Unity among religious leaders is growing and it is a powerful message of hope in the Arab region, Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders have heard at a Vienna conference on peaceful coexistence and diversity, whilst advocating the necessity of even more dialogue.
The 26-27 February conference was organized by the Vienna-based International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID).
It was held at a time when people seeking to sow discord put religious differences as the cause of societal problems while faith leaders are working harder than ever for unity.
“The unity of purpose between Christians and Muslims on vital issues, such as common citizenship cannot be ignored. Unity among religious leaders is the strongest message of hope the region has seen in many years,” said KAICIID secretary general Faisal Bin Muaammar, opening the conference.
At the end of the conference hundreds of religious leaders jointly affirmed values of social cohesion and peaceful coexistence.
The Vienna-based centre works with representatives of five major world religions, and has implemented programmes in Nigeria, the Central African Republic, the Arab region, Myanmar, and Europe.
It works with a wide range of international partners which include religious institutions, intergovernmental organizations such as the European Commission, United Nations, and civil society.
More than 200 religious leaders, policymakers, academics, and representatives of international and civil society organizations attended the conference.
They included leaders from the Orthodox community, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Muslim World League, Jewish leaders and the Evangelical Church of Egypt.
Titled “Interreligious Dialogue for Peace: Promoting Peaceful Coexistence and Common Citizenship”, the conference coincided with the centre’s fifth year in operation.
“Promoting tolerance, deepening the shared values will keep our religions away from exclusive claims and fundamentalist tendencies.” said Aram I, Keshishian, Catholicos of Cilicia.
‘Spirit of tolerance’
He said, “Only by giving articulation to the spirit of tolerance can we overcome fear and distrust and build a harmonious existence.”
Metropolitan Emmanuel, Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, repeated the words Patriarch Bartholomew had mentioned in his address.
“We must have love, not only to our friends but also to our enemies, which is more difficult. And this is the basis of dialogue that is sincere and continuous. And this is what KAICIID has been doing.”
Rabbi David Rosen, international director of Interreligious Affairs, American Jewish Committee, noted, “Prejudice and bigotry are nurtured by ignorance and alienation. That is why this gathering is so important. That is why sincere interreligious dialogue does promote peace.”
Rev. Mark Poulson, secretary for Inter Religious Affairs to the Archbishop of Canterbury said platforms need to be authentic. “Platforms and the building of them involves preparation and care, and they are only effective if they are locally relevant,” he said.
This was echoed by Dr Kezevino Aram, director of Shanti Ashram, who said: “Those of us who are gathered here are convinced that dialogue must continue, but we must still convince our brothers and sisters of the actual impact of this dialogue. Conflicts have increased, but the desire and the hunger for peace is also expanding.”
Bishop Miguel Ayuso, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, alluded to the hope such meetings can provide.
“The immense movements of refugees and migrants fleeing the horror of war shall find us united in compassion and aware of the urgency to address the present challenges,” said the Roman Catholic bishop.
“How necessary peace and reconciliation are in our days and in our world, so in need of promoting a ‘culture of dialogue’, a ‘culture of inclusivism’ respectful of every human person, so as together to promote a solidarity directed towards the common good.”
KAICIID said that leading representatives of Muslim, Christian, Jewish and other religious communities worldwide “spoke up in one voice for social cohesion, peaceful coexistence and respect for religious diversity”.
Participants conferred on topics such as the role of religious leaders and policymakers in promoting social cohesion and common citizenship, something that is strong on the agenda of religious leaders in the Middle East.
They also discussed global partnerships for dialogue and promoting social cohesion, interreligious education and common citizenship values, and examined social media as a space for dialogue.
The participants included leading figures in interreligious dialogue, experts and policymakers.
Those attending the conference included: Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople; Dr Mohammad bin Abdul Karim Alissa, secretary general, Muslim World League; Dr Abbas Shuman, deputy of Al-Azhar; Theodoros II of Alexandria, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa; Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, chief rabbi of Moscow, Russia, and president of the Conference of European Rabbis; Adama Dieng, the UN secretary-general's special adviser for the Prevention of Genocide; and Ahmad Alhendawi, secretary general of the World Organization of the Scout Movement.
Among others giving support to the mission to promote interreligious and intercultural dialogue were: Dr Michael Linhart, Austria’s secretary-general for Foreign Affairs; Dr Nizar Madani, Saudi Arabia’s state minister for foreign affairs; Belén Alfaro, Spain’s Alliance of Civilization and the Interreligious Dialogue ambassador.