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Conference of the World Council of Religious Leaders

Religions for Peace in partnership with Ring for Peace and the generous support of the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, convened the hybrid Conference on Faith and Diplomacy from 4-7 October 2021 in Lindau, Germany.
We were pleased to welcome 130 participants in person in Lindau and up to 1700 participants virtually.

To share the outcomes and the inspiring spirit of the Conference, we are excited to welcome you on this platform that is guiding you through the different sessions and elements of the Conference programme.

We hope you will enjoy this journey exploring the work of multi-religious collaboration between generations in the context of Faith and Diplomacy.




 





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For the third year in a row, members of the World Council, Women of Faith, interfaith Youth Leaders, Diplomats and representatives from Civil Society, Governments, multilateral Organizations, religious institutions and academia met in Lindau to deliberate shared concerns and discuss issues of global relevance on PEACE and SECURITY, ENVIRONMENTALISM and HUMANITARIANISM.

Building upon the successful 10th World Assembly of Religions for Peace and the 1st Assembly on Women, Faith & Diplomacy: Keeping Faith, Transforming Tomorrow, this year's Conference theme focused on Generations in Dialogue.

While youth leadership itself is not a new or emerging phenomenon, this convening aimed to highlight intergenerational dialogue as a means to strengthen and engage youth leadership and diplomacy, within and beyond religious institutions.




 


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Jayathma Wickramanayake, United Nations Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth

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Four out of five Germans do not consider the world to be just. Religions are seen by twelve percent of Germans as institutions with a positive contribution to a more just world.

Young people in particular perceive this role of religion more positively (12 percent of all respondents/ 16 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds).

In addition, a majority of Germans (57 percent) think that religions should do more to improve access for poorer countries to sufficient vaccine against COVID-19.

Also, 60 percent of Germans wish for religions to cooperate more.

These are some main findings of the "Faith - Sustainability - Justice" study, which examines Germans' attitudes on issues of sustainability and global justice.

The study was conducted by the opinion research institute YouGov on behalf of the Peace Dialogue Foundation. For this purpose, 2074 Germans aged 18 and over were surveyed. The occasion was the Conference of the World Council of Religious Leaders on Faith and Diplomacy.

In this video, Christian Rapp from the Communications Team of Ring for Peace, explains the study in detail.



 

 

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The Conference of the World Council of Religious Leaders on Faith and Diplomacy: Generations in Dialogue received a high level of media attention. Here, you can find out more about the coverage.
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Muslims, Buddhists and Jews hand in hand on a stage, Christians, Sikhs and Taoists praying together in front of the Ring for Peace, a wooden ring established as symbol of peace in Lindau, and indigenous leaders, Baha'i and Hindus dining together on the marketplace in between the two churches jointly with local community of Lindau. These images went around the world in August 2019, when religious leaders met in Lindau, Germany to advance multi-religious actions towards building just, peaceful and harmonious societies.

As the Conference concluded, journalists kept asking "And now what?"

Anyone who wants an answer to what results the Conferences in 2019 and 2020 produced, needs to understand the unique nature of these international multi-religious gatherings. Listening to voices representing diverse faith traditions, ages, gender and regions and enabling participation in face-to face gatherings to exchange ideas, thoughts and perspectives can have a more lasting effect towards building peace than a signed treaty.

The publication "10+1" is a documentary review, capturing the two Conferences in 2019 and 2020 on 187 pages, published by the Lindau-based Foundation for Peace Dialogue of World Religions and Civil Society (Ring for Peace) and Religions for Peace of New York.

* You can order a printed copy of the book documentation "10+1" or also download a digital copy by following this link:

ringforpeace.org/10plus1




 





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Information pursuant to § 5 TMG:
Foundation Peace Dialogue of the World Religions and Civil Society SdbR | Neugasse 2 | 88131 Lindau, Germany
www.ringforpeace.org

Represented by the Executive Board:
Board: Prof. em. Dr.h.c. Wolfgang Schürer
Managing Director: Ulrich Schneider

In cooperation with Religions for Peace International

Authors: Katharina Kötke, Sarah van Bentum, Gunnar Kötke, Michael Scheyer
Images: Christian Flemming, Michael Scheyer
Interviews: Alexander Görlach, Michael Scheyer
Music: Maestra Zhang Zhang

© 2021 Ring for Peace




 



 


 

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Statement of World Council of Religious Leaders

The World Council of Religions for Peace is its governing body and consists of 61 religious leaders (men and women) representing diverse religious institutions, faith communities, from all regions of the world, who were elected in August 2019 during the 10th World Assembly of Religions for Peace in Lindau.

Returning to the same location, the World Council held its first hybrid meeting with in-person and virtual attendance since December 2019 in New York, on 4 October to kick off the Conference on Faith and Diplomacy: Generations in Dialogue.

"Never before religions around the world have worked so closely together as is currently the case," emphasized Chief Rabbi David Rosen, a member of the World Council and International Director of the Department of Interreligious Affairs at the American Jewish Committee. "And we also have a responsibility to work together to protect our homeland, to improve the well-being of humanity and to create a better world for all," he continues.

The World Council meeting serves as a space to discuss and decide on matters of interest and relevance for the global organization Religions for Peace. In a time of global crisis, ongoing conflicts, violations of human rights and an ongoing pandemic that encompasses everything, the World Council united their multi-religious voices to adopt and publish a Global Pledge by World’s Religious Leaders on Faith and Diplomacy: Generations in Common Action for Peace on the occasion of the Conference in Lindau.




 
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Lindau, October 2021

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We, as Religions for Peace World Council, the governing board of Religions for Peace, representing diverse faith traditions and institutions across the globe, stand together on this day to respond to multiple global pandemics, posing existential threats to our common humanity. The Conference of the World Council of Religious Leaders on Faith and Diplomacy: Generations in Dialogue, co-organised by Religions for Peace and the Foundation Peace Dialogue of the World Religions and Civil Society (Ring for Peace) with the support of the German Federal Foreign Office, is convened to assess and scale up our responses to the combined challenges of peace and security, humanitarian crisis and environmental degradation.

Our Conference is built upon the successful convening of 900 religious leaders and delegates at the Religion for Peace 10th World Assembly in 2019 and the thousands of virtual participants at the Assembly on Women, Faith, and Diplomacy in 2020.

We are united in our profound sense of responsibility and shared recognition of multiple and interrelated realities of global pandemics. Our human family is confronted with conflict and violence (from gender-based violence, to religiously coated political violence, to structural violence with manifestations of injustice from local to global); the environmental crisis of unsustainable economic and developmental patterns, threatening our air, food, livelihoods and very planetary existence; the forced displacement crisis; and the COVID pandemic with its challenges of global inequality in our access to vaccines and treatments.

In order to respond to these multiple pandemics, we acknowledge that we must intensify our efforts to forge unprecedented global multi-stakeholder and intergenerational partnerships among the world’s religious communities and their institutions, governmental and inter-governmental organizations, and the community of diplomats, worldwide.

Peacebuilding

Peacebuilding reflects the core of what diplomacy aims to achieve and relates to Religions for Peace’s 50-year legacy of transforming violent conflict, building peace and advancing human development. We pay tribute to those Religions for Peace Interreligious Councils (IRCs) serving as mediators of conflicts and sustainers’ of shared wellbeing for their communities. Interreligious Councils have engaged in dialogue with policymakers, enhanced constructive and more systematic collaborative engagements at national, regional and international levels, served governmental and civil-society led peace processes, national dialogues, and truth and reconciliation processes.

As we continue to strengthen collaboration amongst ourselves as faith leaders, we are ready to support seasoned diplomacy, and strengthen the accountability of our institutions. We not only pay tribute to youth-led initiatives and experiences, but we are determined to integrate the voices and experiences of youth into our engagements in and for peace processes.

Environment and Humanitarian

Work Our diverse faith traditions recognize the dynamic inter-relationship and co-dependency between all forms of life. We commit to nurturing a sustainable environment for all living species. We recommit ourselves to the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative (IRI), Faiths for Earth, among others, which harness the commitment, influence and moral authority of our faiths to protect the world’s natural resources and to highlight the example and rights of Indigenous Peoples in protecting the earth and environment.

The devastating humanitarian crisis resulting from the global COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on both the vulnerability and agency of youth actors. With their proficiency in technology and communication, and with creativity and innovation, utilizing all forms of media, we have witnessed how our youth have reached out to and connected to serve isolated and vulnerable communities. We are committed to continuing to support interfaith youth-led initiatives, including through the unique mechanism we created together, of the Multi Religious Humanitarian Fund (MRHF), which builds resilience through active social cohesion.

We, members of the World Council, representing diverse faith traditions and institutions, further pledge to:

  • affirm our roles as peace seekers, peace makers, and peace builders. Our institutions are the original diplomatic establishments, and our strength is proportionate to how we advance the peace between and amongst each of us and our believers. Not in our name should any violence, sexual, physical, verbal, armed or otherwise, for whatever purpose, be perpetrated in the name of any of our faith traditions;
  • acknowledge our roles as guardians of faith and defenders of freedom of thought, conscience and belief - not only our own, but of and for all faiths. Not in our name should anyone be discriminated against because of race, colour, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion or any other feature;
  • commit to welcoming refugees, stateless and internally displaced people. Not in our name should any nation or institution shut its doors, or its borders, or block access to its resources, or subject violence to those forcibly displaced from their homes – regardless of their reasons;
  • advance global multi-stakeholder partnership for integral human development in harmony with nature. Not in our name should anyone degrade the health of our environment, or ignore the impact of our daily actions on our shared environment – air, water, land and all who live on it, within it, for it;
  • lead and encourage in global and national advocacy for vaccine equality and effective global response to pandemics based upon science. Not in our name should any leader urge against a vaccine that is scientifically proven to help save lives; and
  • invite all diplomats and policymakers to work with us as we commit together to realizing the powerful transformative changes for the common good, and to do so intergenerationally.

The time for us to serve, together, is now.







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Chief Rabbi David Rosen, Co-President Religions for Peace

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Before the conference, Ring for Peace published interviews on the internet and in its newsletter to make people interested in the conference. Here are some of them:
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Interview Philbert Aganyo

What makes a person young and what makes a person old, Philbert Aganyo?

Philbert Aganyo is a Youth Empowerment Advocate and Mentor who supports youth self-awareness, preparedness, and inclusion at key policy and decision-making levels of society.
Philbert Aganyo is a Youth Empowerment Advocate and Mentor who supports youth self-awareness, preparedness, and inclusion at key policy and decision-making levels of society.
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Philbert Aganyo from Kenya is the team leader from Religions for Peace’s Youth Media Team. But considering his age, one might say es is not that young any more? But is age the crucial factor for leadership? Learn what he thinks about the difference between age and youth. An interview by Michael Scheyer.




Scheyer: Dear Mr. Aganyo, how old are you?

Aganyo: I turned 35 years old.

Scheyer: Concerning “young generations”: Do you consider yourself being young?

Aganyo: Yes. I believe I am a young generation because of two things; the last 10 years have been the decade of learning for me. Both academic and professional development. I have also been privileged to go on a journey of self-discovery, I have experienced working with youth and exercised youth leadership. Thus I believe age is and can never be the limit for being young.

Scheyer: At what age – do you think – someone cannot be considered “young” anymore? And why?

Aganyo: When one stops to support the growth and development of the youth, and the passion with which they do that work ceases, then and only then can such a person be considered not young anymore. Being young is a unique tribal identity that transcends age.

Scheyer: Do you think, the actual age and the categories of young and old are connected with each other? (Is a twenty-year-old automatically “young” and a 60-year-old automatically “old”?)

Aganyo: Well, like I have mentioned before, first, I agree that the confines of age, the numbers that count, automatically set those definitions. But that’s all they are – definitions. So whereas a 20-year-old would automatically be young and a 60-year-old be automatically old, in my view I feel that both these categories can make choices to either be young or old irrespective of their ages.

Scheyer: You are a team leader. When people think of leadership, they often wish leaders to be “experienced”. That implies that young people – without centuries of experience – should not be leaders? What do you think: Is experience that important to leadership or are there other factors, that make a good leader as well?

Aganyo: The classical definition of being a leader puts experience at the center as a core requirement, and I don’t dispute this fact because I know just how much can be at stake where experienced decision-making is needed. But again, the World is not static. It is dynamic, it is in a forward motion. A lot is changing in terms of how we view leaders. Experience too has been proven to be not the only determinant of good leadership. With all these considerations, I strongly believe that the space for learning on the job is fast becoming an integral principle of 21st century leadership. Numerous young leaders have become even better leaders because they have been allowed to first, step up and unleash their leadership potentials, that wouldn’t have otherwise been noticed, and then secondly, given the latitude to explore the possibilities of leading on the go. In conclusion, experience is not all that is required to be a great leader, other factors like passion, and willingness to learn rank top of the list.

Scheyer: The young generations are raising their voice right now. There is a global movement on environmental matters and their voices are being heard. But do you think, being loud and being heard is enough? What is missing?

Aganyo: In my view, organizing has been the missing ingredient, but I am happy that this is being overcome. I am persuaded that very soon when great organizing combines with the intelligent noise that is being made, especially the kind of organizing that is well-structured to deliver tangible results – policies, legislation, funding, you name it, then that would be a big win for youth leadership.

Scheyer: Do you think, young generations should systemically be given more power in decision-making processes – like quotas in parliaments?

Aganyo: Absolutely! There’s more to gain than to lose by trusting the youth with decision-making, leveraging their versatility, youthful energy and freshness of thought, among many other positive factors supporting youth.On a fringe thought, I am a firm believer that calculated risks are the only meaningful moves that remain in this world to cause change. The World has also witnessed the worst – COVID-19 pandemic, Ebola, Wild fires and Tsunamis not to mention widespread joblessness among the youth – so much so that taking a risk with youth in decision-making should not be a scary feat. This is because often times it is argued that the inexperience of the youth cannot be trusted to make decisions. How about we give the youth an opportunity, then judge them based on that?

Scheyer: How else could we integrate the needs of young generations in decision-making?

Aganyo: Capacity Building – Build the capacity of the young people, through inter-generational efforts and initiatives for mentorship and professional development. This would guarantee sound decision-making in these that shall have graduated from such mentorship initiatives.Institutionalization of Youth Initiative – If we could ensure that youth involvement in decision-making is institutionalized, structured and embedded in policy, then it would be a significant step towards assuring consistency. Consistency yields mastery.

Scheyer: All these questions are about age. Of course, since this interview highlights International Youth Day. But do you think, we are focusing too much on age right now? Do young people feel that – too often – they are being reduced on their age?

Aganyo: Yes. As I already mentioned above that whereas age is an important factor of defining youth, it has been used to negatively profile youth and blatantly deny them opportunity and access. I have also interacted with young people who are demotivated and demoralized against stepping up simply because they are “underage”. This may need to change at some point, so we instead focus on the abilities of youth, not on their weaknesses and age.

Scheyer: What would you like to ask from “older generations” to stop doing?

Aganyo: One, let them STOP being intimidated by the prospects of young people being energetic and having stronger drives. Instead, they can see this as an opportunity for cross-learning, experience sharing and mentorship.Two, they can STOP being judgmental of the youth whenever they make mistakes as a result of their poor judgment. They can instead reflect back to a time when they too were young and needed to learn in a similar manner to what is currently happening.Lastly, let the older generations STOP ignoring the youth, especially where the youth deserve recognition for great work. Sometimes a pat on the shoulder and recognition is the motivation to grow and become better.

Scheyer Now it is your turn: What do you want to ask the readers? For what question should they be looking for an answer?

Aganyo: I only have one question to you reading this if you’re below 35, what do you want to be remembered for? Are you working towards it and what support do you need? – Begin working on your mission statement and endeavor to bring it to life.If above 35, are you doing anything to mentor one or two people who are younger than you, showing them direction and being deliberate on making them better people? Start on a journey to mentor a young person today.



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Philbert Aganyo is a Youth Empowerment Advocate and Mentor who supports youth self-awareness, preparedness, and inclusion at key policy and decision-making levels of society.
Philbert Aganyo is a Youth Empowerment Advocate and Mentor who supports youth self-awareness, preparedness, and inclusion at key policy and decision-making levels of society.
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Diplomatic Round Tables

To ensure interactive sessions provide  participants with the opportunity to have in-depth exchanges and conversation between the various diplomats, religious leaders, and experts, several "Diplomacy Roundtables" took place simultaneously on two consecutive days during the Conference programme. Each Roundtable was co-moderated by a Diplomat and a Faith leader.

Each participant was encouraged to share their expertise, consider intersecting interests and concerns, and assess possible collaboration options.
The onjectives of these Diplomacy Roundtables were as follows:
  • Ensuring mutual exchange of knowledge, experiences and insights between religious actors and traditional diplomats, with insights from diverse experts.
  • Deepening discussions on the various intersections of religious dynamics and diplomacy.
  • Identifying common objectives and/or areas of partnership to be pursued, to further strengthen diplomacy through multi-religious collaboration.




 
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Co-Moderator
  • Dr. James T. Alexander, Senior Policy Adviser, Strategic Religious Engagement, US State Department
Co-Moderator
  • Dr. Vinu Aram, Director, Shanti Ashram; Co-President, Religions for Peace
As the world is still impacted by the ongoing ramifications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this Diplomacy Roundtable focused on the intersection of peace, security, and public health. Learnings from previous public health crisis, such as the HIV/AIDS pandemic, show the need to rely on science in understanding the virus and how to best treat and prevent further transmission. In addition to the countering of the virus based on science, it quickly became clear that society needed to fight the central seeds of stigmatization, isolation, fear as the virus was spreading.

For the first time, it became clear that the world can come to a complete standstill when not paying sufficient attention to (public) health. Our world is increasingly interconnected and public health crisis can become global more rapidly. The Diplomacy Roundtable reflected on the challenges as well as explored the opportunities.

Our interconnectedness within the different spheres of our societies is a testimony for the need of strengthening collaboration instead of separation or polarization. The session therefore also reflected on how governments and faith communities and religious leaders could work together. Often diplomats have not worked directly with religious actors and this conversation as well as the overall Conference strive to change that.

The discussion emphasized the need to consider the virus to be a phenomenon that extends beyond borders, that extends beyond any one people and becomes everything. Many things become transnational in nature. One of the main discussion points was the equal access and distribution of vaccines around the world, as it is the most successful means thus far to bring our global societies out of this pandemic.

The discussion also turned to the grave impacts of the pandemic on the socio-economic sector, as gaps of poverty are widening due to loss of income and livelihoods. The only way to solve the economic problem is to solve the health problem, which must also be considered as a threat to peace and security. It was discussed as a very precarious situation from an ethical point of view. The diverse social dynamics that have emerged in the various social and economic contexts around the world show us an urgency to strengthen collaboration for the well-being of all in public health.





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Co-Moderator
  • Amb. Jean-Christophe Peaucelle, Counselor for Religious Affairs, Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, France
Co-Moderator
  • H.E. Sheikh Shaban Mubaje, Grand Mufti, Uganda Muslim Supreme Council; Co-Moderator, Religions for Peace-African Council of Religious Leaders
In the Diplomacy Roundtable on Supporting Interreligious Dialogue in Challenging Political Environments: Regional Perspectives, participants discussed the paradox of diplomats representing secular societies engaging with religious leaders. It was mentioned that the separation of religions and politics is generally good, yet it can create ignorance among each other. And increasingly challenges around the world show a need for politics and religions to strengthen collaboration, e.g. to reconcile conflicts or to overcome the pandemic.

Participants were encouraged to share from their different regional backgrounds from the Balkans, Latin America, Africa and Europe. Policy makers and foreign diplomats should recognize the difference in religious/ cultural groups and traditional relationship between different groups. It was argued that the interreligious cooperation can become the advantage of politicians and make their policy interventions safer and more successful for everyone.

As conflict, polarization and ignorance arise when knowing too little about the other group, the group concluded that more dialogues and resourceful network spaces for conversations are needed to ensure that policymakers, diplomats as well as religious leaders understand the need for conversation and collaboration.





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Co-Moderator
  • Amb. Christa Castro-Varela, Ambassador of Honduras to Germany
Co-Moderator
  • Bishop Margot Kässmann, Former Chairperson, Evangelical Church of Germany; Co-President, Religions for Peace
The discussion in the Diplomacy Roundtable on Multi-Religious Collaboration and Diplomacy to Overcome Gender-based Violence focused on how religious leaders can be mobilized to help to build bridges and breaking down the walls of silence around gender-based violence. Silence, victim-shaming and blaming are still highly prevalent when it comes to gender-based and sexual violence. Sexual violence remains to be one of the least condemned and most silenced crimes around the world, with perpetrators walking freely. The discussion explored how culture is too often used as an excuse for gender-based violence, sexual violence, and other discrimination-based habits. Religious leaders and faith communities have a unique capacity to change this, by providing education about sexual health and the impact of violence against women on communities.

When tackling violence against women, religious extremism and religious fundamentalism must also be addressed as it affects women’s rights and too often cause an “erosion” of women’s rights. Furthermore, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and girls exposed the struggles of day-to-day issues that many women across the world still have to endure due to patriarchal norms within society.

Participants discussed the role of men and boys in overcoming gender-based valued and concluded it to be essential. The need to redefine masculinity as well as the education of men and boys was found to be essential. The conversation as ended on a note of hope as more awareness around the issue of gender-based violence is created, and more communities speak out against it.





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Co-Moderator
  • Mr. Alexander Rieger, Head of Unit, Dialogue of Civil Socities, Task Force "Dialogue of Cultures“, “Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue”, Federal Ministry of Republic of Austria, European and International Affairs
Co-Moderator
  • Prof. Anantanand Rambachan, Professor of Religion, St. Olaf College; Co-President, Religions for Peace






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Co-Moderator/Diplomat
  • Dr. Charles McNeill, Senior Advisor, Forests & Climate, UN Environment Programme (UNEP)
Co-Moderator
  • Prof. Dr. Din Syamsuddin, Chairman, Advisory Council of the Indonesian Council of Ulama, Indonesia
The Diplomacy Roundtable on “Multi-religious Diplomacy: A Tipping Point for Saving Our Environment” discussed questions on more effective collaboration to protect our environment in the face of the climate crisis. It was discussed that we are currently facing a “triple planetary crisis”: where climate change is compounded by the loss of nature and biodiversity, and by pollution and waste that are all conspiring together to threaten peace, prosperity, equity, human health, happiness, and intergenerational justice. In the context of the Conference theme of Generations in Dialogue, it was highlighted that youth are inheriting a broken climate that is breaking the life support system for humanity. The “triple planetary crisis” is deeply interconnected and is a result of anthropogenic behaviour. This calls for new thinking, new approaches and new partnerships.

The Interfaith Rainforest Initiative (IRI) is an innovative and effective movement representing many faiths and sectors including governments, civil society, science, and intergovernmental organizations for intergenerational dialogue to protect tropical forests and indigenous peoples’ rights. IRI offers a model for multi-faith work in how to make change through education, on-the-ground mobilization and influencing government and business policy.

The participants argue that new multi-layered frameworks of engagements are encouraged for robust and vibrant engagements of moral ethical systems in the future. Across the world we have seen that young people are standing up, speaking out and showing real leadership, and it is of utmost importance that we need to listen to them and empower their leadership. Faiths have a clear responsibility to broaden their definition of ‘peace’ beyond ‘ending conflict’ to include the quality of water, air, soil, food and other aspects of the environment. There can be no real peace without a healthy environment.

‘Greening’ of houses of worship is a vital activity that is being undertaken in some places by some faiths, and it was discussed how this could be scaled up as a way to educate faith communities on environmental issues. Participants discussed the need to understand the impact of consumption, to change behavioural patterns and attitudes. Hence, this has the potential to change our lifestyles to consume less and reduce our carbon footprint. In addition of high-level advocacy and on-the-ground initiatives the need to look at economic production and human consumption was stressed. By destroying nature and hurting Mother Earth, we destroy ourselves.

It was further elaborated that Faith communities can help in advocating for new ways to measure economic performance that lead to better social, environmental and economic outcomes. No generation has the right to take away the rights of any future generation. Religious leaders and communities need to ‘walk the talk’ of environmental protection in terms of how their house of worship and their faith communities operate and in terms of individual behaviour.





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Co-Moderator
  • Amb. Ramón Blecua, Ambassador at large for Mediation and Intercultural Dialogue, Spain
Co-Moderator
  • Ms. Sharon Rosen, SG Advisory Council, Global Director of Religious Engagement, Search for Common Ground; Religions for Peace Secretary General’s Advisory Council  

The discussion of the Diplomacy Roundtable on The Protection of Holy Sites and Religious Practices evolved around the historic and continued importance of holy sites across the world as religious and cultural heritage. The protection of holy sites is central to human social, spiritual, economic, and educational life. Yet, because of their importance as centres of community, holy sites have often directly targeted in attacks. 

Until now, international codes try to protect holy sites, but it was argued that this is measure is not always sufficient. Some countries with relatively high Freedom of Religion, Belief and Conscience argue that the protection should be enshrined in the Constitution. Instead, protection of holy sites and practices depends on collaboration between different members of society. Collaboration, trust and awareness need to be built to address hate, which is the long-term factor for causing destruction of holy sites.

One of the action steps discussed was the creation, strengthening, and integration of holy-site-protection networks. The creation of a handbook about holy sites and religious practices was discussed, which could be used as material for education and raising awareness.

Quote by Ambassador Ramon Blecua:
"From my perspective, the role of places of worship has been central to social lives, to human society from its very beginning. Not only because they are the place where the connection between the human dimension and the sacred takes place, but also because of the social and economic function within the community, as well as being places of knowledge, of learning. The beginning of education has started around places of worship. That centrality in human life has also made it, obviously focused in conflict and war.”





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Co-ModeratorCo-Moderator
  • Ms. Lejla Hasandedic-Dapo, Religions for Peace Interfaith Youth Network (EIYN) and Liaison Officer, United Religions Initiative




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Co-Moderator
  • Amb. Dr. Philip Ackermann, Director General, Federal Foreign Office, Germany            
Co-Moderator
  • Ms. Laura VargasExecutive Secretary, Interreligious Council of Peru
Demographic development is key to achieving the large aims of societies, which is why this topic was explored in one of the Diplomacy Roundtables. It was discussed that it requires investment in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and social security nets, which are currently unavailable in many countries. In many countries, big, small, and poor alike, the GDP growth is consumed by demographic development.

The discussion around demography falls within the public-private dilemma for Religious Leaders and participants discussed the sensitivity of the issue to the privacy of family planning, discussing that having children is a private affair, and having one's own choices scrutinized at the global level is uncomfortable and can be deeply inappropriate.

The role of the church must be to tread the fine line between the imposition of international standards on private decisions, infringing on personal freedoms, and allowing individuals to make their own decisions. The solution proposed which does walk this line well is awareness raising. People have to learn about and know about the effects their child-bearing decisions have on the world.

The issue reflects on the understanding of the balance between or separation of the church and state, and the responsibilities for each other. Different countries and different religious groups have different understandings of what place the church has in politics. It was noted that in Nigeria, Muslims tend to see no separation between church and state, whereas Christians act based on the secular-state conception, a remnant from the British colonizers. The country has managed to strike a compromise between the differing positions, where Christians must acknowledge that their faith has an impact on politics, while Muslims must acknowledge that there should be limits.

The state has a responsibility to manage its society and population correctly. Participants agreed that solutions require the collaboration between politicians controlling the issue from the political side, while needing the support from religious actors in instructing followers in how to respond to the biggest challenges within the context of demography.   The role of international and faith-based organizations is to inform individuals by connecting them to their local faith leaders, allowing them to understand the impact their actions have on the greater world, but leaving the autonomy of the individual untouched. It was argued that change can be achieved through a rights-based, non-restrictive approach, finding balance between the desired and required fertility rate. The table agreed that these actions must not be controlling and restrictive, as efforts in these directions lead to human rights abuses and infringement of freedoms.

Education and Women’s empowerment were mentioned as two key central aspects to respond to demographic dynamics. Better education for girls and young women will provide more individual autonomy, as well as a better understanding of their abilities and decision-making capabilities around family planning.





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Co-Moderator
  • Amb. Timo Heino, Ambassador for Cultural and Religious Dialogue, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Finland
  • Amb. Ariv Havas Oegroseno, Ambassador of Indonesia to Germany
Co-Moderator
  • Dr. Mohammed Elsanousi, Executive Director, The Network for Religious and Traditional
In this Diplomacy Roundtable on Faith-Based Mediation, participants discussed the role of faith-based actors in the context of mediation and conflict transformation. It was discussed that policymakers need to understand the added value of working meaningfully with religion and religious leaders. One way to approach this was to look at the question of what challenges foreign service diplomats and policymakers in governmental and intergovernmental context are confronted with when working with religious actors.  One of the key challenges that was identified for diplomatic actor’s engagement in religious contexts is to ensure the concept of impartiality or neutrality is respected and honoured. This is a key basic principle for engagement in processes.

It was claimed that the potential of working with these faith-based actors has not really been explored for the mediation scene. Many faith actors often serve as inside mediators. It is also important to enable and facilitate the exchange of ideas and conflict analysis between diplomats and mediators, especially also faith-based actors.

Furthermore, it was recognized that religion encompasses many areas of society and there is a need to become more aware of the social processes and dynamics, of the intergenerational component to produce a healing process.  
 



 
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Co-Moderator
  • Ms. Safak Pavey, Senior Adviser, UNHCR
Co-Moderator
  • Imam Sayyed Razawi, Director-General and Chief Imam, Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society; International Trustee, Religions for Peace; Member of the Council of Multi-religious Leaders
The participants discussed the role of interreligious cooperation in the context of migration and the support and collaboration for refugees. The need for religious leaders to come together and work with foreign diplomats and institutions is to hold religious leaders as well as political leaders accountable for their promises in the context of migration. Religious leaders need to collaborate to be effective and hold each other’s institutions accountable.

Working together for the well-being of refugees is an important element to fight and overcome xenophobia. In addition to working on effect and impact of migration, it is also important for religious leaders to address the root causes of migration, which are sometimes based on racial, religious and social issues. The level of political, economic and social instability in a society is what causes migration and needs to be addressed and considered for alleviating the suffering of migration.

The Multi-religious Council of Leaders, jointly formed by UNHCR and Religions for Peace in 2020 was discussed as a great example of multi-religious leadership in the context of migration, finding answers to some of the most pertinent questions around migration and working collaboratively to finding solutions and advising UNHCR in the lead up to the Global Compact in 2023.   It was further discussed that sometimes religious illiteracy among diplomats hinders them to effectively work with religious leaders.


Based on the question what policy implementers can do, the following four responses were discussed: Donor countries could send resettlement payments; spaces for migrants can be negotiated in neighbouring countries; work towards making the countries of origin safe enough for voluntary returns; work on reintegration.





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Co-Moderator
  • Ms. Valentina Otmacic, Deputy Director for Advocacy, Division of Communication, UNICEF
Co-Moderator
  • Dr. Francis Kuria, Regional Secretary General, African Council of Religious Leaders/ACRL
The Diplomacy Roundtable started with a discussion on a perceived paradigm shift in organization and participation as it becomes more and more clear that young people need to be involved and need to be given more responsibilities to lead change. The old paradigm featured efficiency in repetition, fixed hierarchy, a repeat of one set of skills, departmental silos, preventing interorganisational cooperation, a transactional system, and limited access to knowledge. The new paradigm is defined by change, shared leadership, fluid systems, distributed power, continuous learning, collaboration and continual relationships, openness, and transparency. This new paradigm highlights the ever-growing importance of empathy.

More organizations seem to be moving towards horizontal management based on this new paradigm. We should self-reflect institutionally, forming an organizational memory, logging how we have transitioned over time and learning what mechanisms we are working with in faith engagement. Patriarchal organisations, like most religious ones, often shirk other voices; even if the excluding and othering is not intentional, it still has an effect on children and women. The question that was discussed then is how young people are to be involved.  

Organizational malaise in institutions was addressed in the discussion as one of the aspects in creating behavioural change. Organizations all have their own mission and priority, leading to large transaction costs and a focus on content rather than engagement. It was further discussed that international issues must be well-diagnosed before they can be tackled: What is at the core of the issue? As an example, child marriage was mentioned. The problem of child marriage can stem from a lack of knowledge, a different definition of ‘child,’ a lack of respect for women, or something else. Dissuading patriarchalism requires us to address gender socialization at the youngest level. It was therefore suggested that young people need to be engaged in research to find the drivers of social ills. The new paradigm is better suited for addressing the origin points of social ills: it can accommodate a longer-term plan to address long-set issues.

When it comes to engaging faith leaders, it was discussed that they need to be equipped with “mind-heart dialogue” skills: “Mind” is logic, reasoned analysis of faith, while the “Heart” is experience, thoughts, and nebulous behaviour. The participants of the roundtable then discussed the opportunities for multi-religious collaboration and raised faith as a positive behaviour changer in children, which must be utilized by faith-based organizations and governments alike.




 
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Co-Moderator
  • Mr. Ken Chitwood, Journalist 
Co-Moderator
  • Ms. Ana Clara Giovanni, Youth Member, Religions for Peace Latin American and Caribbean Youth Network; Member, Religions for Peace Youth Media Team






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Co-Moderator
  • Ms. Nelida Ancora, Director, Mining and Sustainable Development Ltd.

Co-Moderator
  • Dr. Aruna Oswal, Vice President, World Jain Confederation; Co-President and International Trustee, Religions for Peace


 


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Interview Alejandra Acosta

"Slavery is not a horror safely confined to the past"

Alejandra Acosta is the founder of the non-profit organization Break The Silence, a project to raise awareness against the problem of human trafficking in Spain.
Alejandra Acosta is the founder of the non-profit organization Break The Silence, a project to raise awareness against the problem of human trafficking in Spain.
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Human trafficking is a business that is flourishing all over the world, even in Europe, because it has low risks and high profits, as Spanish social worker Alejandra Acosta explains. She is the founder of the organization “Break the Silence” that fights against trafficking and modern slavery. An interview by Alexander Görlach.


Görlach: You dedicate your time and work to combat human trafficking. How did you find this calling?

Acosta: I found this calling when I was 18 years old and heard for the first time the testimony of a human trafficking victim and I decided that I did not want to be indifferent, so I started to study about the problem and I realized that in Spain there was a great lack of information about the problem and that made impossible to implement solutions, because to change things you first have to understand them.Therefore, I founded Break The Silence, the organization that I have been leading for 6 years and that is dedicated to raising awareness in civil society, public administration and the private sector in order to generate solutions to help end exploitation in Spain and Europe.

Görlach: You are also concerned with what you call modern day slavery. How do you define this?

Acosta: Slavery is not a horror safely confined to the past; it continues to exist throughout the world, even in developed countries like France and the United States. Across the world slaves work and sweat and build and suffer. Slaves in Pakistan may have made the shoes you are wearing and the carpet you stand on. Slaves in the Caribbean may have put sugar in your kitchen and toys in the hands of your children. In India they may have sewn the shirt on your back and polished the ring on your finger. They are paid nothing.And this is the definition of human trafficking: the unlawful act of transporting or coercing people in order to benefit from their work or service, typically in the form of forced labor or sexual exploitation.Therefore, my work against human trafficking is also a work to combat modern slavery, because they are the same thing.

Görlach: One might read in the news about this topic and being inclined to think that this is something far away, but not at all: it is happening in Europe too. Could you share your insights with us?

Acosta: According to International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates, between 2012 and 2016 around 89 million persons globally experienced some form of exploitation, for periods of time ranging from a few days to the whole five years.According to the UNODC Global Trafficking in Persons report 2020, in 2018, 65 % of all victims of trafficking in persons detected globally were women and girls, while 35 % were men and boys. Female victims continue to be the worst affected by trafficking, yet it appears that over the last 15 years the number of men, boys, and girls detected has risen more than that of women: the share of adult women fell from over 70 % in 2004 to under 50 % in 2018. In contrast, there has been an alarming upward trend in trafficking in children, as the proportion of child victims increased during the same period from 13 % to 34 %, i.e. over a third of all detected victims.The data collected for the EU by the European Commission show a similar picture. According to the latest 2020 report, in the 2017-2018 period, women and girls represented the largest proportion of ‘registered or presumed’ victims – 71 % in the EU-27. Children accounted for nearly a quarter (21 %), of which the vast majority were girls (78 %). Girls represented 17 % of all registered victims and adult women – 54 %, while male victims made up less than a quarter of the total (18 % for men and 4 % for boys).Although it is not a new phenomenon, human trafficking has taken on new dimensions in the context of globalization and has been facilitated by increased mobility, especially in the EU, and the development of the internet and new technologies. Among the reasons why human trafficking is an ever more flourishing business is the fact that it involves low risks and brings in high profits. As victims, through fear or shame, tend not to declare themselves to the authorities, traffickers are hardly ever prosecuted and the real number of victims is difficult to establish.

Görlach: Europe prides itself to be the beacon of human rights in today’s world. What steps would the European Union have to undertake in order to end modern day slavery as much as human trafficking on its soil?

Acosta: I strongly believe in the unifying and supportive work of the European Union, but unfortunately human rights are often not mandatory issues for countries as we see in the case of the refugee crisis or human trafficking, because in many EU countries including Spain, we do not have legislation to address the problem of trafficking, because the member states are not required to have these laws to belong to the EU.Forcing countries to have regulations that respect international standards such as the Palermo Protocol and the Convention on Human Rights would give NGOs and especially victims, many guarantees, and a framework under which to ask for help, since the lack of legislation and economic funds for this group of people prevents them from accessing justice properly and receiving help if they report a situation of exploitation.

Görlach: In the democratic world there are ways to influence politics and change the course. How is this possible to combat slavery and human trafficking in autocratic countries or dictatorships?

Acosta: Unfortunately, there are no statistics or studies that show that human trafficking occurs more in dictatorships than in democracies.What research reveals, according to a report by the A21 campaign, is that human trafficking occurs in all countries of the world, in all political models of countries and in all economic structures.However, living in a democracy allows more space to demand the fulfillment of human rights and to hold authorities accountable and therefore, it is more likely that these rights violations will be reduced over time in democracies if society unites and demands more rights for people vulnerable to fall into situations of exploitation.

Görlach: How can religious institutions, orders and congregations help in this dire situation?

Acosta: Religious institutions have had great influence in the fight for human rights throughout history and with the problem of human trafficking was not going to be different.The first times I heard about the problem of human trafficking, it was in my church and in fact, I believe that the role of religious institutions is fundamental in the fight against trafficking because they are communities that are practically in every neighborhood and that have a transformative potential to inform about human trafficking and be a point of reference and support for potential victims of trafficking in the cities.
 
Görlach: As this year’s conference is on how the young and older generations can work together to build a better work. How do you work on your topics inter-generationally?

Acosta: All my anti-trafficking work is intergenerational because it was thanks to mentors and people with much more experience than me that I have been able to build my organization and reach more than 80,000 people, including 12,000 youth with information and tools to prevent human trafficking in their environment.I could not have achieved all the impact I have generated if I did not work with colleagues and mentors from other generations where we are constantly networking and bringing out different points of view.Moreover, although it is to said that the future belongs to the young, I believe that we all build the future together and that is the only way to make it truly sustainable and leave no one behind.

Görlach: How do you as a young person see the controversy around “boomers” and Gen Z, Gen Y? Is it really that confrontational or are there common grounds on which both sides could and should work to understand each other better?

Acosta: I think the media and social networks generate a lot of polarization on this issue that in reality is not as extreme as it seems. Of course, due to the context in which we were born, both generations have very different ways of doing things, but in many occasions we are pursuing the same goals.Therefore, I believe that we should provide more spaces for the exchange of intergenerational experiences, and it should also be common in any organization to intentionally seek to have people from different generations in the teams, as this brings collective value and shortens the gap and generational differences, because there is much more that unites us than what separates us. 



***

 
Alejandra Acosta is the founder of the non-profit organization Break The Silence, a project to raise awareness against the problem of human trafficking in Spain.
Alejandra Acosta is the founder of the non-profit organization Break The Silence, a project to raise awareness against the problem of human trafficking in Spain.
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Ring for Peace Ceremony

The Ring for Peace Ceremony took place in the Luitpoldpark on the island of Lindau.

Moderator
  • Ms. Zahra Nedjabat, Deutsche WelleSpoken Word
Poetry
  • Christine Frischmuth, Poet from the City of Lindau
Peace Experiences – Calls for Action
  • Bishop Margot Kässmann, Former Chairperson, Evangelical Church of Germany Co-President, Religions for Peace
  • Grand-Mother Marie-Josée Rankin Tardif, President, Kina8at Together; Elder from the Anicinape (Algonquin) tradition and Grand-Father Dominique Rankin, Algonquin Hereditary Grand Chief Co-President, Religions for Peace
  • Grand-Father Dominique Rankin, Algonquin Hereditary Grand Chief, Co-President, Religions for Peace, Indigenous, Canada
  • Ms. Fatima Hallal, Junior Researcher, Hartford Seminary-Interreligious Relations; Member, International Youth Committee
Music
  • Maestra Zhang Zhang, Violin


 
 
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It is there I saw you dance
spotted weather prophets
grounded by a rock
you changed my heart to blue.
Clouds of birds define the sky.  

Rising and floating
Sinking and droning
From above, triangles, hooks, and long curves
1-9-3 times you drum fortune into the air.

Have a seat on the day of peace.  

Here on the hill above the cliffs,
where the day rises in red,
you alone break your promise
lashing out of the white.
You trip over your shadow, lines divided,

in dark caves, your tears thunder and haunt you.  

Homeland lost.  

Green creepers engulf the closing doors,
unequivocal in their singing
Amongst the white crown of the sea,
the flags rise, sparkling.  


Tenderly, the waves roll to shore.  

The lighthouse orchestra awaits me.




 








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I was born in the year 1958 in Germany, 13 years after the end of World War II. During my childhood, my family still talked about it. All their stories involved losing their dignity in war: The perpetrators as well as the victims. Wives of the so-called enemy are raped by family fathers, children are shot, wounded men scream for help they will never find. There is nothing heroic about war, only misery.  

Years later, I was an exchange student in France in the summer. Monsieur Pouvreau, the father of the family walked over the field and he said, “Ton papa et moi – pouf pouf, mais aujourd’hui la guerre est nonplus" – he didn’t know German and my French was very limited. But I understood what he wanted to express.  

What followed where the pictures of the war in Vietnam. When it ended finally, I was in the USA and I began to read the texts of the Baptist pastor Martin Luther King. He wrote: “For Christians, the hardest message Jesus left for us is the sentence love your enemy.” I think that is right until today.
 
As a Christian, I cannot find any justification or violence in the gospel whatsoever. In 1948, the churches of the world declared in Amsterdam, that according to God’s will war must not be. Neither my Lutheran father nor Monsieur Pouvreau had ever heard of it. But I think they both would have wondered how it could have been possible that Christians killed people of their own faith because political interest declared them to be enemies. What ideology mislead Germans when the majority belonged to the Christian faith to kill millions of men, women and children because they belonged to the Jewish community, when Jesus himself was a Jew? Where were the religious leaders to prevent that?
I’m deeply convinced according to God’s will war must not be is true for all religions. War mocks God, whom we believe to be the creator of life. That’s what all religions believe, therefore legitimizing war from a religious point is blasphemy. We register 25 wars and four violent conflicts today, mostly in the global south. The rich industrial nations of the global north export weapons and earn money through these wars and then lament refuges as the witnesses of these conflicts who come to our countries for protection. When it comes to earning money, the misery of human beings seems secondary.  

It is time that believers of all faiths stand up in order to delegitimize any justification of violence by religion. The first to suffer from violence are children and women, but in the end all suffer because violence destroys our communities. That is true at home, at local level, at national and international level.  

The recently deceased roman catholic theologian Hans Küng said there is no peace among nations without peace among religions. In the 21st century religions must give witness that we tolerate one another, and more than that form a community as people of faith in the respect for any human life, no matter what faith, nationality or origin. Our ways to God, our faith, our religious practice may be different. But in engaging for the dignity of every human life, we give glory to God – the creator of all life.





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First, I’ve greeted everybody in my language. But French is my second language because when I was seven years old, I was taken away from his family and sent to a school. It was a personal time of grief, but – initially – also of shame.

Today I don’t tremble any more when I have to talk about my story. I’m proud I have been able to go over waves and waves and eaves. In my healing journey I one day chose to go on a platform very high in a tree. Because when you want to achieve peace, you have to start with your own self, with your own healing journey. Whether the obstacles you have to face, we all have to go over our obstacles. In the beginning I felt ashamed talking about my story. I am delighted to see the children here today because I remember being a child, too. I was a beaten child in every sense. I remember losing my parents as one day I was taken away from them. I was allowed to see them only a year and a half later. When I was taken away from my parents, I thought that they were abandoning me. That’s how I started judging my parents. Only much later, I understand they didn’t abandon me; I was taken away from them. Tonight, I’m proud to be wearing my headdress in the memory of my ancestors.  

I also lost my territory. I lost everything, my animals, I used to be a hunter, fisher, and tracker. I’m so fortunate to have been able to learn so many things from my culture. What I’m wearing on my head, you can see 33 eagle feathers. The 33rd one you cannot see, it’s behind my head at the centre. It’s like a spiritual guide. It’s telling me to have a road towards victory. I have no right to go backwards. I found unconditional love through people like you. You’re giving me another step towards peace today. This is how we become stronger. Not to stay in darkness.  

So I went fasting on this platform in a tree, about 30 meters high. 21 days without eating nor drinking. It was to detoxify my body and also my spirit. I would use my medicine up there. I was there almost naked, against hard winds. We have to be strong physically and mentally. I danced with buffalo shawl on my back. It was because I needed to dance with the spirits. This is how I got out of the darkness. I remember seeing eagles coming to greet me almost every morning. I cried a lot. I left everything there. Today I'm able to tell a man or a woman I love you. We cannot forget such a story – it is on our memory, but it is how we become strong. Never again will I go backwards.





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In the Summer of 2016 I got the chance to participate in a student leaders program in the US, a program for young leaders who are active in the Middle East/North Africa Region. I was placed in Georgetown with another 21 young people.

We were there to learn about leadership and to build capacities. We represented eleven nationalities, different cultures, different identities, different ethnicities, different dialects, characters and religions. You can imagine that in the first day of the program, we were completely strangers to each other. On the third day of the program, we started bonding with each other, as we were going through this intensive leadership and team building activities. On the last day of the program, we were sobbing, and we were crying as we were saying goodbye to each other at the airport.

Six weeks is a really short period, and we all were baffled how we become so close to each other and how we became sort of a family. Six weeks we studied together, worked together, shared meals, travelled together, we argued, we fought, we cried, we laughed, but most of all, we learned so much about each other. To be honest, I never felt peace in my life the same way I felt I those six weeks – simply because, even though we were so different from one another, over the course of the six weeks, we were able to accept each other for who we are. We were able to remove our masks, we were able to be comfortable with our identities with one another, that because simply because we come to recognize the suffering and the struggle in each other. Some of us have lived, or are still living, under military occupation, others have experienced wars, are still experiencing wars, some of us were refugees, some of us have grown up through times of revolutions, upheavals, all sorts of political, economic and social insecurities. Some of us were refugees, others were uncomfortable with their identities, their communities, with their surroundings, traditions, others were struggling with their inner peace.

When I say we recognized the suffering in each other, I mean we listened to each other, without putting each other in a box of a prejudice. That had yielded compassion. That compassion yielded solidarity. We might think compassion is something that is very common, that it is easy to feel compassion.

Unfortunately millions of people today live in insecurities. They are threatened by their existence. Because of that, there is a creation of a sense of hopelessness, helplessness, cynically, a realist view that the world is a horrible, miserable place to live in. This realism and cynicism is the most insidious impediment to compassion. This cynicism is spreading like a pandemic among the young people. What can we do? We spent so much time theorizing peace, putting peace into frameworks, appeals and international policies that have not come anywhere close to people who are actually suffering. We have to recognize that there is heroism in daily actions, heroism can happen in fighting the disasters of ordinary life.

Because of that, that group in Georgetown university where in deed people who were cynical, they were people who were fighting every day with their inner peace, but they were working today on the frontlines, in Libya with immigrants, with women in shelters, in Gaza, on the borders, in Egypt, in Iraq, under a lot of stress, just to combat cynicism.

So today, as I’m lighting this cancel, please join me in praying for their souls, and always remember that compassion can grow even in the most dry and stony grounds.




 
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Impressions from the Ring for Peace Ceremony 2021

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Interview Sachs

"We are at a critical juncture"

Jeffrey David Sachs is an American economist, academic, public policy analyst and former director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, where he holds the title of University Professor.
Jeffrey David Sachs is an American economist, academic, public policy analyst and former director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, where he holds the title of University Professor.
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Jeffrey Sachs takes the old generations to task: those who are now in power must act. Read also why a decision by the German Federal Constitutional Court should set a precedent worldwide. An interview by Alexander Görlach.







Görlach: This year’s Religions for Peace conference deals with generational justice – a timely topic?

Sachs: Generational justice is about moral stewardship: protecting the planet, the world’s cultures, good governance, and quality education for all, so that each generation can support the next generation and the generations that will follow, to achieve thriving lives, or as the Greek’s called put it, eudaimonia.

Görlach: Especially in regard to combating climate change generational justice is a key issue: how can the younger and older generations come to terms here?

Sachs: Most importantly, the older generation – those in power today – need to take actions urgently to ensure the Earth’s viability and habitability in the future. We are at a critical juncture. If we fail to act decisively, we will not only exceed the 1.5°C upper limit on warming targeted by the Paris Climate Agreement, but we will risk devastating runaway climate change, as the Earth hits various dangerous amplifying feedback processes (such as melting of the permafrost, drying of the rainforests, destruction of the ice sheets, and halt of the ocean circulation).

Görlach: The German Supreme Court ruled last April that law making has to take in account and balance out the interest of the generations now, using natural resources, and the ones to come who will have to deal with the consequences. The freedom of the older generation now ends where it inflicts on the younger one’s the court says – has this ruling being noticed in the US?

Sachs: Not yet. The US constitutional process on environmental justice is far behind other countries, and the US Supreme Court is dominated by right-wing justices appointed by right-wing presidents who cared little about climate change.

Görlach: Would this be a model for other countries to be followed?

Sachs: Yes. The model of constitutional protection of the environment and of intergenerational justice is very important. The Supreme Court in Colombia recognized the constitutional obligation to protect the Amazon, and a court in the Hague recently recognized the obligation of Shell Oil to slash emissions.

Görlach: Greta Thunberg and Fridays For Future have started a global rally for climate protection. It seems that in many places her parent’s generation and beyond are not happy with the movement. Why is the movement and its demands downplayed and the kids being ridiculed to simply go to school and not to bother the grown ups? And more specifically: Greta Thunberg as a person has been degraded by Donald Trump as much as the state media in China. What is she triggering in her opponents?

Sachs:
 The “Fridays for Future” movement has had a huge and positive impact. The fact that Trump denigrated Greta Thunberg is evidence of her impact. We should also remember that Trump is a dangerous psychopath. Even the top generals in the US were afraid of an attempted coup by Trump.

Görlach: In the US there is a broad movement that denies climate change altogether. Is this also due to a generational divide or are other reasons prevalent?

Sachs: There are many causes of America’s anti-science culture. Part is propaganda by the oil industry and its media allies (such as Fox News and the Wall Street Journal). Part is biblical fundamentalism that denies climate change because it’s not mentioned in the scriptures. Most leading religions combine faith and science, but some American-style fundamentalist religions deny science altogether. And in general, most Americans want climate action but the fossil-fuel lobbies (coal, oil, and gas enterprises) fight against climate-change action.

Görlach: How could the generations together reach the sustainability goals that keep the earth and habitable planet for the generations to come?

Sachs: We need to adopt pathways to achieve what we have promised: the Paris Climate Agreement and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Very rich older people, who have vast fortunes in the trillions of dollars should have their wealth taxed in order to help fund sustainable investments for younger people. Of course, the older and richer individuals, who hold most of the financial wealth, should make philanthropic gifts to promote global sustainable development.

Görlach: You worked most of your career with or for the United Nations. What role does this international body have or could obtain in order to tackle climate change and promote generational justice?

Sachs: The UN is the global organization that promotes sustainable development, peace, and human dignity for all. It is strongly focused on inter-generational justice and the wellbeing of future generations, through healthcare, nutrition, end of poverty, quality education, and sustainable management and stewardship of nature. The moral charter is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which declares that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” That is a universal message that we should take to heart, and should rededicate ourselves globally to that message as we reach the 75th anniversary of the UDHR in 2023.



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Jeffrey David Sachs is an American economist, academic, public policy analyst and former director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, where he holds the title of University Professor.
Jeffrey David Sachs is an American economist, academic, public policy analyst and former director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, where he holds the title of University Professor.
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Interview Andrew Gilmour

"We cannot afford to ignore religion when it comes to peace and conflict"

Andrew Gilmour is Executive Director of the Berghof Foundation.
Andrew Gilmour is Executive Director of the Berghof Foundation.
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Human Rights can never be “won” because there are always people who will fight hard to reverse any gains made, says Andrew Gilmour. He is the head of the Berghof Foundation that offers conflict transformation around the globe. Learn, why he thinks many nations should prepare their population mentally for a rising migration. An interview by Alexander Görlach.

Görlach: The Berghof Foundation works on conflict transformation, in places such as Yemen or Afghanistan. Harvard-Scholar Steven Pinker claims that we live in the most peaceful of all times where armed conflict almost became a rarity. From your experience in the field, to his position from the ivory tower: Is he right with his claim?

Gilmour: Whatever some interpretations of certain statistics may indicate, regarding world-wide levels of conflict, the realities on the ground are clear. Conflict is growing in intensity and in scope in many parts of the world where we are operating. Afghanistan and Ethiopia spring to mind, but there is also the Sahel, Syria, Libya and Yemen, while in other places such as Lebanon, there are deeply worrying signs even if there is no outright conflict at this time.The human misery in all of these places – and many others – is so acute that it is essential not to be distracted by any suggestions that we could somehow be living in some “post-conflict” era.

Görlach: Human Rights have come under threat through a new wave of authoritarianism. China, India, Turkey, Poland, Hungary, to only name a few. How can human rights be ensured amidst such a menace?

Gilmour: Human rights can never be ensured. They have to be continually fought for, and they are never “won” because there are always people who will fight hard to reverse any gains made. And we are finding those on the front line of defending human rights are all too often targeted for their bravery and their principles in an increasing number of countries.Simultaneously with the push-back on human rights at country and local level, we face the global challenge of nationalist-authoritarian-populism, where minorities are scape-goated and threatened, and those governments come together to try to ward off criticism in an unholy alliance of violators.In such a situation, it is all the more important that voices such as Germany continue to sound the alarm, try to hold other countries to higher standards, and support the UN and human rights NGOs to do their job of promoting and protecting rights. My last job before coming to Berlin was as the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, and I can testify to how supportive Germany was both for my role and for many other human rights defenders.

Görlach: Has conflict mediation become more difficult at a time where people believe more in claims of “fake news” or advocate “alternative facts”? I would think that the first step in finding common ground is forming a consensus around the facts. 

Gilmour: It is certainly the case that all politics – domestic and international – has been complicated by fake news and alternative facts. The United States is Exhibit A in this regard, which is unfortunate both for Americans and for the rest of us, given the influence the US has – for good or otherwise – on so much of the rest of the world.All efforts to end conflict – whether through mediation or other forms of peace-building – are undermined by fake news and hate speech (often linked) not least because those who are the most keen to propagate aggression and discrimination are also the most prone to using the most dishonest tactics (including fake news) to achieve their aims. Russia Today and Fox News are both experts in this field.

Görlach: Constitutions in democratic countries protect the citizenry from discrimination, also age is one of the markers that constitutions forbid to discriminate against. In the pandemic we saw that different interests laid with different age groups. When we discuss climate change we see different generational takes on the issue as well. How do you view the relationship of generations nowadays?

Gilmour: That’s an interesting question. I’m a historian by training but I have never read of a period in history where the generational divide has ever come close to what we are already seeing, but will become vastly intensified in the coming years. The fact that our generation (let’s say anyone born before 1985) has so dramatically failed to live up to our responsibility to protect the planet and future generations, while at the same time going backwards in many areas of human rights, will understandably be seen as beyond scandalous.What apparently happened in Germany in the 1960s when the youth of that time tried to come to terms with what their parents had done and not done during what was then the recent past was quite dramatic. But I think it will turn out to be insignificant compared to what we are about to see.

Görlach: Peace and Security are the most fundamental principles for a harmonious live. In many countries migration is perceived as a threat that endangers that harmony. It is mostly young people that try to make their way to more prosperous countries in order to achieve a better live for themselves and their children. This migration will increase due to climate change. What can we do to already now mitigate and prepare for this new waves of migration?

Gilmour: The most important thing to do is to mentally prepare the populations and electorates in the countries to which migrants are likely to come. This will be extremely difficult and will require tremendous political courage – and the political savvy to face down the bigots, populists and charlatans who will try to capitalize on the misery of the migrant predicament and whip up hatreds against both the migrants and any political leaders who show sympathy for them.A huge public education campaign is required. It is not the fault of the desperate immigrants that sea levels have risen, deserts expanded, homes made uninhabitable by infernal heat, and agriculture made impossible by droughts. The countries from which the climate migrants are starting to come have contributed almost nothing to global climate change. Those in the forefront of historic responsibility are those where the industrial revolution was pioneered (including the UK, which is my country of origin, Germany and the United States). If it is not the fault of the countries that are ironically and unfairly worst affected by climate change, then we should at least show understanding for those people forced to flee them.

Görlach: What role can religion play to overcome conflict? Or is religion in your experience more the driver of such conflicts?

Gilmour: In a world where religion plays a fundamental role in the lives of the vast majority, we cannot afford to ignore religion when it comes to peace and conflict. Religion has a vital role to play in overcoming conflict. Regrettably, some religious leaders also play a role in provoking conflict – and like to stress the differences between religions and sects, rather than the fact that the teachings of all religions stress the virtues of peace and harmony.Often these two dynamics are connected and so we must approach the topic intelligently. For example, when political actors instrumentalize religious identities to divide societies, religious leaders from different faiths working together are often the best placed to counter such rhetoric. When armed groups use religion to justify violence, others can use the same religious sources to preach peace. Rather than asking whether religion is more a force for peace or more a source of conflict (given that it is both), we should ask ourselves, “how can we strengthen religion’s contribution to peace and mitigate its role in fueling conflict?”Religious ideas, values and practices are immensely powerful resources that contribute to peacebuilding on a daily basis. Religious actors are often at the forefront of efforts to build bridges and heal communities, both at grassroots and at the level of political elites. In recognition of this reality, Berghof has recently launched two initiatives seeking to strengthening the role of religion in peacemaking. “Peace education meets religion” primarily addresses faith-based multipliers who intend to strengthen the peace potential of religions by inspiring and qualifying interested persons and groups through peace education while the network of faith-based mediators supports a group of religious insider-mediators in their peacemaking work. In many of the countries where we are active, religious actors are also often active participants in processes Berghof is supporting. Of course, Berghof’s work is only a small contribution to a much larger effort to strengthen the positive role of religion in transforming conflict and building peace, and co-operation with like-minded organizations, such as Ring for Peace is an essential element of our strategy.



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Andrew Gilmour is Executive Director of the Berghof Foundation.
Andrew Gilmour is Executive Director of the Berghof Foundation.
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Live studio and conference hosts

In the Studio, our Conference Hosts Emina Frljak and Dr Renz Argao guided the virtual participants through the four days of the conference. Broadcasting always in between the sessions of the main program, they provided the audience with useful information about the conference, the event website, the work Religions for Peace does and enriched the program with interesting case studies and enlightening interviews.

Also, Emina Frljak and Dr Renz Argao hosted Press Talks with guests, where journalists from all over the world could ask questions.

With the “Small Lake” in the background, our Conference Hosts lightened up the Conference and focused on keeping the online participants engaged when the participants in Lindau had a lunch break or participated in a Diplomacy Roundtable and nothing was happening in the main hall.




 
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Ms Emina Frljak and Dr Renz Argao

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A highlight of the Studio programme was certainly the press talk with Grand-Mother Marie-Josée Rankin and Grand-Father Dominique Rankin discussing the recent discoveries of thousands of unmarked graves and mass graves of indigenous children.
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Vorworte

The convening itself is a miracle

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We live in a world where grand narratives of the 20th Century – liberalism, capitalism, socialism— have receded from the consciousness of many, today. Countries across Europe and East Asia are grappling with declining birth rates and aging populations, while societies across the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia are experiencing youth booms of significant proportions. More than half of Egypt’s labour force is younger than age 30. Half of Nigeria’s popula- tion of 167 million is between the ages of 15 and 34. In Afghanistan, Angola, Chad, East Timor, Niger, Somalia, and Uganda, more than two-thirds of the population is under the age of 25.

A great many people are growing up and trying to live in a world characterized by huge inequalities in living standards, the decline of democracy and besieged civil societies, increasing intra- and interstate conflicts, increasing environmental degradation and global warming with disastrous consequences, the highest-ever recorded rates of myriad forms of violence, and now, a global pandemic.

All this points us to the need for greater and integrated focus on peace and security issues, on the implications of humanitarianism on, with, and for our environment.

But we cannot continue to urge only the existing siloed institutions and entities to focus more, collaborate more, or do better. We need to fundamentally transform sources of knowledge, debates, constituencies, mindsets and actions, speakers and listeners, instructors and activists, philosophers and policymakers. We need radical transformations of our sense of humanity and our means of living and sustaining a planet. And we need to begin by going back to the roots of our socialization, our understanding of self and other, to the very first recorded and memorized “instructions” intend- ed to guide interactions among individuals and communities.

In other words, we need to revisit our linking of human and divine (religion), and simultaneously redefine diplomacy (the art and science of maintaining peaceful relationships between nations, groups, or individuals).

As we argue for the necessity of multilateral means of making decisions regarding our shared world, we must also further the multi-religious means to build—or break—our fragile social coexistence in our threatened ecosystem. One cannot exist without the other. Faith communities and leaders are the original diplomats, and diplomacy remains the only means by which we can avoid further strife to the common good. We know, beyond any shadow of doubt, that laws are necessary, but insufficient, and that secular institutions are necessary for, but incapable of handling all of humanity’s needs on their own.

We are grateful for the trilogy of partnership between the Federal Government of Germany, a non-governmental secular entity (Foundation Peace Dialogue of the World Religions and Civil Society), and an international multi-religious entity (Religions for Peace). In 2019, we co-hosted a global dialogue around faith and diplomacy for the common good at the 10th World Assembly of religious leaders and secular actors. We revisited the faith and diplomacy nexus in 2019 (at the height of the Covid  lockdown), convening the missing links and tipping point for global peace building—women of faith. And here we are in 2021, older, perhaps wiser, revisiting the imperatives of this faith and diplomacy nexus, narrated through the necessary intergenerational engagement, around the key challenges of today: peace and security at the crossroads of humanitarianism and the environment.

The convening itself is a miracle in today’s divisive and distanced realities. The debates will be inclusive, evidence based, and interactive. The shared cases of engagement (or lack thereof) will nuance further necessary collaborative actions. The world’s problems will not be resolved, but we will continue to seek, together, to redefine leadership, re-envision faith, and reconstruct diplomacy.


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Foreword Görgen

The work of the RfP community enriches our work and our foreign policy perspectives

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Not only current events show that cooperation with civil society actors is of increasing importance for modern diplomacy. In this context, faith-based communities play an essential role when it comes to peace- building in conflict situations, when it comes to overcoming a global pandemic with manifold effects and when it comes to protecting this planet for future generations.

For many years, the German Federal Foreign Office has been working intensively to expand and strengthen relations not only between governments, but increasingly also between civil societies. In the last few years, we have widened our portfolio to support the work of faith-based actors and interreligious initiatives like Religions for Peace. The work of the RfP community, which gathers these days in Lindau and virtually across the globe, enriches our work and our foreign policy perspectives.

The special focus of this year’s conference on intergenerational dialogue can also benefit foreign policy by strengthening and expanding the global engagement of young people in the key areas of peace, equality, environment and climate. The potential of religions to play a crucial role in connecting civil societies was demonstrated not least at the 10th World Assembly of Religions for Peace in Lindau 2019 and the 1st Assembly on Women, Faith & Diplomacy in Lindau last year.

I remember various encounters with active RfP representatives, which have impressed me with the work they do in their societies – often in difficult circumstances. We therefore highly welcome the meeting of the World Council of Religious Leaders as well as young leaders of RfP – and we appreciate the opportunity that many colleagues of the Federal Foreign Office as well as diplomats from other nations can join. May you have fruitful discussions and may concrete projects develop during this meeting.



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Media Coverage

Over one thousand publications have been registered in Germany by our news monitoring service.
  • 516 Print articles
  • 299 Online articles
  • 27 Agency News
  • 161 Posts on social media
  • 37 Radio reports
  • 3 TV reports
Altogether, these publications had a range of 181 Million possible readers in Germany.

Also, we registered almost 50 international publications (in print and online).

The conference's landing page noticed almost 15.000 visits by unique users.
The three top countries by visits: 
  1. Germany
  2. Philippines
  3. USA

The live streams on Vimeo have been watched by 1,800 spectators from 86 nations. The three top countries by spectators:
  1. Germany
  2. USA
  3. Great Britain
The social media ad campaign before the conference reached 500,000 users with 1 million impressions.




 
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Foreword Schavan Schürer

We are convinced this conference will be a testimony to the power of intergenerational and interreligious dialogue

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His Holiness Pope Francis states in Fratelli Tutti, “The different religions, based on their respect for each human person as a creature called to be a child of God, contribute significantly to building fraternity and defending justice in society.” For this, interreligious dialogue paves the way to action for the common good.

As we witness more frequent manifestations of climate change, eruption of new conflicts, and increasing global inequality—all in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic (the greatest global challenge to public health in generations)—it becomes clear that the motto “Caring for Our Common Future” from the 10th World Assembly of Religions for Peace in 2019 is indeed still imperative. Because most problems are global in scale and trans-generational in dimension, it is clear our concerns must not focus solely on our own particular future, but also address the more encompassing issues. Current events point to how overcoming the hijacking of religion is a challenge like never before.

Every month we become more aware how important it is for the different religions to engage with each other, ultimately developing the notion and strength of common responsibility. Thus, in the tradition of the Lake Constance Region, and the City of Lindau in particular, we once again invited hundreds of religious leaders to join us—in person or virtually— for the Conference of the World Council of Religious Leaders on Faith and Diplomacy: Generations in Dialogue.

After the 10th World Assembly of Religions for Peace in 2019 led to the adaption of Religions for Peace’s Strategic Plan, the 2020 1st Assembly on Women, Faith & Diplomacy was the first conference to realize these goals. That assembly, under the leadership of Prof. Azza Karam, sent a strong signal around the world that women are key to achieving and maintaining peace in and across communities and societies. It also emphasized gender justice, which is fundamental for peace and a more just world for all.

Now, in a further attempt to reach the intent of the agenda of Religions for Peace, this assembly will address pressing issues of peace and security, the environment, and humanitarian- ism. Furthermore, as the world still struggles with the Covid-19 pandemic, a guide to the role of religions in public health, especially with regard to access to and distribution of vaccines, will be set.

With the motto of the 10th World Assembly in mind, these challenges must be met with the aim of intergenerational solidarity. Therefore, we put a heavy focus on the exchange between faith leaders, diplomats, and youth representatives to provoke strong communication between generations.

Even with the experiences from last year, preparing and realizing this conference was again a great challenge. We want to express our deep gratitude and appreciation to everyone involved. It is inspiring to see what trust and conviction can create. We are especially thankful to the Federal Foreign Office for their trustful cooperation with us.

We are convinced this conference will be a testimony to the power of intergenerational and interreligious dialogue in tackling the world’s greatest challenges and will thus be a bright beacon of confidence around the world.



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Not only did we have a tremendous number of publications with an incredible reach. But we also had publications in key media outlets, such as:
  • Die Zeit
  • Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
  • Süddeutsche Zeitung
  • Augsburger Allgemeine
  • Chrismon
  • Lindauer Zeitung
  • Washington Post Online
In case you have the time, why don't you:
download our binder with the key publications?
  

 

 
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Retrospect of the conference in Lindau

Recording of live radio broadcast Channel BR24. (German only.)

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We launched two radio campaigns in Germany before and after the conference. 

The first one had a range of possible listeners of 2.3 million.
Listen to the radio report here.
(We are sorry that it is in German only.)

The second one had a range of almost one million
Listen to the radio report here.

   


 

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Topic: Environment

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Moderator
  • Mr Thomas Sparrow, Political Correspondent, Deutsche Welle
Speaker
  • Grand-Mother Marie-Josée Rankin, President, Kina8at Together, Elder from the Anicinape (Algonquin) tradition, Indigenous, Canada
  • Grand-Father Dominique Rankin, Algonquin Hereditary Grand Chief, Co-President, Religions for Peace, Indigenous, Canada
  • Mr Ivo Cipio Aureliano, Legal Adviser, Indigenous Council of Roraima, Indigenous, Brazil
  • Ms Vanessa Nakate, Climate Activist, Uganda



 
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The HEART-Talk on Environment connected the urgent global issue of climate change to a very personal level. Global warming is mostly discussed from a rather abstract point of view: How many tons of CO2 will lead to how many more degrees globally? How much money will it cost?

Thomas Sparrow talked to Grand-Mother Marie-Josée Rankin and Grand-Father Dominique Rankin from the Anicinape (Algonquin) tradition, Indigenous, in Canada, Ivo Cipio Aureliano, Legal Adviser, Indigenous Council of Roraima, Indigenous, Brazil and Vanessa Nakate, a climate activist from Uganda. Their stories focused on the interconnectedness between humans and nature, the personal level of protecting the environment.  
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Looking back to his childhood, Grand-Father Dominique Rankin remembers his childhood as a hunter, gatherer, and fisherman – before authorities took away the lands and sent the indigenous people a way, perceiving them as “harmful to the economy.”

Indigenous people traditionally strive for a close relationship with the environment because their lives are very intertwined with it:  They call the planet “Mom Earth” which loves humans by providing them with what they need. Now it is time for humans to nurture a sustainable environment for all forms of life. The so-called modern societies must reconnect with nature and learn that human life is only one part of the cycle of life on the planet. Liberty has become synonymous with over-consumption and a careless attitude towards the planet.

But, as Grand-Mother Marie-Josée Rankin put it, “I am the planet, too”: If people truly unfold their relationship with nature, listen to and feel it, the culture of liberty and over-consumption can change to a culture of responsibility.  




 
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Vanessa Nakate, a climate activist from Uganda, shared her experiences with the reality of climate change: Even though the entire continent of Africa only causes about 3% of global emissions, its inhabitants struggle with the changing climate conditions daily.

For Vanessa Nakate and other African activists, the fight for climate justice is first and foremost a fight for their own survival. The core realization is that when we destroy the planet, there will be the time when we cannot influence the development any more. We will be able to adapt to lost traditions, culture, history and species that are going extinct. Connecting this feeling to the thought of the interconnectedness of all life on the planet, she understands herself as part of a global youth movement which aims to vote leaders into position who represent the people and the planet.

Her life in Uganda has shown her clearly that destroying the planet will also mean destroying humankind. The way we live our lives affects our plant. It is important to have these discussions everywhere: In Families, Schools, and conferences. Vanessa Nakate has been trying to re-connect with traditions of her tribe as well. Historically, tribes understood themselves as guardians of an animal, such as her own tribe traditionally protected elephants. Reviving the tradition of communities guarding the environment has become a part of her work.  




 
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Ivo Cipio Aureliano as well shone a light on indigenous activism. For many indigenous people, the struggle for the protection of the environment is tied to the preservation of the own existence. In his work, Ivo Cipio Aureliano works with two approaches: On the one hand, he is trying to support local leaders in elections, and on the other hand, he is working to educate more leaders so that they understand the importance of protection of environment.

For him, it is important to honour the wisdom of the elders – which is the true meaning of “generations in dialogue”. Their teachings already contain a lot of knowledge about the preservation of the waters, the forests and the Amazon as a whole. He emphasized the urgent need to take this matter seriously, as humankind is running out of time. He called on every person, no matter where they live, to accept their responsibility to defend mother earth - Our life depends on what we are protecting.




 
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Moderator
  • Ms Merylene Chitharai, Youth Member, Religions for Peace South Africa 
Keynote Speeches
  • Sheikh Ahmad Muhammad Al-Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar
  • Prof Dr Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network
Video Message
  • Chief Benki Piyãko, Indigenous Leader and President of the Yorenka Tasorentsi Institute, Asháninka people, Brazil
Panelists 
  • Bishop Gunnar Stalsett, Bishop emeritus of Oslo; Honorary President, Religions for Peace
  • Ms Sonia Guajajará, Executive Coordinator, Association of Indigenous People of Brazil
  • Ms Merylene Chitharai, Youth Member, Religions for Peace South Africa



 
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The following discussion between Merylene Chitharai and Bishop Gunnar Stalsett and Sonia Guajajará and provided an insight into the work of the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative from two different perspectives.

Bishop Gunnar Stalsett recounted the initiation phase of the IRI and explained how ending  deforestation has become a high spiritual calling for many religious leaders from different countries and religion and analysed the political and diplomatic processes to bring the initiative to life.

From the perspective of Sonia Guajajará the IRI has helped indigenous people to become representatives instead of just being represented. The IRI has provided trainings and tools to become effective advocates for the protection of the forest and people of the forest, giving them an opportunity for inclusion, participation, and spaces of decision - an opportunity to shape their future.

The different country programs of the IRI have created nationwide movements of awareness which have real influence and are supported by the moral imperative to safeguard mother earth. This proves that science, religious leadership and traditional knowledge can join forces to protect the environment together. The initiative aims to convey knowledge about nature to the huge share of most populations living it cities. This has the additional effect of providing insight into the lives of indigenous people to the urban population, which has been helping to fight prejudice in the whole of society.

While there are still some missing links to be identified in the broader political, academic and business worlds – and between words and actions – the International Rainforest Initiative has shown that a humble, self-critical attitude on behalf of nations and groups of faith is needed, and that a renewed, moral and spiritual understanding of solidarity can help to share the burdens of climate change and close the missing links of justice.  




 
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Reverend Dr. Clement Joseph stopped by the studio to speak with the Conference Hosts and Journalist about the many issues Haiti has been facing. In a country where more than 80 percent of the population are living impoverished, he explains the importance of interreligious dialogue, education, and the protection of the environment. Watch this in-depth conversation about hope, commitment, and perseverance here:
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Topic: Humanitarianism

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Moderator
  • Mr Philbert AganyoLeader, Youth Media Team
Keynote Speeches
  • H.E. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO
  • H.E. Mr Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR
Speaker
  • Dr Gilles Carbonnier, Vice President, ICRC
  • Dr Kezevino (Vinu) Aram, President, Shanti Ashram, Co-Moderator, Religions for Peace, Hindu, India
  • Bishop Margot Käßmann, Former Chairperson, Evangelical Church of Germany, Co-President, Religions for Peace, Christian, Germany
  • Mr Imam Mohamed Magid, Executive Imam, All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center, Co-President, Religions for Peace, Muslim, United States
  • Dr Renz C. Argao, Director, Argao Center for Psychological Services, Coordinator, Religions for Peace International Youth Committee, Christian, Philippines
   


 
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H.E. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO

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H.E. Mr. Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR

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Gilles Carbonnier highlighted a vastly untapped potential to bring top leaders from religious circles and of the humanitarian world together to push critical agendas regarding public health and diplomacy.

As an example, he mentioned that the president of the ICRC and the Archbishop of Canterbury launched a global appeal to world leaders on equitable access to vaccines, which was instantly taken up by leaders like Dr. Tedros A. Ghebreyesus and Filippo Grandi, but also by religious leaders. This was published in big media outlets and carried over to the UN General Assembly and other venues where it has an impacted.

An important lesson from working in humanitarian crises for him was the role of youths: “And youth in that regard are key. In some contexts, it’s interesting because we have volunteers in the Red Cross and the Red Crescent who are also youth engaged in faith and their religious communities. And they are the ones helping, going into the communities, sharing the word, explaining. And actually, really often they have authority. They are credible in their own communities, and they have authority to transmit this important message.

In general, Mr Carbonnier highlighted the importance of religious leaders for the ICRC to be accepted as neutral, impartial, and as independent humanitarian workers in conflict zones.




 
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Dr Gilles Carbonnier

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The partnerships of religious leaders with various institution has been critically important during this pandemic. In many meetings with health organizations, Imam Mohamed Magid recalled, religious leaders were provided important information about Covid-19 and vaccines during the early days of the pandemic, which they then could relay to their communities. He highlighted the Role of Religions for Peace in organizing these meetings.

Imam Magid emphasized the contributions of religious leaders as they converted their places of worship to community clinics where people could get vaccinated. “My own mosque has facilitated 25,000 doses of vaccines in the mosque itself. But that happened through working with our friends from the Jewish and Christian communities, who have all been doing so.”
Imam Magid also raised the issue of accessibility, which also highlights the importance of converting places of worship to community clinics, so people gain easy access to the vaccine.

Going from the local level to a macro level, Imam Magid stressed that “the western countries should not be selfish in this issue. We really should use our resources to deliver vaccines as soon as possible to many parts of the World. Because if you ask people of faith who believe that humanity is one family, you cannot divide people in north and south, rich and poor.”




 
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Bishop Kässman highlighted how the most vulnerable groups, for example the elderly and differently abled people, were more or less forgotten during the lockdown. While experts on epidemics and economy were omnipresent in the media, the most vulnerable didn’t have a voice. She points out: “religious leaders have to be the voice of the voiceless, especially in debates about public health.”

Furthermore, Bishop Dr Kässmann called for the creation of safe places for debate “where people can still look one another in the eye without hate speech and aggression. And I think this is an obligation for religious communities and especially across religious communities”. This is really urgent as she pointed out the aggression around the Covid-19 vaccination as conspiracy theories are being spread.

In her last point, Bishop Dr Kässmann raised the issue of birth control, especially in the context of religious communities, as it is often treated as a taboo topic. But given the suffering from early motherhood, she emphasized the importance of this topic, so women can actually engage in family planning “instead of just having to give birth because they have no access to methods of family planning”.




 
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Dr Argao emphasized the importance of mental health as an aspect of public health. He said in psychology, “we recognize that spirituality, religiosity plays a role in improving the mental health of everyone, but some people often blame the lack of religion or faith as the reason why people suffer from mental illness”.

He pointed out the influence of religious leaders as they can change the health behaviours of the people in their communities. Together with young people, they have the potential to really make a difference – as proven before with the polio vaccines in India and Pakistan, as well as with Ebola in Nigeria.

“Religious leaders are also links to public health policies, programs and interventions. Religious leaders hold a special bond of trust with their communities, especially with our vulnerable members, giving them unique access to these populations.“

Dr Argao also pointed out the potential of religious leaders for diplomats: “I believe that traditional diplomats can learn from the compassionate approaches that religious leaders have. Why? Because a person of faith would believe their religious leader, but a person of faith might not always believe and trust their diplomats.”
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Vinu Aram highlighted the risks to the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health the Covid-19 pandemic poses, especially to children. The development of children is positively influences by a peaceful environment, while toxic stress, including poverty, has adverse effects. And those negative stressors are becoming more prevalent during the pandemic.

Dr Aram pointed out that “Thousands of years ago our scriptures spoke about the flourishing of a child in a happy environment where there was an embrace of the intergenerational setting in a family – grandparents, great-grandparents, parents, and society included – or the embrace of social institutions – schools of learning, schools of music. So, here I would like to say that it is for us to seize, and here I would like to reiterate what Bishop Kässman said, we have to create these new spaces for intersectional dialogue.”

For this, she mentioned that Religions for Peace has been doing this since the 19990s. She mentioned that the then Executive Director of UNICE invited faith communities when the convention of children’s rights were debated. They told him this was a risky move. “He said ‘no, when we have to work together, when partnerships have to be built, we need to risk ourselves.’ And risk-taking is an important part of building partnerships. Risk-taking when it is done from a place of trust, when it is done from a place of openness, I think we give ourselves a chance to succeed.”

Thus, she iterated the need for open dialogue that “requires that positive discomfort to allow yourself to feel ‘I don’t know this, I might learn from the other’”. Here, relationships must not be transactional but transformative, “where we give each other not just the comfort but the power to be ourselves and to be equal in a relationship that can change the world for the better.”



 
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Moderator
  • Ms Eda Molla Chousein, Youth Programme Coordinator of the National Interfaith Youth Network, Religions for Peace UK; Executive Committee Member, Religions for Peace UK Keynote
Keynote
  • H.E. Ms Ursula Müller, Former Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator in the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs (OCHA)
Speaker
  • Ms Laura Vargas, Inter-Religious Council of Peru – Religions for Peace, Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, Christian, Peru
  • Mr Rick Santos, Deputy Chairman, Youth Committee, Religions for Peace Philippines
  • Ms Shamsa Abubakar Fadhil, Organizational Secretary, Mombasa Women of Faith Network
  • Dr Genti Kruja, Secretary General, Religions for Peace Albania, Islam, Albania



 
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In this talk, moderated by Ms Eda Molla Chousein, four panellists that are members of organizations that received funds from the Multi-Religious Humanitarian Fund (MRHF) for humanitarian assistance projects. These funds were mostly used for Covid-19 emergency relief. The panellists shared how they used the money and showed how multi-religious humanitarian work reaches those in dire need during extraordinarily hard times.

Before that, H.E. Mrs. Ursula Müller shared in a keynote speech her insights on humanitarian assistance from the perspective of a former high-ranking UN official.




 



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In her keynote speech, H.E. Ursula Müller divided the term humanitarianism into four principles, on which humanitarian assistance is based on: humanity, neutrality impartiality and independence. She highlights that the principle of humanity defines the purpose of humanitarian action as protecting life and health and ensure respect for human beings wherever human suffering is found.

The second principle, impartiality, “means that humanitarian action must be carried out on the basis of need alone, giving priority to the most vulnerable people and making no distinction based on nationality, gender, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions.” Herein it is important to put the people that need assistance in the centre and to include the affected communities in the decision-making processes and to be accountable to them.

Mrs. Müller shared touching encounters she had during her work at OCHA and how it was always important for her to amplify the voices of those individuals on the highest levels of the United Nations Security Council. This not only keeps their hopes high and shows that the international community cares about them. It also emphasizes that behind the numbers in which crises are measured are always individuals in dire need of assistance.




 
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Mrs Laura Vargas is a member of the Interreligious Council of Peru, which received funds from the MRHF. While Peru used to be a corridor for migrants to reach other places, now more than one million people came from Venezuela to build a better life for themselves as they fled extreme poverty and oppression. They face a lot of abuse. Those fates reiterated the importance of an Interreligious Council for Refugees and Migrants.

For the humanitarian work in this migration crisis, the IRC also received the Help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and of the International Organization for Migration and of all the religious communities that are organized in the IRC of Peru. Mrs. Vargas points out that the main success with the funding has been, that they were able to multiply the means they have received by creating a network of solidarity. “And this is very important because solidarity is a basic principle of relation. If we don’t relate by solidarity, there is no way we can see the other as a unique person, as a human person that shares our own humanity.”

By multiplying the funds, they could expand their operations from Lima into six other regions of the country. Furthermore, they have 28 communities that are attending to migrants.




 
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Ms. Shamsa Abubakar Fadhil told the audience that the Mombasa Women of Faith Network is involved in a multitude of humanitarian efforts. When she was elected as a member of the committee responsible for Covid-19 response teams, she realized that there were no religious leaders present. So Ms. Abubakar Fadhil told the Governor: “As much as we want to fight this pandemic, we cannot do it if the religious leaders are not here”.

And indeed, for the first two weeks the efforts of the committee failed as people refused to wear masks, to sanitize and to keep distance from one another. People actually did not believe that Covid-19 existed. But when her network received the grant from Religions for Peace, Ms. Abubakar Fadhil requested from the governor to run awareness campaigns because many people don’t have access to the internet, TV or even electricity. This campaign really helped with informing the people.

Together with the Interreligious Council of Kenya, the Women of Faith Network launched the Jali Initiative. Jali means “I care for you”. As many people in Kenya live in poverty, they can’t afford masks, let alone disposable ones. So they improvised masks made from cloth, which opened business opportunity for the Women of Faith network. They produced 150,000 cloth masks with labels from the network and the IRC and distributed them to the less fortunate.

The Jali Initiative was also launched in other regions – proving its effectiveness and that the funds from Religions for Peace were used to the maximum.




 
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Ms Jacqueline Mallari told the audience it was early 2020, just as the country was experiencing the first-ever lockdown when the Religions for Peace Philippines Youth Committee received the funds. Ms. Mallari and her team launched the campaign “Together – Reaching out to the Unheard” to focus on those who are seldom noticed: garbage collectors, informal settlers, displaced construction workers and fire victims and the indigenous community. “Our team decided that these are the people that we can help because these are the people that do not get enough attention from the government and from the other non-governmental organizations that are helping.”

Ms. Mallari shared that the humanitarian work she and her network did was based on three pillars: education, emergency response, and spirituality. For education, they launched the “Covid Online Series” wherein they spread information via the internet about what Covid-19 is, proper hand-washing technique, and they produced publication materials debunking the myths surrounding Covid-19 as many conspiracies were floating around the pandemic.

Regarding emergency response, they prepared food and sanitation packages, which also contained the education materials, which were distributed to more than 400 families. Ms. Mallari conceded that the packages were not much, “but they were necessary during that time. […] What they need is to survive. It’s the primary thing that they need, and the Religions for Peace Youth Committee addressed that.”

For the spirituality aspect of their work, they partnered with different small places of worship – catholic churches, mosques, Buddhist and Hindu temples. They distributed sanitation packages preparing for the re-opening of the places of worship. This connected them with the different churches and started a still ongoing exchange.




 
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As a member of the Interreligious Council of Albania, Dr Genti Kruja shows that Albania has been an important place for interfaith dialogue and coexistence for centuries. It is a place where Christians and Muslims have been coexisting for hundreds of years. The IRC has since it’s founding in 2007 organized several national and international conferences and is very engaged in interreligious education up to the university level at Beter, where a masters program in religious studies with emphasis on interfaith work, religious education, and religious leadership is offered to students of all religions.

Dr Kruja further reported that the IRC Albania was awarded the “Sergio de Mello” Peace Award in Poland in 2018. And this year, the president of Albania decorated the IRC with the “Honour of the Nation” medal, the highest honour of the country. The IRCs of Albania and Bosnia had received funds from the MRHF, which were used to provide food packages as Covid-19 emergency response to families of different religions in need. Christians, Muslims, the youth, and women of the departments of the IRC helped around 200 families.

Dr Kruja stressed, that “It’s not important how many packages we handed out. It is critical to be a model for all the institutions and NGOs”.




 
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Topic: Peace and Security

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Interviewer
  • Mr Thomas Sparrow, Political Correspondent, Deutsche Welle
Interviewees
  • Chief Rabbi David Rosen, International Director, Department of Interreligious Affairs, American Jewish Committee; Co-President, Religions for Peace
  • Bishop Dr Munib Younan, Bishop Emeritus of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land; Honorary President, Religions for Peace
  • Ms Kristina Lunz, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy




 
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At what point can religions be part of peace building processes, moderator Thomas Sparrow asks the panellists feminist activist Kristina Lunz, Rabbi David Rosen and Bishop Munib Younan.

"Peace building starts with seeking to understand the otherness of the others", Bishop Younan answers. "Speaking is not the first priority, listening is."

"Peace begins in us", Rabbi Rosen states. "The challenge for us as people of faith is to always have in mind that the other – no matter how badly he or she maybe behave – is still a child of god." Others don't decide to be mean, they act from suffering and pain. Peace building begins with seeing the human being in the other.

Activist Lunz states: "Peace and peace building will really only be possible, if we allow justice and freedom for everyone and do not oppress political minorities." And she wants to know what religions can do to promote equality.

Rosen argues that not religion itself is dangerous, but power is. Therefore, democratic structures are essential in religion: "Religion needs to be divested from power", Rosen demands, “to empower women and men and all diversity”.

In the end, moderator Sparrow asks: “How can we all and especially young people be involved?” And all three panellists agree on the same answer: Challenge anything that is wrong, challenge the ones in power.




 













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Chief Rabbi David Rosen

In conflicts in which religions play a role as well, political leaders cannot ignore religions in the political peace building processes, Rabbi David Rosen thinks. Religions need to be integrated in diplomatic processes.

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Moderator
  • H.E. Amb. Marie-Therese Pictet-Althann, Order of Malta Permanent Observer to the UN Geneva; Honorary President, Religions for Peace
Keynote Speeches
  • H.E. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, England
  • Mr Steve Killelea, International Trustee, Religions for Peace
  • Hon. Layla Alkhafaji, Elected Member of Political Bureau-Alhikmah Movement; Former Member of Iraqi Council of Representatives – Parliament; Former International Relations Director – Al Hakim Foundation
Speakers:
  • Rev. Clement Joseph, Secretary General, Religions for Peace-Haiti and MISSEH, Christian, Haiti
  • Ms Irmgard Maria Fellner, Deputy Director-General for Culture and Communication, German Federal Foreign Office
  • Ms Opor Srisusan, Youth Member, International Network of Engaged Buddhists



 
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84 percent of the global population considers itself to be religious. And it is estimated that it will be 87 percent by 2050, moderator Ambassador Marie-Therese Pictet-Althann remarked in her opening statement of  "Peace and Security: The Multi-Religious Imperative". The influence of religion as well in daily life and in global relations will therefore increase.

How does the religious dimension affect conflicts around the world? Do religions cause conflicts? Are they capable of preventing and solving conflicts? That was the topic of the panel in the morning of the conference's second day.  

Steve Killelea, whose Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) in Australia investigates causes of conflicts and publishes the "Global Peace Index" every year, pointed out in his keynote address that "Religions are elements of conflicts, but not the cause of conflicts". Causes are poverty, hunger, lacking resources, overpopulation or ecological catastrophes.




 










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Videomessage from Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, England

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"Pope Francis – in the meeting that took almost one hour, during the first ever papal visit to Iraq – thanked Ali Al-Sistani for raising his voice in defence of the weakest and the most persecuted, on one of the most violent times Iraq's recent history. He also called him a man of god. Sayyid Sistani, in answer, confirmed in his statement, that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security and therefore with constitutional rights. The collaboration and meetings of multireligious leaders has a direct reflection on the followers of the religions. Most of the time, it will help to control the emotions and reactions." 




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How religious leaders can have a significant impact in conflict situations, in which religions are involved, Layla Alkhafaji explained regarding the recent history of her home country Iraq. There, influential religious leaders encouraged their communities to participate in free elections, to fight against religious extremists ISIS and to support the efforts to increase gender equality.

Also, the meeting between Pope Francis and Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al Sistani had a significant impact on the way Iraqi Muslims and Christians interacted with each other afterwards. Meetings like this one, Alkhafaji concluded, have huge impacts in faith communities, based on the peaceful role model character of the religious leaders.

Being asked by Prof Azza Karam on how the German Federal Foreign Office actually selects religious leaders for diplomatic talks, German diplomat Irmgard Maria Fellner explained that this would depend mostly on the topic. "We do have to look outside of our circle", Fellner said. And: "We do not exclude people based on their opinion." There's no distinction between "good and bad religious leaders".  

Moderator Pictet-Althann added, that in diplomatic meetings usually these religious groups are being selected that are involved in a conflict. For peace negotiations, it's necessary to have all actors on the same table.





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Ms. Irmgard Maria Fellner, Deputy Director-General for Culture and Communication, German Federal Foreign Office

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"I would like to draw your attention to the interreligious function. So, what is this function? It is about managing relationships that are based on differences. And also, at the same time, they are an identity pillar that is shared among all of us. And this model of managing relations can also be used in a political realm, it can also be used in the diplomatic field and can serve as a role model in pedagogy. It can also be used to determine our joint actions to foster peace and security."



 
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By simply saying "Can I help you" you can defuse many tensions, especially in political controversies, Jos Douma explains to Moderator Renz Argao in this short studio talk. This is one thing Douma learned in the Diplomatic Round Table he co-moderated earlier.

Jos Douma is the first official Special Envoy on Religion and Believe in the Netherlands.
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Moderator
  • Ms Mirian Akuaba De-Souza, Youth Representative, Ghana Conference of Religions for Peace; Member, International Youth Committee (Christian, Ghana)
Keynote Speech
  • H.E. Dr Ibrahim Saleh Al-Naimi, Chairman, Board of Directors, Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue
Speaker
  • H.E. Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja; Honorary President, Religions for Peace
  • Mr Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh, Chairman, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, Co-President and Trustee, Religions for Peace
  • Ms Bani Dugal, Principal Representative to the United Nations, Bahá’í International Community, Co-President, Religions for Peace, Bahá’í, United States
  • Ms Emina Frljak, Program Coordinator, Youth for Peace, Member of Religions for Peace International Youth Committee, Islam, Bosnia and Herzegovina




 
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How can peace be built through interreligious collaboration? That was the topic of the second panel on the second day of the conference. The aim of the discussion was to better identify the value of multireligious collaboration, Moderator Mirian Akuaba De-Souza said in the opening words.  

Cardinal John Onaiyekan emphasized that within the more than thirty years that he worked with Religions for Peace he has been witnessing progress of how religious communities globally relate to each other. “Things are happening today, that we only dreamed 20 years ago”, Onaiyekan said.  

According to Bani Dugal the purpose of every religion is peace. “I don’t think any manifestation of god came to spread the word of hate or war.” The trench opened when people started to talk about the “others”. So, the challenge for cooperation is the “othering” of people, and this should be addressed for multireligious cooperation.  

Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh thinks, that exceeding political correctness is preventing multireligious collaboration. To be politically correct, the name of god is trying to be excluded. But according to Singh the term cannot be edged out, when religions are supposed to cooperate with one another. He demands a new relationship between religious and secular viewpoints.  

Emina Frljak points out the meaning of religious motivation. The majority of people are driven by religious beliefs. So this must be acknowledged. She suggests more safe spaces for interfaith gatherings like the conferences from Religions for Peace, in which people can share their thoughts and opinions.




 
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H.E. Dr. Ibrahim Saleh Al-Naimi, Chairman, Board of Directors, Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue

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"What tends to happen with interfaith in the world today, at the most, will be that we get together and talk about a particular subject. And then we say let's do a project together: donate money or medicine or do something good – which is wonderful. However, we are not really addressing the root causes for unrest and the key impediments for peace. And unless we are going to address these impediments, we are not going to move out of conflict or unrest of any kind."
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"For example, Malaria. In Nigeria, we only have to deal with two religions: Christianity and Islam.  By that time, we got imams and bishops together, so they would really promote people to sleep under mosquito tents. And it worked because we said: «The mosquito that goes to the mosque on Friday goes to the church on Sunday. And it is this mosquito that gives us the same malaria, which is neither Christian nor Muslim.» This is the language that we use. And we did the same thing at the high of the HIV infections in our land. Again, we managed to get Christians and Muslims to sit down together, admitting that this is a major calamity."
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"We sometimes worry about diversity. Diversity is a natural phenomenon. But there is dignity in diversity. We should celebrate diversity. The 7.6 billion people we are make humanity. Each one is different. So we shouldn’t worry about difference. We are interconnected and we are interdependent of each other. We are divine sparks, each one of us. And we need to respect each other, love each other, sacrifice for each other and collaborate. That’s what we need to do."
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"Religious leaders and religious bodies are there to lead. They are leaders for a reason. They need to show their followers, they need to show their communities, that it is okay to collaborate. That you are not less Christian, not less Muslim, not less Hindu, Sikh or whatever. (…) It is super important that religious leaders show the way and people will follow. If we don’t have the examples, then we are in a big trouble."
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