused a hail of protests.

The same antagonism was evident in Ayodha, where Hindu extremists claim that they will begin to build a temple on the site of a Mosque, beginning next Friday, the Moslem holy day. More clashes are likely.

The Moslems themselves recently tried to build a Mosque beside the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth and only extreme pressure applied by the Vatican on Tel Aviv averted such an outcome.

Even between Moslems, there is unease. In Pakistan, clashes between Sunni and Shi’ite Moslems have caused tens of deaths in the last few months.

In Uganda, the Lord’s Resistance Army has been involved in clashes with government troops, resulting in the death of some 80 LRH members.

And inside the European Union, there is tension in Spain. During the last week, a group of Moslems tried to pray at the site of the cathedral of Cordoba, built by the Roman Catholics on the site of a Mosque (constructed during the Moslem occupation of the Iberian Peninsula from the VII to XV Centuries). The incident set off a furore between Catholics and Moslems in Spain.

Pope John Paul II has tried to instigate measures to bring the denominations together, including joint prayer sessions for the leaders of the world’s main religions. He recently sent to world leaders the document entitled “Decalogue of Assisi for peace”, in which the peace message of Saint Francis of Assisi was evoked.

As the European Union steadies itself to expand eastwards (and later, to Maghreb and Turkey), if religious questions are still a cause of conflict, what is the future when political, social and cultural divisions begin to appear?