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Mutual understanding between religions ‘vital’ in times of turmoil, King says

Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA

By Tony Jones, PA Court Correspondent

The King has said there is a “vital” need for mutual understanding among religions in times of “international turmoil and heartbreaking loss of life” as the violent conflict in Israel continues.

Charles’s comments on religious tolerance came in a state of the nation address, where he praised everything from the positive contribution of immigrants to national values like the British sense of humour.

His landmark speech to the City of London examined the country he has served as head of state for more than a year, highlighting “what it is that makes this nation of ours so special”.

The King praised the public service that underpins institutions supporting the nation in areas like health, security and national defence to learning and industry, taking many “far beyond the call of duty”.

And he spoke about “deep wells” filled with attributes and values, from “civility and tolerance” to “politeness and respect”, “laughter” and “care” for others, which society could draw on.

But he raised questions, from whether evidence of climate change was enough to convince society to make the “sacrifices” needed to safeguard the Earth, to the “digital sphere” where debate too often descends into “rancour and acrimony”.

The King described the nation as living in a “watershed age” and asked whether developments like artificial intelligence would bring “material plenty and leisure” or “consume jobs and other opportunities before capturing and then surpassing our very minds themselves”.

In a lighter moment, the King poked fun at himself commenting on when he had trouble with “frustratingly failing fountain pens” in the days following his accession.

Speaking at Mansion House, where he attended a dinner with the Queen to recognise the work of City of London civic institutions and Livery Companies, the King commented on the “politeness and respect” we should show each other.

He added: “This includes the practice of our religious faiths, in freedom and mutual understanding.

“One of my first acts as sovereign, a little over a year ago, was to open the doors of Buckingham Palace to the leaders of the major faiths represented across these islands; to welcome them, with respect and indeed love, and to re-dedicate my life to protecting the space for faith itself within our shores.

“Such understanding, both at home and overseas, is never more vital than at times of international turmoil and heartbreaking loss of life.”

His comments came as the war of words continued over who was responsible for the explosion at the al Ahli hospital in Gaza on Tuesday night.

Hamas has blamed the strike on Israel, with Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry saying at least 500 people were killed.

But the Israeli military blamed a misfiring rocket from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group and released imagery and communications intercepts aimed at supporting their case.

In his speech, Lord Mayor of London Nicholas Lyons also spoke about the violence in Israel, telling guests at the white-tie event: “Before I begin, I want to reflect, briefly, on the suffering of innocent civilians – particularly children – caught up in the horrific events unfolding in the Middle East. My thoughts and, I’m sure those of all of us here, are with them.”

Charles’s wide-ranging address covered the topic of climate change which, when the Prince of Wales, he raised through many years of campaigning on the issue.

The King said: “After decades of debate, our television screens – or, increasingly, mobile phone screens – confront us each day with the stark realities of climate change.

“But are devastating scenes of communities scarred by fire and flood – not to mention the migration of people fleeing those terrifying phenomena – enough to persuade us to take the action that is needed – to make the sacrifices needed to secure our planet for generations yet unborn?”

When he described the nation as living in a “watershed age”, he added: “For example, will the coming of artificial intelligence bring with it an era of ever-increasing material plenty and leisure?

“Or will it fundamentally change and perhaps even consume jobs and other opportunities before capturing and then surpassing our very minds themselves?”

The King sounded an optimistic note when he asked the gathered guests: “Is our society, with its deep and ancient roots – nurtured and enriched by our welcome of new citizens from the four corners of the globe since the dawn of our history – up to the challenges and ready to meet them, head on?

“I believe so.”

And commenting on the importance of considering both sides of an issue, he asked: “Do we pause, instinctively and unerringly, before speaking or acting to ensure we are affording equal weight to both sides of the balance? Our society would be a kinder and gentler place for it.”

Laughter is an important element of national life, Charles said, telling his audience: “The British sense of humour is world renowned. It is not what we do. It is who we are.

“Our ability to laugh at ourselves is one of our great national characteristics. Just as well, you may say, given some of the vicissitudes I have faced with frustratingly failing fountain pens this past year!”

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