Secretary General's Address on World Interfaith Harmony Week
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Your Excellencies, Eminences, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honor to welcome you to the International Dialogue Centre, for the Federal President’s lecture on interreligious dialogue’s contribution to peace today.
I am very grateful and privileged to welcome His Excellency, Dr. Heinz Fischer, Federal President of the Republic of Austria, to this Centre. President Fischer, your commitment to dialogue, to respect among peoples and to preserving social cohesion is a model for us all.
I would like also to welcome His Eminence, Cardinal Schoenborn to this evening’s event. Your Eminence, please accept my gratitude for your steadfast support of the Centre and our mission.
Your Excellency Ambassador Hussam Al Husseini, Ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to Austria, thank you for your presence here this evening, and for your country’s leadership in establishing this important initiative of World Interfaith Harmony Week.
And I wish also to commend the representatives of the religious communities here in Austria who honour us with their presence tonight.
You make a continuing contribution to interreligious understanding in Austria.
We are also honoured to welcome tonight the representatives of the diplomatic community here in Vienna.
As many of you are aware, the International Dialogue Centre was established by the governments of Austria, Saudi Arabia and Spain, with the Holy See as the Founding Observer.
These four make up the Council of Parties.
I would like to thank the representatives of our Council of Parties who join us today, for their support of the Centre and its work.
The Centre is governed by the Board of Directors, comprising nine religious leaders from five major world religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. All are experts in interreligious dialogue, and we are honored to have six Board Members with us today.
e are governed both by policymakers and by religious leaders: for this reason, no single religion, and no single nation determines our programmes. It is my belief that dialogue is the best way to foster the mutual respect that builds peace. No missile, drone, bomb or bullet can create respect for differences. Only dialogue can do that.
We are trying to help solve global challenges through dialogue. When religious leaders and national policy makers combine their efforts through dialogue, they can create positive change. Religious leaders can influence their communities to resist and reject hate and violence.
We support this collaboration because it is a vital peace building asset.
The UN, international organizations and NGOs share this vision and are our partners in this effort. We work with many partners such as the UNDP, UNESCO, the African Union, and ISESCO. We collaborate with the OSCE, the OIC and many NGOs.
Ladies and Gentlemen, for all of us in this room, the fate of 60 million refugees fleeing violence is a major concern.
If refugees are to return to peaceful homes, or to integrate into new circumstances, then we must find a way to help people accept and not fear differences.
Dialogue helps us achieve this. In dialogue we recognize that we are all equals and share core values.
Austrian religious communities have shown great commitment and resolve in supporting the integration of refugees here in Austria.
We are trying to do our part to support these efforts, by providing religious communities the means to help more refugees.
As we act locally, we also act globally. We work in conflict zones where religion is being manipulated to justify violence: such as in Iraq and Syria, in Nigeria, and in the Central African Republic.
Let me give you one example, in 2014, we launched the long-term initiative “United against Violence in the Name of Religion” to preserve common citizenship and the rights of religious communities in Iraq and Syria.
Since then we have brought together over 300 high-level Arab religious leaders several times in the Middle East and here in Vienna. At a meeting in Vienna in November 2014, the first such meeting in twenty years, they gave us a work plan to preserve religious diversity.
In September 2015, in Athens, we convened high level Christian and Muslim religious leaders from the Middle East.
They endorsed the “Athens Declaration: Supporting the Citizenship Rights of Christians, Muslims and Other Religious and Ethnic Groups in the Middle East”.
This declaration is a roadmap: in this year our Centre will support a network of leaders from different religious communities, such as Christians and Yazidis, and the main Muslim denominations to engage policy makers in the Middle East and Europe.
In December 2015, we have convened the first-ever network of Arab theological institutes, both Christian and Muslim. A network of this kind is an important first step to embed the culture of dialogue as a core value in religious education.
Young people are being recruited to violence through social media. During the past year, we developed social media training curricula and have already trained 150 young Arab social media advocates in the Middle East. They will launch social media campaigns to counteract hate speech and incitement.
This year we continue to support them and expand the training to more young people.
It is obvious that interreligious peacebuilding also happens at the grassroots level. Therefore, we have also provided dialogue training to over 3000 community leaders.
Let me highlight our Fellows Programme: religious education leaders spend a year learning about dialogue and conflict resolution.
With micro-funding from us, they put their training into practice, and run projects in their own communities. We have already trained 39 Fellows over the past two years.
Almost half of them are from conflict zones.
Joining us this evening are two Fellows: Mabrouka Rayachi works here in Austria and Alex Goldberg works in the United Kingdom.
And as we look to the future, it is my sincere hope that politicians, policy makers and religious leaders the world over, recognize dialogue as a practical and credible means of building peace and harmony.
President Fischer, dear friends, I am grateful for your on-going support in helping us to realize our shared vision and I look forward to exploring new opportunities for future collaboration.
Thank you and peace be with you all.