The World

Building peace: the public presence of religion

The Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome hosted a day of reflection on the role of religion in modern states.

Antonino Piccione-October 28, 2022-Reading time: 7 minutes
day PUSC

Photo: attendees at the conference Building Peace: The Public Presence of Religion.

Religion, whatever it may be, tends to permeate all dimensions of existence, both the most personal aspects and those linked to the political and social sphere. With the effect, among others, of fostering the formation of social groups, among the most relevant components of civil society that help define the identity of a people and influence relations between countries.

Building peace: the public presence of religion is the theme of the Study and Professional Training Day for Journalists promoted by the ISCOM AssociationThe aim is to promote - through seminars and publications - excellence in communication on religion and spirituality in the media, and to promote the understanding of the religious factor in the social context and in public opinion, together with the "Journalism and Religious Traditions" Committee, the working group active at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (PUSC), which includes journalists, academics and representatives of different religious realities.

An opportunity to reflect on the role and function of the different traditions (Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism), with special attention to geopolitics, education, places of worship, legal systems and cultural and political pluralism. With the aim of fostering a fruitful dialogue of peace and freedom.


The Conference - which took place this morning in Rome at the PUSC, with the participation of more than 100 people, including media professionals and experts in the field, and which was introduced by the greetings of Marta Brancatisano (professor of Dual Anthropology and member of the Commission "Journalism and Religious Traditions") and Paola Spadari (Secretary of the National Order of Journalists) - was divided into two parts.

The first, moderated by Giovan Battista Brunori (editor-in-chief of RAI), addressed both the topic of how to build peace: formative paths in sacred texts and religious traditions, as well as that of the teaching of religions in public schools. Principles and applications.

"In the Hebrew scriptures," noted Guido Coen (Union of Italian Jewish Communities), "concrete life choices are the indispensable premises for peace to be bestowed from above. Peace is therefore the result of cooperation between human beings and the Divinity". But do religions favor or hinder peace? "The founding texts of the various traditions - is Coen's answer - contain passages that are problematic: the canons certainly cannot be changed, but what can be changed is the interpretation of those passages. Dialogue between religions is one of the conditions for peace in the world". 

Oriental religions

From the point of view of the Hindu tradition, according to Svamini Shuddhananda Ghiri (Unione Induista Italiana, UII), the theme must be read in the light of the sacred texts. "In the 'sanatana dharma` everything leads to the One: the substratum from which everything arises and to which everything returns. However, manifestation is based on duality, symbolized by the continuous struggle between dharma, order, goodness, and adharma, selfishness. The more one's thoughts, actions and words adhere to the dharma, the more one becomes a "sukrita", "doer of good". 

The realization of "ahimsa" or "shanti", peace, is the guiding thread of the Hindu scriptures, from the Vedas to the higher texts, of which the Bhagavad Gita is the ultimate emblem. Figures such as R. Tagore or Mahatma Gandhi were able to give voice to the non-violence praised by the texts, becoming living models of it. 

On the role and function of the teaching of religion, Antonella Castelnuovo (professor of Linguistic-Cultural Mediation in the Master of Religions and Cultural Mediation at the Sapienza University of Rome) pointed out how "its reappearance in the public space, which often witnesses a return to fideistic values but also the presence of a function of religious identity especially for immigrant subjects, should take into account transversal themes approached in an interdisciplinary way. In this task, disciplines such as anthropology, social sciences and history can make fundamental contributions".

Public schools

Teaching in public schools can be a vehicle of richness for diversity and pluralism, however - was the reflection of Ghita Micieli de Biase (UII) - "it is necessary to avoid the temptation of a mere historical-religious treatment in which the mixture with social and power aspects would run the risk of cloaking creeds in stereotypes. Even the wording of school texts should be approved by the various religious communities to ensure their correct transmission". 

It would also be desirable that educators receive a secular training, guaranteeing objectivity and non-proselytizing, and transmitting the beauty of the various faiths through direct contact with religious communities. "Religions are living matter and so should be proposed to children, not as archaeological relics!".

With particular reference to Italy, the normative evolution of religious education in public schools has represented an element of continuity in its historical development, "configuring a model of secular but open and inclusive public school, where the current normative framework that regulates the matter must be measured against the urgent challenges of our time, such as the growing religious pluralism of Italian society, the process of European integration and that of globalization". This was underlined by Paolo Cavana (Professor of Canon and Ecclesiastical Law, LUMSA).

Public dimension

Among the many manifestations of the public presence of religious traditions, one cannot fail to include and therefore reason about places of worship, in the context of the much broader and more complex issue of religious symbolism and from the perspective of the neutrality (others would say impartiality) of public institutions, with effects on the principle of secularism that underlies our European and Italian legal systems. But with the intention of also looking beyond our cultural, geographical and juridical frontiers. The topic was entrusted to the joint reflection of Ahmad Ejaz (Islamic Center of Italy), Marco Mattiuzzo (UII) and Giovanni Doria (Professor of Private Law at the University Tor Vergata). 

Emphasizing that Islam and its adherents have always been in the public sphere since its inception, Ejaz recalled the peculiar nature of the Muslim tradition, according to which "Islam is not a religion but a Din, that is, the code of life. I was born in Pakistan into a Sunni Muslim family that understood the importance of Islamic laws, the centrality of the individual in the umma (the Islamic community), the extended family and the difference between the private and the public. Islam and coexistence with other religions, the mosaic of cultures and languages in the Islamic world. Our relationship with nature and the concept of the afterlife".

In an increasingly pluralistic society, "the State," according to Mattiuzzo, "has the burden and the honor of fostering the life of religions and their mutual integration in order to avoid ghettoization processes. The ideal crossroads for this encounter is the place of worship. A space where the faithful perform a service for the common good of the community, where they act for the social inclusion of the most fragile, to help and support each other spiritually and materially. To approach and overcome the innate fear of the other, knowledge is absolutely necessary".


Within the framework of the principle of secularism, which postulates the equal co-presence, even symbolic or external, of every religious belief, ethical orientation or agnostic conviction (when it is concretely co-present in a given social community and as long as it is in line with its fundamental ethical-legal values), Doria also brought "the presence of the crucifix in a classroom (or other public place). A crucifix that also represents absolutely fundamental human values for society: the love of those who gave their lives for others, the sacrifice to serve and love, freedom and justice. Values that, from a properly human and social aspect, are undeniably shared by all".

The last session of the Conference was dedicated to the legal systems themselves: do "Shastra", "Halacha", "Sharia" and Canon Law represent instruments of positive law to protect religious freedom or obstacles to pluralism? "Halacha", pointed out Marco Cassuto Morselli (President of the Federation of Jewish-Christian Friendships of Italy), "includes the entire Jewish legal system, whose sources are, first of all, the written Torah (the Pentateuch), then the Neviim (the writings of the prophets) and the Ketuvim (the hagiographers), and the oral Torah, i.e. the Talmud and the Kabbalah". Is Halacha an obstacle to pluralism and religious freedom? To answer this question, I take up the thought of two rabbis who are also philosophers: Rav Elia Benamozegh (Livorno 1823-1900) and Rav Jonathan Sacks (London 1948-2020). Both emphasize that both a particularistic and a universalistic dimension are present in the Torah.


Indian law is one of the most complex systems for understanding the evolution of law in general, at least from a comparative perspective. Starting from this premise, Svamini Hamsananda Ghiri (Vice-President of the Unione Hinduista Italiana) stated that "the law is a multifaceted graft whose purpose is, yes, the good coexistence between social partners, but it is also an instrument to ensure the ultimate purpose of life. Hence in law, strictly speaking, heterogeneous levels converge, from the theological to the priestly, passing through family structures, political institutions, etc.". 

What then is the origin and purpose of Indian law? "The principle is the 'dharma`, the code, the norm, which in addition to indicating the code of conduct is itself the path and the goal. The force of the legality that binds the individual is the moral authority of 'dharma` interposed at the same time to the eternal law that maintains the equilibrium of the universe (sanātana-dharma), to the civil law for the common good, 'loka-kshema`, and to the life of each individual, 'sva-dharma`. Therefore, the authority of 'dharma`, as the law governing society, is directly related to the universal order. If illumined by the light of 'dharma`, law, at least in its ideal aspirations, can never be an obstacle to the freedom of others, but will become a storehouse of wealth and harmony for good and peaceful coexistence`.

Canon Law

Finally, with reference to Canon Law, Costantino-M. Fabris (Professor of Canon Law at the University of Roma Tre) clarified that "the Church protects the right to religious freedom in a double dimension: external and internal. In the first, it asks the States to guarantee to all men the right to freely profess their faith. From another perspective, canon law protects, through a system of rights and duties, the correct development of the Christian life of the baptized in view of the salus animarum, the ultimate goal of the Church, thus becoming a positive instrument of protection for those who profess to be Catholics".

The breadth and depth of the reflections offered by each of the protagonists of the October 26 initiative encouraged the organizers to continue in the coming weeks with the publication of the proceedings, with the intention of offering a new contribution to the debate on the subject of Religion, in continuity with the volume "Freedom of expression, right to satire and protection of religious sentiment", fruit of the Study and Formation Day of February 26, 2021. Starting from the conviction that religious sentiment, expression of the most intimate spiritual and moral dimension of man, and corollary of the constitutional right to religious freedom, integrates the just claim of the believer to the protection of his dignity.

And in the spirit of the Appeal "Follow the path of peace" launched yesterday, October 25, jointly by the International Olympic Committee with the Dicasteries for Culture and Education, for the Laity, the Family and Life and for the Service of Integral Human Development. The invitation to the leaders of the earth "to promote dialogue, understanding and fraternity among peoples and to defend the dignity of every man, woman and child, especially the poor, the marginalized and those who suffer the violence of war and armed conflict. God wills peace and the unity of our human family".

The authorAntonino Piccione

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