Monsignor Janusz S. Urbańczyk, the Permanent Representative of the Holy See to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has warned that law enforcement and security measures alone are not enough to combat radicalisation and terrorism, but that a “culture of encounter” is also needed.

In an OSCE videconference on terrorism organised by Albania, the OSCE president for 2020, Urbańczyk reiterated that “the Holy See firmly and unequivocally condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations”.

“No ideological, political, philosophical, racial, ethnic or religious motive can justify or excuse resorting to terrorism”, the Holy See diplomat insisted in a session on “International Co-operation in Addressing Terrorism and Violent Extremism and Radicalization that Lead to Terrorism”.

Decrying that terrorist acts not only “violate human dignity, human rights and international humanitarian law” but also “endanger the stability and cohesion of society, jeopardize human development and threaten international peace and security”, the Vatican permanent representative explained that “we should recognize that terrorism and extremism are a widespread threat from which no one is excluded and so we all must respond”.

“It is thus indispensable to adopt effective measures to prevent the radicalization and self-radicalization of… youth as well as the recruiting, training and financing of potential terrorists”, Urbańczyk clamoured.

“A lasting response” to terrorism “cannot consist solely in law enforcement or security measures”, the Vatican diplomat went on to say.

“To prevent radicalization and extremism, we must nurture a culture of encounter that fosters mutual respect and promotes dialogue, which leads to peaceful and inclusive societies”, he insisted.

Urbańczyk stressed the importance of “local governments and grassroots organizations” in counter-terrorism efforts, along with respect for the right to assembly and freedom of speech among youth, since both of those liberties channel “through democratic processes” the grievances of youths otherwise at risk of radicalization, “thus dampening any impulses towards violence”.

“On its part, the Holy See actively engages with leaders of other religions and their faith communities to prevent extremism and violence by fostering sincere interreligious and intercultural dialogue and fruitful co-operation”, Urbańczyk concluded his speech at the session on international cooperation in counter-terrorism efforts.

In a second session on “Building a Broader Community Network to Support the Prevention of Violent Extremism and Radicalization that Lead to Terrorism”, Urbańczyk returned to the theme of interfaith cooperation for peace, explaining that “tolerance and inclusivity are achieved through a robust promotion of the right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief”.

“A positive and respectful distinction between the political sphere and that of religion must be fostered to preserve both the religious freedom of all persons and the irreplaceable role of religion in the formation of consciences and the creation of a basic ethical consensus in society”, the Vatican diplomat argued.

“At the same time, it is of paramount importance that religious leaders of all faiths reject the distortion and manipulation of religion”, Urbańczyk stressed, recalling the efforts towards that end of Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Egypt, Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, in their 2019 document on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together”.

In a final session at the OSCE – on “Enhancing Public-Private Partnerships to Restrict Logistical and Financial Support to Terrorists, and Protect Vulnerable Targets” – Urbańczyk denounced that terrorist attacks on places of worship are “particularly heinous”.

“Havens of peace and serenity quickly become execution chambers, as defenceless children, men, and women lost their lives simply for coming together to practice their religion”, the Holy See representative decried.

Deploring that politicians and media still too frequently ignore attacks against Christians, specifically, or use “novel euphemisms to avoid mentioning the specifically anti-Christian nature of the violence”, Urbańczyk called for specific measures on the part of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to raise awareness about and prevent anti-Christian persecution.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.