Conference Commemorates World Interfaith Harmony Week in Prague

Prague, Czech Republic - Over 50 people from different denominations came to an interreligious conference celebrating World Interfaith Harmony Week in Prague, which was held on the premises of the Community of Christians on Feb. 3, 2014. The conference was organized by UPF-Czech Republic together with the Christian Community, the Association for Interreligious Dialogue and the Society of the Christians and Jews as partners.

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Having three partner organizations directly involved with the preparations of the event turned out to be very beneficial and fruitful, as not only did they have representatives as a speakers but they also invited many of their contacts. One young person from the Association of Christians and Jews volunteered to publicize the event by distributing posters and invitations to libraries, universities, the Jewish community and other places.

Among the audience were people from the Christian community, the Hare Krishna movement, students of religion and theology, Buddhists, practicing Christians and others simply curious about the purpose of life. From the offset the atmosphere was very open and warm, with a few participants offering some refreshments which added to the overall feel of the event.

The motto of the conference was"From Interreligious Dialogue to Interreligious Cooperation" and began with a reading of the holy texts from Christian and Hindu traditions, which was followed by a short video about UPF interfaith activities.

In the opening remarks Dr. Juraj Lajda, UPF secretary general in the Czech Republic, emphasized that although it faces many obstacles, interreligious dialogue is of utmost importance. He went on further to explain that interfaith dialogue needs to be elevated to a higher level of prominence, taking the lead in interreligious cooperation, and mentioned that conflicts in the world cannot be solved only by politicians, economists or military men but that religious insights need to be integrated into peacebuilding processes. He also mentioned UPF Founder Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon and his proposal for an interreligious council to be established within the structure of the United Nations.

The first speaker, Mr. Tomáš Boněk from the Christian Community, spoke on the topic "What Unites and Differentiates the Religions," mentioning that for many people, the value of interreligious dialogue is not obvious. He asked questions about boundaries with regards to dialogue and the avoidance of losing one's own identity, going on to mention post-confessionalism in Germany, which goes beyond the traditional confessions in seeking the truth. He went on to suggest that people have a fear when they feel that they are different from the others, and that these differences often cause conflicts. He said that real dialogue can change society and that we are living in a globalized world, but internal globalization is also necessary even though it is a real challenge.

Dr. Bronislav Ostřanský, a researcher from the Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences, spoke about the "Social Aspects in Islam" and gave a clear overview of the main characteristics of Islam. He mentioned that there is universality and a search for the middle way and human initiative in Islam. He noted that charity, education, social justice and ethics are regarded as having utmost importance, and that the family and love towards children within families is always emphasized.

The topic of Trilokátma Dás, from the Hare Krishna movement, was "Religion – Part of Our Everyday Life." According to him, people think that leading a religious life is a privilege only for some people, but for himself it is enough just to believe. He mentioned that people may think that leading a religious life results in a loss of freedom, but the contrary was true; he stated that religious life can enrich us, and that it should be part of our daily life. The Latin word religio, he said, means coming back to the origin, and so through religion, one can come back to the origin.

In the last panel with the title "From Inter-Religious Dialogue to Inter-Religious Cooperation," there were two speakers, Professor Ivan Štampach, a theologian and religionist who spoke about the "Various Strategies of Interreligious Relationships." He specified three main strategies, the first being the strategy of religious exclusivism, which considers one’s religion to be the only way, which leads to the religious monopoly. The second strategy is religious pluralism, which must be distinguished from political pluralism. This strategy recognizes that everybody has their own truth and their own way; however, with this strategy there is a risk of falling into relativism or indifference. The third is the inclusivistic strategy, inclusivism being the interpretation of the other religion according to one’s own religion. The problem is that other religions are accepted only until a certain point, that point being as long as their teachings agree with one’s own religion; hence they are not accepted in their otherness. Towards the end, Professor Stampach mentioned that the upholders of interreliigious dialogue ultimately come to the conclusion that deeper ecumenism is necessary.

The final speech was delivered by Peter Samochin, UPF representative and lecturer. In his speech he asked why we need interreligious dialogue and stated that it is because there are barriers among the people and that in order to remove them we need this dialogue. Moreover, we need reconciliation and forgiveness, leading to friendship and mutual trust. He mentioned that this dialogue should start immediately and that there is no time to wait. He then introduced UPF's Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI) project, demonstrating how effective interreligious dialogue is with regards to reconciliation, and in conclusion encouraged the participants of the conference to embrace one another.

Many people expressed their gratitude for the conference and remarked about the atmosphere of mutual understanding and everyone’s efforts to find brotherhood. There were representatives from national broadcasting stations such as Czech radio and Czech television, who felt inspired to come and record the event. The documentary is due to be broadcast within the next few days.

Interfaith Harmony Week 2014 from Universal Peace Federation International

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