The President has urged leaders of different faiths in Malta to proclaim in a common voice their respect for each other’s religion in a society where hatred for different beliefs and ideals was rearing its ugly head.

“The different faith traditions in Malta coexist happily, but this is not enough. We have to make a powerful statement to expose this unity and show that although we may not always agree, we respect each other, not hurl insults,” she said.

President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca appealed to the leaders of the different Christian groups gathered at San Anton Palace for an ecumenical meal yesterday evening to take a stand against hate speech “as we’re not immune to what is happening in the world around us”.

At the same time as she was making her speech a driver of a truck intentionally ploughed into a crowd at a Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 people and injuring 48; while in Ankara a Turkish policeman, appearing to condemn Russia's military role in Syria, fatally shot Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov during a photo exhibition.

“No church can feel safe in societies where there is hatred and disrespect. This gathering should be the first step towards uniting our efforts and spreading the message that although we’re different, that difference gives us strength. We shouldn’t fear diversity.

“We have to defuse the rampant disrespect on social media. Some act like heroes when they post hateful things, emboldened by the attention they receive. We have to find innovative ways to hasten the process to drive change,” President Coleiro Preca said.

Rev. Kim Hurst, from St Andrew’s Scots Church, welcomed the President’s message but pointed out that unity and respect also had to be shown by the authorities themselves.

“If the government does not recognise us as a Christian church — we receive official post addressed to the St Andrew’s Scots Club — how we can expect the people of Malta to recognise us as a church when we’re not getting that respect from the top,” she asked.

This is the second year that the ecumenical meal is being organised by the President’s Foundation by the Wellbeing of Society, but the first time that a roundtable discussion with the different Christian church leaders was held before dinner. The debate was facilitated by Peter Farrugia, the President’s consultant on interfaith issues.

During the discussion, where the President echoed her strong Republic Day message against hate speech, the Christian leaders highlighted the importance of educating Maltese society about the different religions and the interfaith dimension.

Many of those present highlighted the utter “ignorance” surrounding their different religions that automatically fomented fear.

President Coleiro Preca urged them to work together to reverse this.

“Change is happening, but not rapidly enough.”

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