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1. The Cordoba Spirit

During the visit of Pope John Paul II to Damascus, Father Frederic Manns, dean of the Jerusalem Faculty of Biblical Sciences (Studium Biblicum Franciscanum) stated that: “The new Millenium needs the spirit [of Saint Francis] of Assisi, and that of Cordoba. In Cordoba of medieval Spain, faith and reason were unified, allowing remarkable material and spiritual progress. Andalusia was not merely a meeting-point for well-read men and women, for Jews, Muslims and Christians of all countries; therein developed an exceptional perspective rooted in a liberal attitude, and a mind openness excluding sectarianism and religious bigotry. This perspective encouraged cultural and intellectual cross-fertilisation. Islamic culture was not afraid of diversity or self-criticism. Religious dialogue was followed by concrete achievements that changed everyday life.” (*)

Indeed, Andalusian Cordoba (VIIIth to XIIIth century), known as the “Capital of the Spirit”, remains an almost unique model of tolerance, cultural plurality and peaceful cohabitation between the three monotheist religions born from the Abrahamic tradition: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Tolerance and intellectual freedom attracted to Cordoba all kinds of persecuted people from far corners of the earth. Cultural métissage in Cordoba was a fertile ground for the progress of thought, notably in philosophy, and gave rise to a tremendous artistic flowering, particularly in poetry and music. An impressive scientific revolution took place in Cordoba; it covered the fields of mathematics, astronomy, geography, chemistry, agronomy, medicine, and many others. Cordoba was a melting point for a science that considers the human being as an end, a science which does not separate itself from reason, wisdom, or faith, and which questions the ends before seeking the means. The Cordoba spirit gave humanity intellectual monuments such as Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ben Maimon (Maimonides), Ibn Arabi and Alphonso the Wise.

Cordoba became quickly a prodigious metropolis with a population of about a million inhabitants, with more than 100 000 houses, 900 public baths, numerous bookshops and more than 70 libraries. The streets of the city were paved and lighted. The dwellings had balconies and warm air pipes, for winter, beneath the mosaic floor. Manmade fountains and orchards ornamented the gardens.

Cordoba was truly a centre for the diffusion of thoughts and the spreading of knowledge in Europe in the XIIth and XIIIth centuries. It was the relay in Europe for Greek and Eastern cultures, thus saving the Western revival several centuries of efforts. Students from all over Europe came to Cordoba in their quest for science. They then went back home to transmit the knowledge acquired in Cordoba and to build the first universities in all Europe. Cordoba attracted Eastern scholars, researchers and students.

Some historians think that the Renaissance in Europe did not start in Italy in the XVIth century, but in XIIIth century in Spain.

2. The Geneva Spirit

2.1. The Geneva of the Spirit

Starting from the XVIth century, and under the influence of John Calvin’s Reform (1509-1564) who made Geneva the “Protestant Rome”, this city – also known as the “City of the Spirit”, “Citadel of Faith”, “City of the reasonable religion”, “City of Tolerance”, or the “City of Refuge” – turned into a symbol of openness and tolerance, becoming a welcoming place for the persecuted. The emancipated city of Calvin proved quickly to be an intellectual centre shining on the whole of Europe.

In 1929, in his political essay The Geneva Spirit, Robert de Traz wrote: “Deprived of the Absolute, peace is without foundation”. From that time, Geneva stood out as “the heiress of the thought and acts of men who proclaimed to the world the primacy of spiritual values and who embody the Geneva Spirit”, as pointed out a few years ago by State Counsellor Guy-Olivier Segond. Geneva hosts the head offices of several forums for fruitful dialogues between those in quest of the Truth, namely the Ecumenical Council of Churches, founded in 1948 and whose mission is “to promote the advent of one human family in justice and peace”.

2.2. The Geneva of Human Rights

In his book The Geneva Epic: Greatness of the Past and Vision of the Future, Pastor Henry Babel showed how, through the centuries, Geneva always managed to keep focused on the essential, i.e. the human being. In the XVIIIth century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), a citizen of Geneva and the author of the Social Contract, known for his “anthropological et political optimism” must have been fascinated by the attachment of Geneva to the fundamental values of human nature, human dignity and the respect of the citizen, to propose this city as a “Model of Democracy” to the rest of Europe. Geneva still preserves its vocation for human rights, as witnessed by the presence of the head office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and numerous human rights NGOs in the city.

2.3. The Geneva of Peace

In the history of Geneva, many events contributed to labelling this city the “City of Peace”, and to reinforcing its attachment to the primacy of law over power in international relations, and to its preference of negotiation to the use of military force.

First, there was the foundation in 1830 of the Universal Peace Society by Jean-Jacques de Sellon (1782-1839), an event that led subsequently to the foundation of the Society of Nations and the United Nations. The work of Guillaume Henri Dufour (1787-1875), the Alabama Arbitrage Treaty (1872) between the United States and the United Kingdom, the appointment of Geneva after First World War as the head office of the Society of Nations and the Conference on disarmament, and its nomination after Second World War as the Economic and Social capital of the UN System, the regular mediation and negotiation meetings, all these events contributed, and still do, to strengthen the pacifist vocation of Geneva.

2.4. The Geneva of Humanitarian Law

When men fail to make peace, war breaks and leaves in its path destruction and sorrow. In response to situations of violent conflicts, Geneva has developed a “humanism sensitive to misfortune” and has invented a “universal compassion”. The work of Henry Dunant (1828-1910) made of Geneva, called “Home of Humanitarianism” or “Humanitarian Temple”, the cradle of the world humanitarian movement. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols, as well as all the dispositions of international humanitarian law, are so many symbols of hope for distressed men and women, indissociable of the Geneva Spirit.

3. “International Geneva” at the dawn of XXIst century

In a world undergoing increasing tensions and the exacerbation of inter-community conflicts, including the worsening of the Middle-East conflict, and the impact of the tragic events of 11 September 2001, the human family needs badly to hold onto the Geneva Spirit and to find again the Cordoba Spirit.

In response to the threats posed by the logic of confrontation that is increasingly governing international relations, no effort should be spared to promote communication, knowledge of the other, mutual recognition, exchange and sharing, in a climate of authenticity and sincerity.

Almost two and a half centuries after the article published by d’Alembert and Diderot in the Encyclopaedia qualifying Geneva as a “model of reason, wisdom and tolerance”, this city is today, more than ever, faithful to these values. It has undeniably an international vocation and can legitimately claim to be a high place of harmony between cultures and civilisations, a lighthouse which guides human history for the well-being of man.

Geneva, November 2002

(*) http://servus.christusrex.org/www1/ofm/pope2/syria/GPsyr12.html