Confronting violence

The world’s largest and most diverse multi-religious event attempts to transform conflict, build peace and advance sustainable development through the world’s religions working together and forging global partnerships…

KYOTO, JAPAN:  More than 800 senior religious leaders from every region of the world and all major faith traditions have been meeting to reject violence and the “hijacking of religion” at the Religions for Peace World Assembly, in Kyoto.

The participants were called to Japan by their religious convictions, Dr William F. Vendley, Secretary General of Religions for Peace, said in the opening ceremony speech.

“Our religions call us to bear the burdens of the human family. We are here because together we can do more than any one community can do alone.”

The burdens of the human family were known too well to the people gathered, he said.

“Too many of us know too well the blood of war; how it kills, maims and destroys the lives of the innocent. Too many of us know too well the crushing weight of poverty; how it stunts, humiliates and plunders. Too many of us know too well the children orphaned by HIV/AIDS; know how their families are decimated, their schools emptied, their lives shadowed with stigma and shame.

“And yet we gather in hope and as a pledge to action.”

He said the hour was short and that there was a double urgency to be faced: the need to address the burdens was urgent but so too was the obligation for the world religions not to allow themselves to be hijacked.

 “Whenever extremists attempt to hijack religion for violent ends, whenever politicians seek to exploit sectarian differences, and whenever the press mischaracterises our faith traditions, people of faith, religious communities and religious leaders must stand up, speak out and take action,” he said.  “Religious communities are gathering at a critical time because religion has been hijacked by extremists, politicians and the media.”

In his message to the world assembly, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan wrote: “Men and women of faith have an important role to play in the global quest for peace, development and dignity. As teachers and guides, you can be agents of change. As community leaders, you can inspire people to new levels of awareness and public service. And, as you are doing at this event, you can set an example of interfaith dialogue, cooperation and respect.”

He noted there were many forms of violence in the world: armed conflict, poverty, and the devastating human impact of HIV/AIDS.

“By standing together in multi-religious alliances, you are well-placed to be effective agents for peace.  By cooperating within the Religions for Peace networks, your effort is multiplied, and your impact in your communities magnified.”

He concluded: “My predecessor Dag Hammarskjöld once said, ‘The United Nations stands outside necessarily outside all confessions. But it is, nevertheless, an instrument of faith. As such it is inspired by what unites and not by what divides the great religions of the world’. While spiritual and religious practices differ widely, at heart we are dealing in universal values: to be merciful, to be tolerant, to love thy neighbour.

“No tradition can claim a monopoly on such teachings; they are ingrained in the human spirit. They also animate the UN Charter and lie at the root of our global mission of peace. With your help – through prayer and good works – that mission can succeed.”

The Religions for Peace Eighth World Assembly is the world’s largest and most diverse multi-religious assembly. Delegates have come from the Religions for Peace network of more than 70 national and regional affiliated inter-religious councils and groups, and include Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Shinto, Zoroastrian and Indigenous leaders.

Guests have included representatives of governments, development agencies and civil society.  Assembly participants have included:

.HE Mohammad Khatami, former President of Iran;
.Ms Ann Veneman, Executive Director, UNICEF;
.HE Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Prime Minister of Norway;
.HE Cardinal Julio Terrazas, Archbishop of Santa Cruz, Bolivia;
.HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, Moderator, Religions for Peace; and
.Chief Rabbi David Rosen, President, International Jewish Committee for Inter-religious Consultations, Israel.

Among the speakers was Prof. Hans Kung, representing the Global Ethic Foundation, Germany.

Through its assembly theme, Confronting Violence and Advancing Shared Security, Religions for Peace says that cooperation is the key to confronting violence. Religious communities working together can be powerful actors to prevent violence before it erupts; mediate among armed groups in the midst of conflict; and lead their communities to rebuild war-torn societies. Multi-religious efforts are more powerful than the efforts of individual religious communities working alone.  For example, Religions for Peace has actively addressed situations of conflict in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Iraq through multi-religious efforts.

However, it says, religious communities cannot confront violence alone – religious communities are strengthened through partnerships with governments, international organisations, and all sectors of society.

Religious communities must be part of the solution to violence – there can be no security without them. Religious traditions call on people of faith to care for each other and to treat the problems faced by others as their own. Walls can never be high enough to insulate anyone from the needs and vulnerabilities of others.

The Eighth World Assembly of Religions for Peace plans to articulate a new vision of “shared security” based on the common experiences of the world’s religious communities confronting violence. Assembly participants also wish to build partnerships among religious communities and between religious communities and other groups to combat chronic poverty, hunger and disease.

Having brought together religious leaders from zones of conflict – among them Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, the Congo and Sudan – it wants to begin the process of healing by finding common moral ground to end the violence that is taking place in religion’s name. The assembly, for example, planned to provide an opportunity for meaningful discussion of common concerns among Iraqi Shia, Sunni and Christian religious leaders.

In an attempt to harnesses the power of cooperation among the world’s religious communities to transform conflict, build peace, and advance sustainable development, the Religions for Peace Eighth World Assembly has returned to Kyoto, site of the historic first World Assembly in 1970. Since then, Religions for Peace World Assemblies have been held in Louvain, Belgium (1974), Princeton, New Jersey, USA (1979), Nairobi, Kenya (1984), Melbourne, Australia (1989), Rome, Italy (1994) and Amman, Jordan (1999). 

Founded as an international, non-sectarian organisation, Religions for Peace is now the largest coalition of the world’s religious communities.



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