As President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, Francis Cardinal Arinze gave the following message:
It gives me great pleasure to present to you once again my heartfelt greetings on the occasion of Vesakh, the feast which commemorates great events in the life of Gautama Siddhartha Buddha.
This feast of Vesakh offers an opportunity for Christians to visit their Buddhist neighbours and friends to exchange greetings, and this helps to strengthen bonds of friendship that already exist and to create new ones. This annual message thus becomes like a bridge between Buddhists and Christians which is constantly being built and consolidated. I thank God for this and pray, on my part, that the relations between Christians and Buddhists may continue to grow stronger.
In three years time people all over the world will be celebrating the coming of a new millennium. For Christians the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 will commemorate the Birth of Jesus Christ. For us, as Pope John Paul has said, "this time of expectation is a time of reflection, inviting us to make an assessment, as it were, of mankind's journey in the sight of God, the Lord of history." Echoing this call of His Holiness, I would like to invite Buddhists and Christians to set out together on a true pilgrimage of peace. Starting from the concrete situation in which we find ourselves, let us seek peace along the paths of forgiveness by drawing upon the genuine patrimony of our religious traditions.
Time and again the Dhammapada reminds us of Buddha's words which are inspired by the logic of non-violence, compassion and love. He says: Among those who hate, blessed are we who live without hatred; in the midst of people who hate, we remain free from hatred" (Dh. 197); and again, "the winner engenders hatred and the loser dwells in distress; peaceful man rests tranquil abandoning simultaneously both winning and losing" (DH. 201).
Amidst the situations in our world marked by revenge, violent hatred and destructive wars we need to encourage people to ask and grant forgiveness because it is by its nature liberating. "Forgiveness, in its truest and highest form, it is a free act of love. But precisely because it is an act of love, it has its own intrinsic demands: the first of which is respect for the truth... Where lies and falsehood are sown, there suspicion and division flourish... Another essential requisite for forgiveness and reconciliation is justice... There is no contradiction between forgiveness and justice. Forgiveness neither eliminates nor lessens the need for the reparation which justice requires, but seeks to integrate individuals and groups into society, and States into the community of Nations" (Pope John Paul II, Message for the World Day of Peace, 1 January 1997). Could we who belong to the Buddhist and Christian communities not meet more often in order to remind our respective members of the important contribution all are called to make to world peace by becoming people of compassion and forgiveness?
While extending to you, on behalf of the Catholics in the world, cordial wishes of peace and joy, I renew the expression of my friendship.
Francis Cardinal Arinze
President of Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue