The delegation of Sikhs that recently indicated they will not forsake their kirpaans in order to attend an audience with the Holy Father in April are indicative of the real need for peaceful dialogue and religious understanding. According to Reuters, the kirpaan is a small ceremonial dagger carried to defend the rights of the defenseless. Well perhaps just for the forty-five minutes these religious men are scheduled to meet with the Holy Father they can check their daggers at the door.

While the policy of the Holy See always considers the safety of the Holy Father as the primary concern during international trips, Benedict’s presence in the United States requires a higher security directive, namely the policy of the United States government through the Secret Service.

Personally, as a faithful Catholic I am thankful for the due diligence exercised by the Secret Service in noting the kirpaan as a security issue. If indeed peoples of religious faiths want to explore religious understanding and deeper communications, weapons of any sort cannot be tolerated.

As a diplomatic guest of the United States, the Holy Father relies on the protection of the United States Secret Service while he is on American soil. The host is responsible for any liability that might tarnish or potentially cause United States embarrassment on the papal journey. Expectations of diplomatic protocol should reflect the highest need for papal security, while respecting as far as possible the religious expressions of the visiting Sikhs. One would not anticipate visiting the United Nations, or the White House or any other legislative organization in the world with a concealed, ceremonial or even a rubber weapon of any kind. Benedict’s security should expect the same courtesy from the Sikh representatives.

Precisely the discussion of world peace and unity is the reason that inspired this historic papal initiative. All of the parties involved as religious leaders need to recognize the need to avoid any sense of potential danger to any of the present diplomatic representatives, Pope, Jain, Buddhist, Islamic and Sikhs included. The disdain that is presented by the World Council of Sikhs indicates very clearly the great progress all peoples need to make in order to promote universal religious harmony and tolerance. While the kirpaan represents a ceremonial ritual for the Sikhs, for other representatives present the kirpaan presents a potential instrument of violence. Please for the sake of religious and political harmony check the kirpaans at the door and attend the meeting with open arms of religious faith and trust.

Much credit needs to be given to the delicate understanding of each particular religious sect that will be present in Washington to meet Benedict XVI. There should also be no expectation of any gestures or behavior that will prove equally offensive to any of the other religious representatives present. Religious dialogue requires openness towards trust. Weapons of any nature are contrary to the nurturing of personal and communal trust.

Benedict XVI is taking a significant step in recognizing the call to universal brotherhood and harmony among all of the world’s faiths. All participants in this monumental encounter need to take the same step of faith and trust in each other as they attend the conference without arms of any nature.

Hugh McNichol is a freelance Catholic author. He writes on topics that are uniquely Catholic. He writes daily at http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com

Comments are welcome at hugh.mcnichol@trinettc.com

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