United Against Violence in the Name of Religion
Supporting the Citizenship Rights of Christians, Muslims and Other Religious and Ethnic Groups in the Middle East
2-3 November 2014
Today, I see many familiar faces and this gives me a great hope for our common effort. Your commitment to interreligious cooperation is clearly stronger than ever before.
This meeting today results from the long-term conviction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople that dialogue is the best path to peace. I wish to thank His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew for his inspiring example, his leadership and for his kind support for this initiative today.
For his steadfast resolve and wise guidance in convening this meeting, I wish to express my gratitude and thanks to His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel for his generous partnership. And of course, my sincere thanks go to the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs for its support.
I would also like to thank the religious leaders who have traveled to be here. We have with us representatives from the Armenian, Catholic, Evangelical, Rum Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Sunni, Shi’a and Druze communities.
My warmest welcome to those of you begin the dialogue today. The larger our circle becomes, the greater the chance of our success.
Our common goals have been always clear: we are committed to the ideal that Christian, Muslim and other religious and ethnic communities can, will and should live in cooperative harmony in the Middle East.
Many of you gathered in Vienna in November 2014, many of your representatives gathered in Beirut in May this year. Now, we gather again to take action to prevent violence in the name of religion.
Ladies and Gentlemen, violence being committed in the name of religion, and extremism occurs more frequently worldwide. Persecution is threatening to wipe out entire religious communities. The need for dialogue has never been more urgent.
And as you are well aware, some of the groups that have suffered most from this march of hatred have been Christian and other religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands have been subjected to brutal violence and horrific torment or forced to flee their homes.
Communities that have constituted an integral and vibrant part of the Middle East’s religious and cultural diversity for thousands of years have been violently uprooted. And the situation continues to worsen.
In these trying times, we gather because we wish to preserve the rich and diverse religious and cultural heritage of the Arab region. That diversity is deeply rooted in the region’s history. Now it is under grave threat. When these treasures are taken from us, they will be lost forever. When cultures and religions are lost, we lose the chance to deepen our humanity.
Let us ensure that this conference defines a path forward. We must find a way towards common action that can protect communities and help them thrive once more. Our expression of solidarity here is invaluable, but to achieve change, we need more. We came here today to decide what we will do to make a change. Let us decide today how we can take an active role to support these communities. That is my request.
Ladies and gentlemen, throughout history people have deliberately misinterpreted religious teachings to create conflict, to gain power.
This is deliberate and dangerous deceit. It a deceit that leads to catastrophe. There are many vulnerable believers. Religious teachings help millions of people acquire an empathetic and moral worldview. Religion offers believers guidance in behaviour and in decision-making. Through this moral and ethical guidance, communities arise that can educate the young, care for the weak and can protect all against abuse.
When people feel insecure, when they have no employment, when their economic prospects dim, when political circumstances are unstable, they seek assurance. And religion offers many who live with fear the security they seek. For most, this has a positive influence on their lives.
Criminals deliberately deceive believers. They manipulate religious teachings to create hatred, prejudice and violence.
A deceived believer is no longer be safe. She or he can be radicalized, even remotely via social media. This is happening around the world. Too many young people are deceived by a false sense of purpose that extremists offer. There is no doubt that this is one of the greatest threats facing the world today.
In the face of this sinister deceit, I am hopeful. The religious leaders gathered here are a powerful demonstration that the vast majority of the faithful worldwide understand religion as a force for good. You can guarantee that it remains so. You can focus this force on promoting coexistence and mutual understanding. You can weaken the drive towards extremism.
Interreligious and intercultural dialogue initiatives can vaccinate communities against the virus of extremism and terrorism.
Dialogue promotes peace by helping people learn to appreciate diversity. Dialogue gives people a reason to care for the Other, a reason to cooperate with the Other. Dialogue creates empathy. Empathy is the foundation for caring communities.
Dialogue is inexpensive, easily trained and can be used in any walk of life. It is universally effective.
It is my privilege to lead an intergovernmental institution that promotes dialogue for peace. The International Dialogue Centre, or KAICIID, creates a safe space to build dialogue between different religious groups. We are an unbiased interpreter, a connector, and a promoter of equal dialogue.
KAICIID is jointly governed by governments and a multi-religious Board of Directors. It is itself a dialogue between politics and religion.
In fact, the idea for KAICIID arose from the first-ever meeting, in 2007, between the Pope and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. At that meeting, Pope Benedict and King Abdullah agreed to support a courageous project to create the first international dialogue organization of its kind.
The Board, which consists of nine eminent religious leaders, designs and supervises the Centre’s programs, ensuring our credibility across many religious communities. And that credibility guarantees fair and respectful dialogue.
This meeting is convened under His All Holiness’ Dialogue and under KAICIID’s initiative United against Violence in the Name of Religion.
The initiative is designed to foster cooperation between religious institutions and governments to counter violence carried out in the name of religion, particularly in Syria and Iraq.
It was launched at a conference in Vienna in November, 2014. There, leaders of Christian, Muslim, and other religious and ethnic communities from Iraq, Syria and the Middle East denounced in unity any violence in the name of religion. It was a moment of hope. Religious leaders united to state that no violence can be accepted in the name of religion.
Since then, the initiative has grown. I can see that we are stronger and we can act effectively. We will keep the hope alive.
In May, in Beirut, we met many of the religious leaders gathered here or their representatives to follow up on the work plan we agreed upon in Vienna in November. I know you are committed to developing cooperative initiatives to realize our goals. Today we are considering how best to advocate for the citizenship rights for Christians and other religious and ethnic groups in the Middle East. We will keep hope alive.
Later this month, we will work in Amman, with our partners the Royal Jordanian Institute, Al Azhar and the Middle East Council of Churches to provide social media training for religious leaders and young people who advocate pluralism. We want to amplify the impact of the advocates of religious and cultural pluralism in the Arab Region.
KAICIID – with its partners – is also developing and conducting programs to support peacebuilding in conflict areas, including in the Central African Republic, Nigeria, and Iraq. We want to help communities use dialogue to foster cooperation and reconciliation.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the KAICIID Dialogue Centre is committed to work with you and with our partners to help build peace for the people who suffer in this crisis, and to ensure that the world hears this call for action. Let us keep the hope alive!