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B. Behr: Address to 2nd Africa Summit

Address to Africa Summit 2018, Cape Town, South Africa, Nov. 21–25, 2018


Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, royal highnesses, Dr. Thomas Walsh, Chief Mandela, esteemed and distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. If I have left anybody out, it was by ignorance and not by intent, so please forgive me.

Intention and intent are very important words. We need to be very clear about our intentions because that is what will eventually manifest when we start on any particular course. The intention that we hold deep in our hearts when we begin an interreligious dialogue or any other kind of dialogue is something we truly need to be clear about.

We engage in interreligious dialogue not to persuade other people of our beliefs or our rights, but to listen. We come to listen to each other with our heart. I think it was Dr. Michael Jenkins who spoke at the very beginning about the enormous difference it makes when we truly open our hearts to each other and listen with our hearts, not because we are listening to respond, but because we are listening to learn. That is one of the basic principles I would like to highlight.

Also, let's look at definitions of peace, let's look at definitions of human development.  What is it that we truly mean when we talk about these things? The definition of peace that you and I hold is a very different definition of peace from a child who is in one of those places that was discussed this morning, or a child who is hungry, a child who lives in poverty, is surrounded by gangsterism. 

We have enormous challenges in this country. We know there are enormous challenges everywhere, and that religious, spiritual leadership is what needs to be restored in order for the cohesive family values, the cohesive community values that can truly make a difference to start being restored.

We have hope. It is so easy to look around us and say, no, I am sorry, we actually can do nothing; we don't even know where to start. But, on Friday night, I listened to one of our most esteemed academics, Professor Jonathan Jansen, who is attached to the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University.  He said, I have hope. He gave five reasons. I'm going to share with you two of them.

One of the reasons he gave is the psyche of the South African person, who is so able to forgive. The forgiveness that is steeped into our psyche gives us the deep ability to look at people who have done terrible harm, terrible injustice to us, and to forgive when they ask for it.  We have the very best example of this in Papa Madiba. As he walked out of prison, he forgave because he knew, as quoted before, that had he not left his bitterness inside the prison, it would have remained with him and he would still be in prison. So that is one of the reasons why we have hope, and maybe that is something we have to give to the rest of the world.

Another reason Jonathan Jansen gave really made my heart dance: interfaith is the best thing we've got.  He said, Cape Town, you do it so well. We have this amazing history. In 1997, Papa Madiba himself started the National Religious Leaders Forum. And out of the National Religious Leaders Forum has grown the National Interfaith Council of South Africa. And it is starting to revive the dream of Papa Madiba.

Did you know that Nelson Mandela himself opened the Parliament of the World's Religions in Cape Town in 1999?  We held it here. We hosted it here. People came from all over the world. And out of that parliament grew the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative. For the past 18 years the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative has been carrying out interfaith activities in our communities because we cannot stop at dialogue. Interfaith dialogue has to go forward in action.

The actions we have taken: we have a phenomenal youth program that brings mostly Muslim, Christian and Jewish youth, 15 and 16-year-olds, together over a two-year period. It is a phenomenal experience. As the children are growing up in a fragmented society, they very often do not have the opportunity to come together and learn about each other. But we are doing this and it makes an enormous difference for these youth going forward. 

We have a dream in Cape Town that we can provide a place in Cape Town where people of all religions and no religion can come together, learn together and grow together without fear and without prejudice, and know that they will be welcomed. We are going to call it an interfaith seminary and teach people there one of these days.

We cannot do it alone. Interfaith is not something you can ever do alone. I believe that this dream in Cape Town is the start of the International Peace Highway that was launched yesterday morning. I would really like to invite you to bring your heart and set the intention that together we can do something that will make an absolute difference. I thank you.



To go to the 2018 Africa Summit Schedule page, click here.