The President of Malta

Speech by HE George Vella, President of Malta for the first inter-faith round table, held at the Palace, Sant’Anton.

Dear friends

Peace be with you all

It is indeed a great pleasure to host you here today and together reaffirm our strong belief in dialogue, mutual understanding and cooperation.

I am confident that you vividly recall contents of the Malta Interfaith Harmony Declaration signed earlier this year. I agree with your spirit of cooperation, friendship and togetherness. In fact, I join my predecessor in underlining the centrality of recognizing that despite the many cultural and religious differences, we are united by love and have one shared goal: the fulfilment of peace.

The upcoming year should be one of enhanced dialogue and cooperation. I am very eager to listen to you and to learn from your daily encounters with the community. Only recently, I was invited to speak at an inter-faith and inter-cultural conference organised by MCAST students. I was impressed by the various traditions, customs and beliefs. In fact the school hosts 70 different nationalities and creates an excellent platform of acceptance and peace. What impressed me was the atmosphere of opennes, acceptance and acknowledgment of the differences, but at the same time of the fact that ultimately whatever our beliefs or lack of them, we all aspire to achieve the basic instincts for living peacefully, enjoying respect and sharing a sense of commonality amongst us.

It is only when instead of accepting the ‘other’ we start questioning whose beliefs are better or wiser; when we start questioning whether there should be first class believers, second class believers or third class believers, or whether there should be a place for atheists, agnostics, or any other form of belief or non belief.

My interest as Head of State is not to angage in an exercise of comparitive analysis of beliefs and religions. My interest is to ensure primarily that the right of religious freedom remains untouched. Even the Catholic Church today is (through the International Theology Commission and its sub- committees on Religious freedom) emphasising the fact that religious freedom is ahuman right, going as far a proclaiming that it should be the mission of the church to ensure religious freedom.

This acceptance underlines peace and tolerance in a multucultural society. It underlines peace and harmony in societies that are no longer homogeneous but are changing on a daily basis to multi- ethnicity and religious pluralism.

Malta at the centre of the Mediterranean has always been exposed to such scenarios. Centuries ago we were already experiencing harmonious livig with the country sustaining the Christian, Muslim and Jewish Communities.

I strongly believe that inter-community tension does not primarily originate from differences in religious scripture, but is more a reflection of competing resources and inequality. It is therefore important that we continue to speak about unifying elements of acceptance and peace whilst addressing grieviences and challenges expressed by your respective communities.

I therefore invite you to keep a close relationship with my office and myself. I look forward to mantain an open dialogue with you all and continue strengthen this amicable network of inter-faith partners.

I would like to now invite you to share with me your observations and prospects for the coming months.

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