Vatican Seeks Collaboration With Buddhists to Protect Environment

Pope Benedict XVI greets a delegation of Buddhist monks in St. Peter's Square on March 1, 2006. (Photo: L’Osservatore Romano)

A Vatican official has reached out to Buddhists on the eve of the Vesakh holiday in an effort to strengthen the two groups' "existing bonds of friendship and collaboration in service to humanity."

In a Monday broadcast on Vatican Radio, Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, extended his "congratulations and heartfelt best wishes for peace and joy" to all observers of Vesakh – a major Buddhist holiday mainly celebrated on May 21 -and asked them to reflect together on the "environmental crisis that has already caused notable hardship and suffering throughout the world."

"The efforts of both of our communities to engage in interreligious dialogue have brought about a new awareness of the social and spiritual importance of our respective religious traditions in this area," Tauran said. "We recognize that we hold in common a regard for values like respect for the nature of all things, contemplation, humility, simplicity, compassion, and generosity."

"These values contribute to a life of nonviolence, equilibrium, and contentment with sufficiency," he added.

Tauran continued saying that the Catholic Church considers environmental protection as "intimately linked" to human development, and declared the church as being "committed not only to promoting the protection of land, water and air as gifts destined for everyone, but also to encouraging others to join the efforts to protect mankind from self-destruction."

"Both Christians and Buddhists have a profound respect for human life," he said. "It is crucial therefore that we encourage efforts to create a sense of ecological responsibility, while at the same time reaffirming our shared convictions about the inviolability of human life at every stage and in every condition, the dignity of the person and the unique mission of the family, where one learns to love one's neighbor and to respect nature."

"May we together promote a healthy relationship between human beings and the environment," he concluded. "By enhancing our efforts to promote ecological consciousness for serenity and peaceful coexistence, we can give witness to a respectful way of life that finds meaning not in having more, but in being more. By sharing the insights and commitments of our respective religious traditions, we can contribute to the well- being of our world."

The Vesakh feast, first instituted in 1950, is the most important holiday in the Buddhist religion, encompassing the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha.

Observers of the holiday, sometimes referred to as "Buddha's birthday," traditionally participate in a special ceremony at dawn and are urged to eat vegetarian meals so as to refrain from any killing.

Thousands of birds, insects and animals are also released during the observance as a symbolic act of liberation.

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