Palermo, Italy — His Holiness the Dalai Lama continued his European tour in Palermo, Italy, meeting with the press and public of the region, lauding their efforts at helping displaced people, saying, "your efforts reflect the fact that we all depend on others to survive. Providing shelter and facilities is one thing, what needs to be done next is for peace and development to be restored in the countries these people have fled. I believe that if the 21st century is to become an era of peace, we have to employ dialogue to resolve conflicts and problems.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama first met with the media on the morning of September 18th, accompanied by the Mayor of Palermo, Prof Lealuca Orlando.
Mayor Lealuca Orlando recalled that His Holiness last visited Palermo in 1996. Since then a huge increase in the number of refugees and displaced people arriving in Sicily has prompted him to launch his Charter of Palermo. He said, “No one can let children, women and men die in deserts or at sea for the sole reason they are born poor or in countries at war. Solidarity between individuals is an essential value for everyone who wants to continue to belong to humanity. We need to show them compassion."
His Holiness recognised that the way migrants and refugees have been accepted by European countries has demonstrated compassion in action. “We should help them now in their desperation,” he clarified. “But, eventually they will want to return to their own lands. This is what we Tibetans have always had in mind. First of all we must see peace and development restored in the countries refugees have fled, but in the long run it is natural to want to live in the land where you were born.
“I believe there may be a role in restoring peace for NGOs or smaller nations or communities who can reach out to protagonists of conflict and establish trust.”
Mayor Orlando also welcomed His Holiness to the renowned Massimo Theatre, where 1400 people were gathered. His Holiness was then granted honorary citizenship by the Mayors of Isola delle Femmine and Ventimiglia di Sicilia—both of them towns in Palermo. The medal of the award features the three animals of Federico of Svevia that symbolize the city: the faithful dog, the prudent snake and the magnificent eagle—characteristics reflected in love for the city.
His Holiness addressed the audience: “Respected brothers and sisters, I’m extremely happy to be here once again, able to share my thoughts and experiences with you.
“We are equipped with the seed of warm-heartedness from birth, but as we grow up, not much is done to cultivate it. Our religious traditions used to take care of this, but their influence seems in decline as 1 billion people declare they have no faith. In some quarters, warm-heartedness is regarded as a sign of weakness, while self-centredness is regarded as strong—the opposite is true. What we need to do is combine warm-heartedness with our brilliant human intelligence.
“I admire what you’ve been doing here to help and shelter displaced people. Your efforts reflect the fact that we all depend on others to survive. Providing shelter and facilities is one thing, what needs to be done next is for peace and development to be restored in the countries these people have fled. I believe that if the 21st century is to become an era of peace, we have to employ dialogue to resolve conflicts and problems.”
A Palermo University Professor wanted to know what advice His Holiness has for young people confused about the future. He reiterated the need for them to be better-informed, something the media have responsibility for. He noted that in democratic societies the real leaders are the people, not a few politicians. Therefore, young people would be better to disregard sensationalist stories in favour of positive reports like the scientific assertion that basic human nature is compassionate.
As the event concluded, the Mayor offered his thanks and presented His Holiness with several gifts including a bodhi tree that is to be planted in the Palermo University’s botanical garden, local olive oil, a large loaf of bread, an amethyst rosary, and bottle of blessed water from the cave of Saint Rosalia, one of the patron saints of Sicily.
Finally, seeing a Tibetan flag being held aloft in the crowd, he remarked that these days hardliners in the Chinese Communist Party regard the flag as a mark of dissent. However, His Holiness recalled Chairman Mao asking him in 1955 whether Tibetans had their own flag and when, after some hesitation, he told him they did, Mao voiced his approval and advised them to fly it alongside the Red Flag. Consequently, His Holiness declared, he feels Chairman Mao gave him permission to display the Snow Lion flag of Tibet.
After lunch, His Holiness departed for Florence, where tomorrow he will take part in an inter-religious meeting and give a talk on ‘Peace Through Education.’