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R. Cleaver: Address to World Summit 2020

Address to World Summit 2020, Seoul, Korea, February 3-8, 2020


Dr. Islam, distinguished co-panelists, and honoured guests. As we have learned from the previous speakers, every nation is unique so the role of interreligious dialogue varies quite greatly from country to country.

I live in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, and am the president of a voluntary, grass-roots interfaith organization of which I was one of the founders in 2003. Run by a committee of people of various faiths, we offer programs for the general public to help people learn about other faiths – including lectures, panels, seminars, visits to sacred spaces, to name a few. Through this work we create networks and friendships and build understanding based on trust and respect. Although a majority of people of faith in New Zealand identify as Christian, due to migration patterns over the past 20-25 years the number of people identifying with other religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam, etc. – has grown considerably, with their populations concentrated mostly in the larger cities.

From TIO (The Interfaith Observer), June 15, 2019, article by Adrian Bird: “Can Interfaith

Activities make a Difference?”

There are no short cuts to building strong relationships that lead to healthy communities. The ability to mobilize quickly in the aftermath of a crisis depends upon the long-term investment in nurturing relationships of trust and respect.

New Zealand is, comparatively speaking, a  very “peaceful” country although we have our social problems, such as poverty, substance abuse, gangs, etc. But in March of 2019 suddenly Christchurch exploded onto the screens of televisions and computers the world over, for all the wrong reasons. That horrific slaughter of 51 innocent Muslims at prayer was for us like a 9/11.

Although shocked and somewhat numb, like many in my nation, I was called on to mobilize immediately my various friends and contacts from within the Muslim community. I think many of you may have seen some coverage of the way most New Zealanders chose to react to this tragedy, from our PM down to the grassroots.

There were rallies, peace vigils, open mosque nights, interfaith prayer services, and tens of thousands of flowers and gifts brought to mosques everywhere. Based on many years of working closely with members and leaders from the Muslim community, in this time of crisis all they had to do was ask and the Interfaith group was right there, supplying speakers from different faith groups, sending out notices through our networks, supporting the events.  Members of the public who had previously never shown interest in interfaith work now could see the value in engaging with others about their faith, visiting their places of worship, really seeing and accepting people for who they are.

The horrific act to divide a country has instead sparked a process that continues – underscoring the need for more interreligious dialogue, including the government now recognizing the need to engage directly with religious and interfaith organizations to tackle some of the problems we are facing.

By joining the interfaith movement, we have the opportunity to model together the differences we wish to see in the world.



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