Messages of hope, unity and renewed resolve to tackle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic offered a positive path forward for 2021, as outlined during a KAICIID virtual event held in Vienna yesterday.
“Light of Hope and Faith”, which featured messages and prayers from the Centre’s multireligious Board of Directors, centred on each member’s reflections on their own spiritual traditions as well as the theme of hope for 2021.
While many of the guest speakers highlighted the importance of cooperation and understanding between faiths based on universally held values and aspirations, calls for a recovery from the global Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to 1.9 million deaths and 90.3 million confirmed cases, were high on the agendas of speakers.
“As we face this year, we do so together and united by the power of faith and hope,” said KAICIID Secretary General, Faisal Bin Muaammar. “This is an invitation to remember that we are not alone and that we are fortified and strengthened by the universal values that unite all faiths and by the wisdom, sacrifice and guidance of billions of the world’s people.”
Bin Muaammar further encouraged the event’s nearly 400 audience members by reminding them that there is much to look forward to this year. “I believe it will also be a year of regeneration, of renewal, a year of hope at KAICIID. We are ready to continue our work building interreligious dialogue for peace. I look forward to continuing this journey with each of you,” he continued.
Board members joined with bin Muaammar in urging solidarity and hope.
“The human suffering of this past year, its global impact demanding isolation from one another, creating walls of tension and fear, needs a new encounter with this hope which we realise as religious leaders can only come from the Creator,” said Cardinal Ayuso Titular Bishop, Diocese of Luperciana and President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
Dr. Kezevino Aram, President of Shanti Ashram, added that “2020 has shown to us that unity is possible in the midst of pain. It has presented to us a renewed rationale that divisions are not worthy enough for us to invest in.”
Allashukur Pashazade, Chairman of the Caucasus Muslims` Board and Chairman of the Qazi Council and Sheikh ul-Islam of Caucasus placed an emphasis on the importance of encouraging peace and prosperity in the forthcoming year.
“Our sincere wish is that there should be no wars on Earth; that the suffering of those affected by these wars will end; that people will not be forced to flee their homes; that there will be an end to migrant crises; that there will be no religious or ethnic discrimination; that places of worship will not be desecrated".
Other speakers called on people of all faiths for a renewed commitment to hope and service to one another.
“It is a known fact that life is full of highs and lows. Without exception, every person has a challenge or difficulty in their life,” said Dr. Hamad Al-Majed, Faculty Member, Imam Muhammad Bin Saud University.
Al-Majed added that although difficulties can sometimes feel overwhelming, there is no need to despair. “The truth and reality is that mighty Allah (God) has supplied us with an unending supply of hope. Thus, whenever we begin to feel the pangs of hopelessness, we need to remember that Allah has given us every reason to rely on him and to hope for his health and support.”
Reverend Richard J. Sudworth, Secretary for Inter Religious Affairs to the Archbishop of Canterbury and National Inter Religious Affairs Advisor said that faith traditions should aim to work together as common agents of love and good will. “My prayer for 2021 is that we may all turn our lives out towards others in love and service, drawing from the hope of a Creator God who loves us more than we can imagine.”
Mohammad Sammak, Secretary-General of the National Committee for Christian-Muslim Dialogue in Lebanon, used his time to draw attention to climate change and rising populism, two of the most important challenges facing the interfaith community in 2021 and beyond.
“Humanity is facing two rising threats: the first is the rise of sea levels which shines a light on the serious threat that climate change poses to world coastal communities. The second is the rise of today's populism which leads to political fragmentation, social democracy decline, shifting more political and economic power to the elites, causing workers more suffering from stagnant wages and inequality, and consequently the rise of authoritarianism.”
Chief Rabbi David Rosen, International Director of Interreligious Affairs at the American Jewish Committee agreed that there are many challenges facing the world which extend beyond the pandemic and require a united response from faith communities.
“The enemies that we face today are not just the pandemic itself, but also the enemies of ignorance, prejudice, marginalisation, selfishness and insensitivity,” he said. However, he continued, “we are in God’s house, a divine abode, both blessed and bringing blessing to all. May this new year be one of blessing and health to us.”
With many countries around the world in lockdown and with health services overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, KAICIID Board members also stressed the importance of praying for victims and frontline staff.
“We pray for the victims of the pandemic,” said His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel, Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. “We pray for the frontline workers, the first responders. We pray for our families and communities. We pray for scientists to find a solution to this global health crisis. We pray for our political leaders to find the best answer in an imperfect world.”
He also added the importance of faith communities in leading the way to a brighter year: “We pray for our religious leaders and all the faithful to have the strength to continue to bear witness to what their faith is all about: love, forgiveness and care. Finally, we pray for the entire world: may the light of hope and faith shine upon it.”