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Interfaith Programs

UPF Session on 'Building Trust through Interreligious Dialogue' at Alliance of Civilizations Forum

Bali, Indonesia - UPF sponsored a side event on the theme of “Building Trust through Interreligious Dialogue” at the UN Alliance of Civilizations’ Sixth Global Forum in Bali, Indonesia, Aug. 29-30, 2014.

"The Alliance of Civilizations was created to reach the hearts and minds of people and build bridges to peace," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his address to the forum. "All major faiths value peace and tolerance."

Under the theme “Unity in Diversity: Celebrating Diversity for Common and Shared Values,” the forum highlighted strategic and practical measures that can promote common values and a shared sense of responsibility. Breakout sessions explored interreligious and cross-cultural dialogue; the role of women; the power of sports, art, music and entertainment; youth; and the media.

Speakers at the UPF side event included Acharya Shrivatsa Gosvami, Shri Radha Raman Temple, Vrindavan, India; Ven. Hemaloka of Buddhist Maha Vihara Brickfields, Malaysia; Fr. Eliseo Mercado, convener of the National Peace Council, Philippines; and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of the Cordoba Initiative, US. Drawing on extensive personal experience, they described how to dialogue and exchange views and insights in ways that build trust and promote cooperation among people of different faiths.

Dr. Faisal Abdul Rauf spoke of the need for better mutual understanding between the Islamic world and what might generally be called 'the West,' a major focus of the Cordoba Initiative which he heads up.  In light of this, he underscored the need for dialogue among religions and civilizations and strongly affirmed the value of the UN's Alliance of Civilizations.

Ven. Hemaloka stressed the teachings of Lord Buddha as an antidote to many of the critical problems facing our world, including environmental, economic, social and political problems.  Greater attention on the "inner life" is needed, and hence the value of meditation, spiritual discipline and compassion for all living things.

Fr. Eliseo Mercado spoke of ab urgent need to plant, cultivate and nurture a new and refreshing attitude of openness in mind and heart, an essential disposition in understanding and living through the relations between Muslims and Christians:

This is the new attitude that will pave the way for a new beginning for each one of us and for each of our faith communities – yes, a new passage from the culture of war to a culture of peace.

I wonder if this is what the martyred President of Egypt Anwar Sadat expressed at the Knesset during his historic visit to the Holy City of Jerusalem in 1977: "Yet, there remains another wall. This wall continues and constitutes a psychological barrier between us, a barrier of suspicion, a barrier of rejection, a barrier of fear, of deception, a barrier of hallucination without any action, deeds or decision. A barrier of distorted and eroded interpretation of every event and statement. It is this official statement as constituting 70% of the whole process. Today, through my visit to you, I ask why don’t we stretch out our hands with faith and sincerity so that together we might destroy this barrier?"

Acharya Shrivatsa Gosvami brought special greetings from his hometown of Vrindavan, a Hindu pilgrimage center, dedicated to god as Krishna, located 100 km south of Delhi, India's national capital:

Ironically, in the Middle Ages, this ancient holy town was lost from memory as a geographical entity! In the beginning of the 16th century a great visionary and saint, Caitanya Mahaprabhu, came here. He found it as a barren piece of land without its legendary temples and gardens. Pained but not discouraged, he entrusted the job of recreating the holy land of Krishna to six apostles, known as gosvamis, my forefathers. In this team of resurrectors three came from Islamic background!

These religious leaders, under the guidance of Caitanya, entered into a dialogue with the state: the Hindu chieftains and the Muslim monarch. This was a comprehensive dialogue, a dialogue between two major religions, Hinduism and Islam, on one hand, and between religious and political powers on the other.

This unique alliance of Indian and non-Indian cultures resulted in the creation of Vrindavan. This Hindu “Vatican” or “Mecca” is the gift of the Mughal emperor Akbar to Hindu religious leaders. This daring interreligious dialogue resulted in economic prosperity, philosophical richness, literary creativity, and artistic and architectural splendor. Thanks to the Vrindavan experience, the 16th and 17th centuries became an era of peace, prosperity and development in India.

Dr. Thomas Walsh referred to a dramatic resurgence of religion as a factor in global affairs:

Increasingly it is recognized that government leaders, statesmen, policy makers, diplomats and academics should be knowledgeable about religion. It can no longer be viewed as some private matter that stands outside the mainstream of historical processes. Secularization is not the prevailing standard for most of the world's peoples. Hence, the need to become well informed about religion, and not only about one's own religion, but about the religious worldviews of others.

I was very encouraged to listen yesterday to the remarks of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the High Representative of the UN's Alliance of Civilizations, Nassir Abdulaziz Al Nasser, speaking so forcefully about the need for dialogue among people of the diverse cultures, religions and civilizations of our world and pointing to the rise of various forms of extremism that threaten the stability of many nations. Religion cannot be ignored. On the contrary, the promotion of dialogue, mutual respect, understanding and cooperation among religions is needed now more than ever. 

In this respect UPF firmly endorses and supports the vision and work of the Secretary-General and the UN Alliance of Civilizations. UPF has always advocated that increased attention be given to interreligious dialogue at the United Nations as it seeks to address humanity's most serious global problems. The Global Forum of the Alliance of Civilization is an extremely important platform for interreligious dialogue. As is often said, "peace among the nations requires peace among the religions."

The host nation, Indonesia, is home to more than 490 different ethnic groups, speaking different languages, following different traditions and professing different religions. "The Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Sinic and Western civilizations have merged with local cultures to become part of our rich heritage as a nation," stated Indonesia's President H.E. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in his keynote address. Indonesia's diversity is celebrated in the national motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ikam ("Unity in Diversity"), which was also the conference theme.

"I believe that God created us free to live, and that we can truly invest the love and compassion implanted in us to develop civilized relations between different civilizations," stated H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, UN high representative for the Alliance of Civilizations.

Read statements by
Fr. Eliseo Mercado
Acharya Shrivatsa Gosvami
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations

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