Report on the Religions for Peace
Western European Regional Youth Preparatory Meeting:
Confronting violence and advancing shared security
July 10th-13th, 2006 Geneva, Switzerland
[Rapporteur: Ariane Hentsch Cisneros]
- Welcome and opening remarks
Opening address. Religions for Peace World Assembly and the unique role of religious youth leaders, by Rev. Koichi Matsumoto, Religions for Peace (Japan)
- Plenary I. Confronting violence and advancing shared security : The role of religious youth leaders
- Natalie Maxson, WCC (Switzerland)
- Hakan Tosuner, MJD & FEMYSO (Germany)
- Mohammed Rahman, FEMYSO (Belgium)
- Rujputa Roplekar, NHSF (UK)
- Tamas Buchler, Kidma (Hungary)
- Elise Wong & Lisa Lin, BLIA YAD (UK)
- Phaldip Singh Khela, WYLN Europe & Sikh Youth (UK)
- Plenary discussion
- Group Work I. The role of religious youth in addressing the contemporary forms of violence
- Group reporting
- Plenary discussion
- Plenary II. Confronting violence and advancing shared security : the interreligious / inter-confessional perspective
- Rev. Hanna Kaarina Tervanotko, WSCF (Hungary)
- Lama Shenphen Rinpoche, Dharmaling (Slovenia)
- Elena Giachin, Focolare Movement (Italy)
- Julia Maria Koszewska, Pax Romana (Poland)
- Konrad Pędziwiatr, Arabia.pl (Poland)
- Beate Westby Stålsett, NCA & EAPPI (Sweden)
- Michel Charbonnier, EYCE (Italy)
- Mercedeh da Silveira, Bahá’í community (Switzerland)
- Olivier Sayadi, WCRP (France)
- Mari Fjelde Hauger, Changemaker (Norway)
- Laia Corral, Unescocat (Spain)
- WCRP Presentations
- Ziad Moussa, WCRP (International)
- Jehangir Sarosh, WCRP (Europe)
- Plenary discussion
- Group Work II. Building Interreligious Youth Networks in Europe
- Group reporting
- Plenary discussion
- Closing Ceremony
- Plenary discussion and adoption of draft statement
- Concluding remarks
From July 10th to 13th, 24 young religious leaders from 13 Western European countries, representing Bahá’í, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Zoroastrian communities as well as faith-based and interfaith youth organisations, gathered in the beautiful gardens of Cartigny, a small village in the outskirts of Geneva, for the Western European Regional Youth Preparatory Meeting on “Confronting violence and advancing shared security.” They were joined by Rev. Roiki Matsumoto, Secretary General, Religions for Peace (Japan) and member of Religions for Peace Youth Board (Japan) along with a delegation from Rissho Kosei-kai.
Considering Europe’s complex history and social diversity, as well as the unequal experience of countries in the management of multicultural societies, the young leaders discussed the roots of the physical, psychological, socio-economic, legal, political forms of violence prevalent in their respective milieus, and the types of relationships in which these various types of violence occur.
They also confronted their ideas on the best ways they, as religious youth leaders, can contribute to improving security in their own context at the individual, community and national levels.
The meeting concluded with the adoption of a joint declaration and the establishment of the European Interfaith Youth Network (EIYN) along with a blueprint action plan.
Welcome and opening remarks
On Tuesday morning 11th July, Ziad Moussa from Lebanon, Coordinator of the international youth committee (WCRP# International), welcomed 24 youth religious leaders from 13 Western European countries. They represented Bahá’í, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Zoroastrian communities, as well as other faith and interfaith youth organisations. In his openings remarks, Ziad voiced his hopes for a constructive dialogue around the participants’ experiences, and towards possible cooperation.
The goal of the present conference, he pointed, was to build momentum to complete a series of regional meetings leading up to the International Assembly of Religious Youth to take place in August 2006 in Japan. Since interfaith encounters often remain without long term practical effects, a follow-up process was deemed necessary, and will be implemented through regional youth platforms. These platforms will streamline the general lines of action defined before and during the VIIIth World Assembly of Religions for Peace. To carry on this task, an international youth committee with consultative status with Religions for Peace will be elected in Japan.
Any of the participants to the regional meetings is eligible to be part of the committee. Yet, as the world’s largest action-oriented interreligious platform, Religions for Peace is particularly sensitive to representativity, action-orientedness, and sustainability in the organisations which the elected youth will represent.
Jehangir Sarosh from the United Kingdom, President of Religions for Peace Europe, welcomed the participants by pointing to Religions for Peace believes that religions protect life here and hereafter, and how they consider multifaith cooperation is an important tool to this aim. Religions for Peace strives to help young religious leaders connect to each other, and makes a point to help them maintain the connection.
In turn, Baker al-Hiyari, Deputy Director of the Royal Institute of Interfaith Studies in Jordan, told about his years-long involvement with WCRP and about his special interest in the youth assembly.
The three speakers underlined Rissho Kosei-kai generous sponsorship, which was fundamental in making the youth pre-assembly and its preparatory process a reality.
Religions for Peace World Assembly and the unique role of religious youth leaders, by Rev. Koichi Matsumoto, Religions for Peace (Japan)
In his opening address, Rev. Koichi Matsumoto, Secretary General of Religions for Peace (Japan) and member of the Youth Board (Japan), affirmed that if interreligious cooperation started officially in Japan 30 years ago with WCRP, it was already a fact of ancient Japan. He shared a story of this ancient world, which tells about how the sun disappeared, which caused the world to be plunged into darkness, and how through cooperation men could bring it back.
The interfaith mind is striving today in Japan. Rev. Matsumoto testified to the great enthusiam of the Japanese population to make the youth pre-assembly and the Assembly memorable and successful events. There is a strong belief in Japan, he said, that youth interreligious networks can lead to world peace. Rissho Kosei-kai in particular is convinced that religious young people have the capacity to bring about a better world. This led them to collaborate with Religions for Peace to enable the youth pre-assembly.
Rev. Matsumoto assured that the young religious leaders’ wisdom and challenges will be brought to Hiroshima as a powerful contribution to the World Assembly.
Plenary I. Confronting violence and advancing shared security : The role of religious youth leaders
Moderator Rev. Freddy Knutsen from Sweden introduced the topic of Europe and religion and brought forth a few fundamental questions. How in Europe do we address the issue of religions, immigration, etc. Do we conform to existing spaces, or do we need to create new ones? Do we live in parallel societies with little contacts? Are there keys to these societies ? If yes, who possesses them ? If not, do we need to make them? How do we build community? How do we move from conflict to community and mutual appreciation ? What roles do religious communities and youth play in this process? Do we need a conversion in the sense of a change of heart? Freddy concluded by highlighting that the way we relate to each other very often depends on the country where we live: conflict, competition, tolerance, cooperation, complementarity are understood differently in different contexts.
Natalie Maxson, WCC (Switzerland)
Natalie Maxson from Canada is currently youh officer at the headquarters of the World Council of Churches in Geneva. As she informed participants, WCC basic purpose is to bring about a visible unity of the churches (WCC has 350 members, mainly protestant churches, representing about 500 million people). Since the early 1970s, WCC has conducted multilateral and bilateral interreligious projects, addressing common and divisive issues as well as self-reflective questions about Christian identity. Some of the projects involve high-level partners, such as the Vatican. Recent issues of reflection and discussion include secularisation, religions in public life, Israel/Palestine, cast systems and religious extremism in India, and Christian-Muslim relations after September 11.
During the last General Assembly in early 2006, interreligious dialogue and relations have become WCC priorities. There is indeed a growing awareness within the WCC that youth are not only interested in ecumenism but also in dialogue with other religions. Yet there is a concern that dialogue be only a fashionable issue. Efforts need to be made to make it meaningful.
In our debate today, key questions from a WCC perspective include: how do young people contribute to the debate, and how does violence continue to be a priority for WCC?
Natalie pointed that we need first to reflect on what is meant by violence (terrorism, state, ecological, etc.) and security (state, human). She then listed a few related issues and questions that particularly struck her in the past months. During a WCC youth interfaith forum in November 2005, one speaker noted that religions are said to be misused for violence. But isn’t it a fact that they do sometime foster violence? As far as violence is concerned, what does it mean to be a young person in Europe today, with the effects of globalisation particularly affecting the younger generations? As regards spirituality in secular and globalised contexts, what contribution can young religious individuals make as proof of a real spirituality? Does it help today to have a clear religious identity? Natalie concluded by affirming that to be able to relate to each other in a healthy way, we need to deal with our own histories by informing issues such as xenophobia and intolerance not only in the past but also today.
Hakan Tosuner, MJD & FEMYSO (Germany)
Muslimische Jugend in Deutschland (Muslim Youth in Germany) was created in 1994 as a nationwide youth Muslim organisation. Today, MJD boasts about 400 members. A distinctive feature of MJD activities, as Hakan Tosuner pointed, is that they are all offered in German, contrary to other minority organisations, which interact in their native languages.
The total population in Germany is 82 million, of which 3 million are Muslims from countries such as Pakistan, Turkey, Bengale, or the former Yugoslavia. MJD’s main objective is to develop a German Muslim youth identity – it is indeed quite a new phenomenon that Muslims think of Germany as their own country and not just a stop on their journey back home. MJD organises seminars, workshops, etc, on religious, social, contemporary issues, trips to other countries for cultural exchange, and creates many opportunities for intra-Muslim dialogue. MJD also conducts dialogue with Jewish and Christian partners, especially after the events of September 11. More practical-focused events such as visits to synagogues, mosques and churches are organised, which for many present a first opportunity to visit the holy place of another religion. As an organisation, MJD is a member of the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO), which does similar work at the European level.
Mohammed Rahman, FEMYSO (Belgium)
As Mohammed Rahman informed, the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations was created about 10 years ago as a tool to raise Muslim representation at the European level. The organisation engaged in interfaith dialogue about 3 years ago with a meeting facilitated by the European Youth Forum. After this event, a (so-named) faith expert group was formed within the European Youth Forum, including FEMYSO, the World Student Christian Federation, the Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe, the International Movement of Catholic Students-Pax Romana with the International Young Catholic Students, the European Union of Jewish Students, Pax Cristi, the World Organisation of the Scout Movements as well as the International Federation of Catholic Parochial Youth Movements. This Groups has organised a variety of seminars around interreligious issues and relations. The objective of the last seminar was to create a toolkit for interfaith dialogue addressed to local communities (to be published in November 2006, conconmitantly with the next Council of Europe).
In Mohammed’s opinion, religion is not given enough space in the public arena in Europe today. Interfaith work as a way to un-trigger interfaith tension should be an important component in the post-war integration process. Thanks to interfaith work, commonalities were already highlighted where prejudices prevailed. Among the challenges that FEMYSO has faced is that youth interfaith work is relatively new. Yet Mohammed has observed that young people usually keep to the comfort of their own “walls”, but that at a certain age they need and want confrontation with “reality”. Another challenge is the legal definition of freedom of religion, which creates dilemmas in pragmatical situations: should a decision-maker opt for the law or his/her religious principles as the right basis for decision?
Rujputa Roplekar, NHSF (UK)
“Truth is one, sages call it by different names” (Rig Veda); “The world is one family”.
Rujputa Roplekar launched her presentation with two quotes, which for her illustrate how interfaith dialogue is an integral part of Hindu spirituality.
From 1991 onwards, the National Hindu Students Forum in the United Kingdom has been creating a network of affiliates with voluntary student-run societies on virtually all British campuses. NHSF (UK) is mainly involved in grassroots work with students, so the bulk of the work is campus-based. NHSF (UK) aims at providing students « a home within a home » (many come from abroad), and to promote Hindu culture and heritage to Hindus and non-Hindus alike. The advancement of the dharma education of NHSF (UK) members is also a priority.
Interfaith dialogue has been an important focus of NHSF (UK) activities. For instance, the executive committee has made significant progress in joining the nationwide Interfaith Network for the UK. NHSF (UK) has also launched campaigns in collaboration with other faith groups, and invited non-Hindu speakers at its national events. Interfaith campus work is also vibrant. The objective is that Hindus understand their religious and national identities do not exist in isolation from other faiths.
New affiliates get support when establishing themselves. In the future, NHSF (UK) means to put emphasis on, and encourage, community leaders. A new interfaith officer will be appointed, who will liase with other nationwide religious bodies. Finally, NHSF (UK) intends to spearhead an interfaith conference with the Interfaith Network for the UK.
Rujputa wrapped up her presentation with a motto made for inspiration: “Faith should neither be in isolation nor be isolating.”
Tamas Buchler, Kidma (Hungary)
Tamas Buchler introduced himself as a representative of the Hungarian Jewish Council (HJC) and an active member of Kidma (“forward” in Hebrew), a leftist Jewish movement of peace and dialogue mostly concerned with Israeli politics. The HJC is a very dynamic network comprising many Jewish youth movements and acting at the European level. In the area of interfaith work, Kidma and Marom (another Jewish students organisation in Hungary) are active mostly in Western Europe. Kidma is addressed to young Jews over the age of 18 who are interested in attending cultural events, such as exhibitions, movies, and meeting well-known and interesting personalities. In 2003, Kidma became an independent organisation.
In the past 60 years, Tamas told the participants, it was difficult to talk about religion in Hungary. In the last 15 years the situation has been slowly improving, and progressively Kidma has made interfaith work a priority. Three main themes underline Kidma’s activities : right-wing ethics; extreme-left anti-semitism; and the “new anti-Semitism”, (against the state of Israel). Tamas pointed to the fact that the critique against Israel is not a “usual” critique that would be raised against any other state. For instance, Israel is demonised in comparison to other states, Palestinians are used against Israel, international double-standards are applied when it comes to Israel (e.g. in International Human Rights Commissions or the Red Cross), Israel is denied the right to exist, the critique both in public opinions and in the media is strengthening (including the internet where we can now find websites on who is a Jew), the truly historical nature of the Holocaust is denied, etc.
One of the many dangers posed by these extreme ethics is that they play in favour of the right-wing youth Jewish groups, which will eventually foster Jewish radicalism in Europe. People at Kidma believe these ethics can be prevented through education about tolerance of the Jewish people.
Elise Wong & Lisa Lin, BLIA YAD (UK)
The Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA) is a Buddhist organisation that owes its inspiration to Venerable Master Hsing Yun, who in 1967 founded Fo Guang Shan (Buddha’s Light Mountain), a Taiwanese lay organisation aimed at reaching different layers and areas of society. His vision, as Elise Wong and Lisa Lin pointed, may be called humanistic Buddhism: it steers Buddhism along the path of modernisation via education, cultural activities, charity, religious practice and globalisation.
Fo Guang Shan has now over 200 branch temples throughout the world.
BLIA was created in 1992 to propagate Buddhism. In 2003, BLIA as an NGO was granted consultative status with the ECOSOC. Its youth branch, the Young Adult Division (BLIA YAD), was formed in 1996. There are now about 200 BLIA YAD affiliates.
BLIA’s beliefs include respect for the triple gem (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), respect for and service to others, compassion, joy and equanimity, prajna wisdom, etc. but it dedicates itself especially to promote compassion and tolerance, equality among all members, respect for the family, and commitment to the well-being of society. In the UK, BLIA YAD’s objectives are to develop a righteous view of life, to practice Dharma in daily life, to care for society, and to promote national and world peace.
BLIA YAD (UK) deploys activities such as dharma, voluntary, charity, social activities (as a good way to get to know people in a relaxed environment and hear about faith and religion) and interfaith activities (including participation to local, national and international events).
In the future BLIA YAD (UK) will further its involvement in education in non-violence, supporting youth leadership, more NGO activities, and interfaith networking.
Phaldip Singh Khela, WYLN Europe & Sikh Youth (UK)
Phaldip Singh Khela introduced himself as a Sikh from the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) and as the president of the World Youth Leadership Nework in Europe.
Based in Birmingham, GNNSJ is a non-political, non-profit making, religious charitable organisation active in the UK and abroad. It is committed to selfless service to humanity at large, and the propagation, practice and advancement of Sikhism. GNNSJ chairman also serves as the patron of the United Religions Initiative.
GNNSJ has performed charitable work since 1978 helping schools, mosques, etc., and for the last 30 years has gained respect from (non-)governmental organisations worldwide. Among its most noted activities, the distribution of about 2000 free meals every year stands forth. In the same line, GNNSJ served free meals twice a day on each of the seven days of the 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona (there were 9000 participants of all faiths). Phaldip reminds how love was radiated through these shared meals.
From 2003 on GNNSJ has also been active in interfaith activities. A Sikh delegation was sent to meet John Paul II, while another one went to Israel and met with Christians, Jews and Muslims together, visited the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, went to the West Bank, the Dead Sea, etc.
GNNSJ is also active in educational activities and touches other issues of international concern. This led it to contribute to the United Nations conference on racism in Durban, for instance.
Summarising the presentations, Freddy Knutsen noted that both differences and commonalities could be identified between these contributions. The issue of identity, he observed, is still to be worked out. So is integration, where intra-religious dialogue plays an important role. As a whole, Freddy was encouraged to see many young people taking initiatives.
In the exchanges that followed, the toolkit mentioned by Rahman was praised, and possible future collaboration was suggested.
Clarification was asked about the role of the Youth Interfaith Forum organised last November in the wider WCC interfaith approach. Natalie responded that although the Forum was a somewhat isolated event, WCC wants a more grassroots approach and will engage in more youth interfaith work in the future. Another clarification was called on the definition of “shared security”. Ziad answered that from the perspective of Religions for Peace security is seen as depending heavily on issues of injustice. For instance, the West must recognize that its culture is unique but not universal. It must also be acknowledged that those who recourse to violence do not have anything to lose. Religions for Peace advocates for a proactive posture in dealing with these issues.
Several other issues were brought to the table. The main concern dealt with the relationship between religious groups and the secular factions of society. Lama Shenpen Rinpotche pointed to how action by religious people often triggers defensive reactions by non-religious people or institutions. Other participants highlighted various related issues such as the negative image of religions in the media, the prejudices of secular-oriented individuals towards new religious movements, the fear of secularism rather than of other religious groups, the ban of religion from the public sphere, the legal basis to legitimate religions, religious education in schools, etc.
Lightening up somewhat the picture, Jehangir Sarosh observed the participants that in Europe, national and local governments are actually very open to collaborate with, and actually need, faith communities to build bridges between them.
Finally, Baker al-Hiyari and Hannah Tervanotko reminded that there is also a dark side of religions. In this fast changing world, people do not feel secure even in the most prosperous societies, and people seek spiritual answers and communal security. Violence and communalism and its most extreme form, fundamentalism, have now become global phenomena as a response to soft, hard, personal, or even psychological insecurity.
Group Work I. The role of religious youth in addressing the contemporary forms of violence
Participants were split in 3 groups to discuss more in-depth their understanding of today’s forms and causes of violence, and the role they (can) play in violence prevention.
Group I identified physical psychological types of violence such as carelessness to people or issues, denial of hurt feelings, exclusion, imposition of political correctness, of a certain social behaviour. The causes of violence are multiple: ignorance (which causes lack of respect, which in turn causes intolerance); stress (often originated in the system or in peer pressure to achieve conformity and success in the private, professional, spiritual dimensions of life); imbalance in power relationships (which creates fear and insecurity); willingness to belong; powerlessness against violence.
According to this Group, violence can occur in the relationship of one to oneself, between individuals, between individuals and groups, (family, etc.), and between groups (gender, economical, environmental, political, etc.) and the wider community.
Remedies were identified at different levels. At the personal level, we can improve our knowledge of others, foster our inner cultivation (dealing with our own internal conflict and violence with inner practice in order to gain inner understanding of justice and respect). At the community level, we can organise social activities to keep youth busy, and provide relevant education in order to uncondition people and dissolve their inherited prejudices against other ethnic or faith groups, or against any pressure to achieve a certain life style. At the larger society level, this unconditionning process is also necessary.
Good/best practices include the creation of community-level bridges with no special objective but that of being together; summer camps around non-violence; workshops about psychological and cultural conditioning/unconditioning on xenophobia and gender relationships; training on how to build healthy relationships in the couple and in the religious community; interfaith meetings around the religious feasts resulting in the conception of a calendar; inter-community visits, meeting the others; meetings on how religious identities are formed, to grow awareness of their contingency; production of written materials on religious customs and identity.
Participants in Group II started hteir exchange by identifying today’s European context, with Eastern Europe still bearing the marks of communism, and Western Europe struggling with the need to integrate new identities, new societies. The fact that in Western Europe time works in the favour of integration is encouraging: for instance, today the third generation of Muslims were born in Western Europe. This is a unique opportunity to address issues of violence.
The concept of “shared security”, they found, points to a society where each community provides for security for all. In general terms, Group II defined violence as being physical or psychological, or take the form of a threat. Amongst the major causes of violence, economic insecurity was singled out, that manifests itself through ghetto-isation and victimisation. Another cause of violence is ignorance, or lack of understanding, of others’ identity and motivations.
Then more pragmatic insights were brought up in the discussion. For instance, what are the best practices to address islamophobia? According to experiences in the UK, it is important that, whatever the type of violence, channels of communication be always open – even through anonymous reporting – to prevent violence from happening again. It is also paramount to never retaliate and stay away from violence. It is a responsibility of community leaders to ensure that people in their communities can react and voice their suffering and concern.
Youth and faith bodies have already made initial contact between faith groups. Here again proactive work is necessary. The humanitarian basis is a strong productive basis to work with.
Group III started with a short round on the various realities of the participants’ countries of residence, and soon realised that practices vary a lot from a country to country.
Information about existing initiatives against violence was shared. They again turned out to depend very much on the demographical history of a particular country. Some countries are very multicultural, such as the UK, where interfaith practices are numerous (e.g. Interfaith Network for the UK, campus-based interfaith work, etc). Other countries have more homogeneous societies (i.e. fewer immigrants); there interfaith work is much younger and forums still need to be created. Stereotypes in these societies are still strong and immigrants feel them in an accute way. This is also true in the wider European context, where the dominant posture of the so-called monotheistic religions is still a challenge for some faith-based groups. But as the new generations raise, there is hope for a tighter integration and for that matter it is encouraging to see that in Western Europe a certain emphasis is put on interfaith dialogue.
Then Group III questioned the necessity for interfaith networks and felt, as a an answer, that dialogue is needed at different levels. Local issues have to be tackled within local groups, but a wider circle is needed where practices can be exchanged and brought back home. These networks were deemed a good platform where members can exchange practices and stand together for the same rights in a Europe that is growing together in a new way.
Lastly, participants recognised that language remains an important barrier to understanding in an area where words are so important. How can we speak about the religion and our belief in a foreign language?
In the end, all agreed that it is necessary to engage in analysing the necessity of inter-religious dialogue in order to keep it effective, and not just a fashionable activity.
After the group reporting, the plenary discussion focused on possible common action in the future. Jehangir Sarosh voiced his concern that participants do not draw a shopping list of problems, as is often the case in this type of conference, but rather come up with practical proposals. Freddy Knutsen underlined that it often helps to be practical when youth are concerned, and encouraged the participants to take leadership.
Several ideas were brought forth, including informal encounters, environmental or humanitarian projects, an internet platform, or even sporting events. Specific projects were named as examples of good practices, such as BLIA YAD’s “Action for Life” (sending young people from different faiths to work in India), WCRP’s “Skip A Meal” (fundraising over 21 countries worldwide), Focolare’s “Run For Unity” (youth from many faiths running in places on the 24 meridians) or WCC’s “Week of Unity” where all Christians pray at the same time.
Then it was underlined that anyone who wants to change the world need to focus on the root of problems. Neoliberalism, the media, international debt and environmental problems were all pointed to as important causes of some global problems today. In the same line, Mahatma Ghandi was quoted: “Let’s be the change we want to see”.
I was also admitted that logistics, politics and other issues may be beyond the league of young people, but also that change at the grassroots level can actually influence politicians. It was deemed wiser to promote a different vision rather than fight that of higher institutions, and that everyone should identify the violence we carry in her/his own message, vision or behaviour. There is a need for introspection by the communities themselves.
Baker recognised that doing something on the ground is the best we can think in the frame of Religions for Peace youth work. The idea from all the regional meetings is that besides the grassroots work, there is a need to connect with each other and to other networks.
To close the discusion, Ziad reminded that participants needed to draft a statement including the main outcome of the meeting and an action plan.
Plenary II. Confronting violence and advancing shared security : the interreligious / inter-confessional perspective
As moderator, Baker al-Hiyari welcomed back the participants and launched the session.
Rev. Hanna Kaarina Tervanotko, WSCF (Hungary)
Rev. Hannah Tervanotko introduced her organisation, the World Student Christian Federation, as a global student movement that was founded in Vadstena, Sweden in 1895 by a group of young Christian who wanted to combine a scientific approach and Christianity in their approach to action. A good illustration of how WSCF works is a Bible in one hand, and a newspaper in the other. By the beginning of the 20th century, WSCF had reached many parts of the world. In 1968 the global organisation split into 6 regions (Asia-Pacific, Africa, Europe, Middle East, North America, South America and Caribbean), with an interregional office located in Geneva. Today, WSCF comprises around 100 member organisations, who are not officially linked to their churches. Its work is organised around a common annual theme, yearly inter-regional events, and a General Assembly.
In Europe, WSCF has 16 affiliated movements, 2 associated movements and 6 contact movements. Work is coordinated by the staff and European Regional Committee (ERC), composed of elected representatives from the national movements.
Work groups are focusing on different themes: theology, gender, solidarity, culture and higher education.
Violence as a topic is included in some of these groups, and brings people from different backgrounds to work together. WSCF organises annual interregional events focusing on common concerns, such as violence against young women, empire, migration, etc. Other similar initiatives exist at the local and regional levels. For instance, the issue of confronting the injustice goes through all the programmatic work including topics around gender, theology, and solidarity.
WSCF Europe’s partners include youth associations related to the Conference of European Churches (i.e. Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe, SYNDESMOS, Young Men Christian Association, and Young Women Christian Association) and partners related to the European Youth Forum.
WSCF Europe is a member of the EYC faith expert group mentioned earlier by FEMYSO and also generates contact with organisations working on themes mentioned earlier but with individual focuses and stresses on the programmes
Then Hannah introduced questions about youth cooperation on confronting violence. First, how can we understand each other, know our mutual competencies and work better together? How can we ensure sound financing? There will be a Decade to Overcome Violence focus on Europe next year. Can we use it as an opportunity to create momentum? Then how can we include evangelical groups and the non-monotheistic faiths into our cooperation circle? What alternative model of globalisation can we propose? Hannah felt that religious people have not given themselves the tools to enter into this debate.
Finally, Hannah expressed her feeling that since many initiatives exist at different levels, emphasis should be put on security-building through various programmes of awareness raising.
Lama Shenphen Rinpoche, Dharmaling (Slovenia)
The Tibetan Buddhist Foundation & Congregation – Dharmaling is still a young organisation. It started as a religious group but it is very oriented towards daily life issues and solidarity work. Its main objective is to apply Buddhist religious beliefs to everyday life.
As Lama Shenpen Rinpoche, Dharmaling’s guide, told participants, the organisation started as a congregation 6 years ago and stems from what it likes to call a Western school of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The organisation’s main offices are located in Slovenia but it is also registered in other countries such as Hungary, where it is registered as a « church » (i.e. religious community), Austria, Russia (St. Petersburg), Romania, Spain, and Greece. Its interfaith context includes mainly Christian Orthodox, with whom there is not major issues of coexistence. The congregation has been formed as a foundation to somewhat bring the religious connotation down.
Local activities include children camps around non-violence, small dialogues, in short nothing very formal or visible. In the past 5 years Lama Shenpen has been involved in interreligious discussion and meetings through various organisations in the Czech Republic, Croatia, or in New York, to talk about violence and how it stems from fear and insecurity. Violence is a real issue in the sphere of religion. In Europe, for instance, interreligious dialogue often excludes non-monotheistic religions, which is a form of violence.
Dharmaling organised an event in Slovenia about “Peace Among Religions to Build World Peace”. The main objectives were to teach children and youth a sense of responsibility and respect for all faiths, and develop interreligious dialogue in Slovenia. There is an interreligious forum set by a Muslim community that is now dormant because of a schism within the Muslim community. Dharmaling proposed that the government create an interreligious body to discuss ethical issues in the benefit of the whole society. An office has been set up for these matters and organises discussions on these issues with religious leaders, but a common resolution was never issued.
Elena Giachin, Focolare Movement (Italy)
The Focolare Movement dates back to the Second World War, and is now spread worldwide. The first “focolare” (small community) started in 1944 in Trent, Italy around Chiara Lubich and her first female companions. In 1948, the first men’s focolare house was opened. Today there are about 780 communities present in 87 countries with millions of members. The movement is recognised by the Vatican.
The Focolare charismatic founder, Chiara Lubich, based her philosophy on the art of loving. Her basic beliefs include unity, love, belief in one loving and caring God. Members are expected to treat each other in fraternity in the love of God, as in the Golden Rule : “to love one another as ourselves” towards making the world one family.
As Elena Giachin pointed, the biblical command “That all may be one” (the motto of the movement) also applies to interreligious dialogue. The Focolare Movement has been entertaining dialogues with various Christian Churches since 1961 and now in the 182 countries where the movement is active. The Focolare Movement has also built relationships of dialogue and friendship with Jews especially in Israel, Europe, Latin America and the USA. From the late 1970s, the Focolare Movement has been engaged in dialogue with other religions and today with all the main religions of the world. Finally, contacts with agnostics, atheists, and people indifferent to religion, also developed into a dialogue of its own.
The youth branch of the Focolare Movement, “Youth for a United World”, offers many experiences to its members. It aims at making the world more united by putting the Golden Rule into practice. Throughout the world, young people bring ahead projects and activities in favor of street children, the homeless, abandoned older people, the disabled, the imprisoned, immigrants. They also raise funds and do volunteer service for countries stricken by earthquake, floods, famine and war. In Italy, Youth for a United World undertook action against the mafia by establishing a school to educate people on civility, organised student and youth meetings with Muslim communities, raised funds for developing countries, etc. In Paris, there are now monthly gatherings in a café, with open discussions on ethical issues, politics, religion and dialogue, social integration for students of various cultures, etc.
The United World Week is the annual appointment of the “Youth for a United World” held all over the world. It serves as an occasion to influence public opinion with their ideas, by getting civic and religious institutions and mass media involved.
Julia Maria Koszewska, Pax Romana (Poland)
Historically, Pax Romana was created in 1921 as an international association of Catholic university students based in Fribourg, Switzerland. Pax Romana has two branchs: the students branch (founded in 1921) and the adult intellectuals (founded in 1947).
Student organization is the International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS/MIEC) – an international coordination of university and secondary school students. The headquarters of IMCS/MIEC is based in Paris, France.
Today, there are two sister catholic students movements: also the International Youth Catholic Students (IYCS/JECI). In several world regions such as: Europe, Middle East and Latin America and Carribean they have a joined coordinations: JECI-MIEC.
The second branch of the International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs (ICMICA/MIIC). The international secretariat is presently located in Geneva, Switzerland.
As for the catholic movement, very important step forward to inter-religious dialogue was especially in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The Declaration on the relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions
(“Nostra Aetate”) heralded the official involvement of the Roman Catholic Church in interreligious dialogue. Various types of dialogue were identified: dialogue of life, socially-engaged dialogue, dialogue of religious experience, intermonastic dialogue, and that of specialists. Pax Romana specialises in the dialogue of life, which mainly focuses on intercultural and interreligious exchanges.
Some initiatives have been taken and others are planned for the future, including exchange programs, training workshops and internships, and European-level conferences. At the European level, a series of congresses were organised originally as joint Catholic meetings but soon welcomed other Christians in Europe and other religions. This year in Poland, Pax Romana will organise summerweek (summer seminar) on interreligious dialogue and the influence of the Shoah on peace, human rights, etc. These subjects would be discussed by participants of the various Christian traditions as well as from Muslim and Jewish faith.
On European level, Pax Romana (JECI-MIEC European Coordination) is a member of the Faith-Based Expert Group (FBEG). FBEG is a youth expert group working on faith-related issues and composed of young-adult experts each of the members being a person of faith of him-/herself. The expert groups operates under the auspices of the European Youth Forum (YfJ).
Pax Romana’s main approach to dialogue is to first build personal relations such as friendship among the dialogue participants to be, and then tackle interreligious issues. This is why it organises social activities as form of inter-religious dialogue, such as football matches, yacht racing, movies shows on specific topics, mutual visits to the places of worship et al.
Today in Europe interreligious dialogue is getting established in a number of religious organisations, which is positive. However the recent wave of the conversions which was observed in Europe, as is often moving away from traditional branches to radical or secular (religion treated only as culture) branches.
Konrad Pędziwiatr, Arabia.pl (Poland)
Arabia.pl came into existence in 2002 in Warsaw as the largest web portal in Poland concerned with Arabic issues. It was created to address issues around the Muslim and Arab presence in Europe. In November 2003 Arabia.pl turned from an unofficial information office into an official, non-for-profit association based on its members’ social work.
Arabia.pl’s aim, redactor Konrad Pędziwiatr said, is to inform about the Arabic world in an honest and objective way. The editorial team consists of students and graduates from the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Warsaw University, as well as other PhD students and academics from Warsaw and Lodz Universities and the Warsaw School of Economics. Sociologists, political scientists, intercultural relations experts also are part of the team. The information provided is obtained from Polish, English as well as Arabic sources. The supervision of Warsaw Arabists guarantees the professionalism of the articles placed. Besides information, practical projects are conducted, including Arab days, conferences, workshops in schools on Arab and Muslim culture, fashion shows, etc.
Taking a more personal and theorical approach, Konrad reminded participants that the Muslim population in Europe today is reaching 15 million. The problem is that European societies are surreptitiously encouraging them to drop their religion. But the question is : will the future generations really drop their parents’ heritage? According to Konrad, several “scenarios” are to be envisaged, or a combination of these : de-islamisation (i.e. acculturation, or secularisation of islam), assimilation (i.e. individualisation of islam), integration (interpretation of islam in a form compatible to supranational European institutions and values), ghetto-isation (mental and phyisical), and confrontation (through radicalisation).
The key factors that will favour one scenario over the others are both “external” and “internal”. They include the global geopolitical situation and EU accession negotiations of Turkey (external), but also the nature and size of Muslim political participation, the level of social exclusion, as well as the “re-branding” of European nations – that is the deconstruction of national symbols into less homogeneous ones, and creation of new relationships to Islam and to the Muslim population (internal).
In the end, Konrad concluded, the character of Islam in 21st century Europe will depend above all on the intellectual endeavour of individual Muslims and non-Muslims aiming at getting to know each other and accepting each other’s differences. The process of mutual acceptation will neither be quick nor easy. However if the pope John Paul II was right then engaging in a dialogue with people of other faiths is worthwhile as it results in an integral development of such a person.
Beate Westby Stålsett, NCA & EAPPI (Sweden)
Beate Stalsett represented the Norwegian Church Aid but talked mostly about the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). This programme was launched in 2002 after the churches in Jerusalem asked WCC for an ecumenical presence to observe the situation and call for a non-violent resolution of the conflict.
EAPPI’s main office is located in Geneva, and there is a local office in Jerusalem. There are national coordinators in participating countries, the NCA in Norway among others. They are sent to various places in Hebron, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Tulkarem and Yanoun, with different focuses and collaboration with other peace organisations.
The objective of the EAPPI is to accompany Palestinians and Israelis in the daily non-violent fight against the occupation. Based on the international humanitarian rights, objectives include: exposing the violence of the occupation; ending the brutality, humiliation and violence against civilians; constructing a stronger global advocacy network; ensuring the respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law; influencing public opinion in the home country and affect foreign policy on Middle East in order to end the occupation and create a viable Palestinian State; expressing solidarity with Palestinian and Israeli peace activists; empowering local Palestinian communities/churches; and being an active witness that an alternative, non-violent struggle for justice and peace is possible to end the illegal occupation of Palestine.
Beate took part in the Programme. She was based in Hebron, one of the biggest cities in the West bank, divided in two parts by the Oslo agreement in 1997 (H1 Palestinians and H2 Israelis, 20% of the city). It is a unique configuration since Palestinians are in the city centre, which normally does not happen. Her mission was to accompany Palestinian children to school where they normally are harassed. This “simple” task actually involves a lot of interpersonal tension management. Beate’s experience confrontated her to violence, especially at the time when the satirical Danish cartoons were published. A colleague of hers was attacked by a youth gang and hit with a rock.
Ecumenical accompaniers, who serve a minimum of three months, work in various capacities with local churches, Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, as well as Palestinian communities. Anyone over 23 who is physically and mentally fit can participate. Christians and Muslim alike have taken part to the Programme. Since 2002, over 300 participants have participated in the Programme. Former participants are now forming a wide informal network, which allows them to share and receive news that usually do not show in the media.
As far as interreligious dialogue is concerned, it is a daily fact in Israel and Palestine – not one of formal settings.
Michel Charbonnier, EYCE (Italy)
Michel Charbonnier is the chairman of the Ecumenical Youth Council of Europe, an ecumenical (i.e. “pan-Christian”) organisation that works at the European level serving as an umbrella for youth confessional or ecumenical Christian bodies strictly connected to the churches. EYCE has 32 members in 27 European countries, with very small to very large memberships.
EYCE’s work is based on 3 main pillars: 1) non-formal education at the grassroots level; 2) networking between members; 3) advocacy on behalf of young people before their own church and before European institutions (i.e. Council of Europe, European Commission, mainly through the European Youth Forum). EYCE’s main objective is to touch the official religious bodies and help them relate to each other, at both the individual and institutional level.
This applies to issues of violence prevention and interreligious dialogue.
EYCE engages in interreligious dialogue primarily because there is a need for realism in our pluralistic world – if we want to do youth work, we cannot do it without an interreligious perspective. EYCE started in 2000 with an event on interreligious dialogue, but it was clear that this dialogue needed to be experienced, lived. The first such experience occured with FEMYSO, but it was again an encounter on interreligious dialogue. Now, says Michel, we have moved away from discussing dialogue to discuss issues of interest to youth in the societal area from our respective religious perspective.
But today, how does EYCE proceed with interreligious dialogue ? In the framework of the European Youth Forum (i.e. the higher advocacy body before the European institutions), even a few years ago youth Christian organisations were struggling to coordinate and have an organised and recognised participation to the Forum. Now the faith expert group mentioned earlier strives and does very productive work within the EYF. Now we can start to effectively address societal issues. To date, the Council of Europe and the European Commission have produced 11 T-kits (training kits) with a combination of practical and theoretical content, written by expert trainers and specialists. We will make the 12th.
Regarding violence, EYCE has done a lot of work in the seminars directly or indirectly related to this issue. Our understanding, Michel explains, is that violence is rooted in the ill-management of power, from the interpersonal to the international level. Now we feel the need to coordinate with non-church organisations, to build a network of religious and non-religious groups. The EYF has established a group on violence open to youth religious organisations.
Michel concluded his presentation by raising a concern on the concept of “shared security”, which he found non-neutral. If we want to build real security based on trust, he pointed, a concept implying fear and insecurity – let us think about what has been made in the name of security after the 9-11 events – will be counter-productive. We need a clear definition based on a neutral ground.
Mercedeh da Silveira, Bahá’í community (Switzerland)
About 150 years ago, the Bahá’í Faith, an independent, monotheistic religion, was founded by Bahá’u’lláh. Bahá’u’lláh claimed he had a divine revelation. He announced his mission and proclaimed principles for the progress of humankind. The Bahá’í holy writings are abundant, ranging from spiritual, theological, and mystical topics, to precepts of an ethical and social nature, and laws and ordinances for a world society.
The central tenet of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is unity of humankind in its diversity and the establishment of world peace. Four fundamental principles are at the heart of the Bahá’í teachings: oneness of God, unity of humankind, unity of religions, and unity of the world of creation.
According to the Bahá’í teachings, all divine revelations come from the same source. The Bahá’í perspective is that even though each Messenger of God has established a distinct religious system, the objectives and fundamental teachings of all are in harmony, their teachings are the facets of the same reality, and all aim at propelling to a higher degree of maturity both the individual and society. They have successively provided the spiritual force and laws for the education of humankind and the advancement of civilization. None has brought a final message of absolute and definitive truth.
Bahá’í teachings focus both on the moral and spiritual progress of the individual and the progress of society towards unity and peace. The foundations for a peaceful society are, among others, the following: pacific resolution of conflicts and cooperation in favour of the eradication of violence and war, social and economic justice, abolition of all kinds of prejudices and enslavement, equality in rights and privileges between men and women, harmony among religions, harmony between science and religion, adoption of an auxiliary international language to allow communication between all peoples, suppression of extremes of wealth and poverty, and mandatory education for all.
Bahá’ís believe that in addition to its transformative effect on society, religion fosters the spiritual development of the individual’s soul. There are Bahá’í teachings on life after death, man’s spiritual nature, morality, and the importance of prayer and meditation. Bahá’í moral and spiritual teachings include the following: abrogation of all forms of prejudice and fanaticism, awareness of a world citizenship, dedication of one’s skills, abilities and endeavours to the service of humankind (work in the spirit of service is considered a form of worship), recognition of dignity and of equal rights and privileges for all, moderation in all things, and promotion of arts and sciences at the service of the individual’s spiritual development and for the good of humankind.
Bahá’is strive at the establishment of permanent peace, and the development of a universal – but not a uniform – civilisation, in which the diversity of all cultural heritage will be safeguarded.
Today, the Bahá’í faith is established in virtually every country of the world. The approximately six million Bahá’ís belong to over 2100 different ethnic groups.
Bahá’ís are encouraged to nurture friendship with members of all ethnic groups, religions, and cultures, and in particular to consult with people of other religious backgrounds, in order to put ideas and initiatives together, for the achievement of common goals. In Geneva, Bahá’ís are members of senior and youth interfaith platforms, where they engage in dialogue and the exchange of information.
Olivier Sayadi, WCRP (France)
A member of the French Jewish commununity and of the Fraternity of Abraham, a Jewish-Christian-Muslin organisation. Olivier Sayadi focused his presentation on the Jewish community and interreligious dialogue in France.
There are about 600’000 Jews in France, of which about half are practicing. There is also a sort of interiorisation, or individualisation of the Jewish faith .
In the last few years in France, there has been a stiffening of positions on interreligious issues such as the prohibition of the hijab and other visible signs of religious belonging and the separation between the State and the Church. But since some time, interest has grown for interreligious dialogue, for instance instance in the local governments, such as in Marseille where the interreligious projects “Marseille-Espérance” is striving.
In France, Jews are involved in two kind of interreligious activities : bilateral (e.g. Jewish-Christian Friendship) and multilateral (e.g. Fraternity of Abraham, WCRP). WCRP support local groups planning around cultural and interreligious actions and activities. Various committees work on different themes, such as fundamentalism, or education to peace. Olivier participated to numerous debates and conference, also in secluded, or closed milieus, such as in the Adda’wa Mosque in Paris. He also visited houses of worships such as Jewish messianic, Sufi, Sikh and Protestant temples, and regularly attended a “spiritual café”. He is also a member of an interreligious choir where he sings sacred songs from various cultures and religions, which were successfully brought to the public space. He is developing a project called « PIR » (priests, imams and rabbis) and conducts several other projects with Paris officials.
From Olivier’s point of view, the following considerations are essential for interfaith engagement. Along with Amin Maalouf, Olivier thinks that the 19th and 20th centuries were all politics and religions, and the 21st will see the separation between ethnic origin and spirituality. With Buber, he thinks that tradition must be understood fully before we embrace it fully, so each community must engage in a work of deep understanding. Finally, syncretism must also be reflected upon. It is usually criticised within the wider interfaith movement, but as a matter of fact it has actually occurred repeatedly in history in many parts of the world.
Mari Fjelde Hauger, Changemaker (Norway)
Norwegian Church Aid’s youth movement, Changemaker, organises campaigns, courses, camps and local projects for its many thousands of members aged 13-30. Changemaker’s main priority is to encourage young people to take an interest in global issues and speak out against injustice.
The Norwegian Church Aid is its base organisation but it is independent. The first unit was created 14 years go in Norway, but now the movement has spread to Finland, the Netherlands, etc. There a five main areas of work : HIV/AIDS, debt, environment, trade and peace.
Changemaker’s work is based on human rights and the Golden Rule in Christianity. Its mission is to change the world into a just world by altering the structural causes that affect poverty and injustice.
Very action-oriented, Changemaker strongly believes there is a need to change the overall political systems and that youth can bring about this change. Following our experience, Mari Hauger said, youth can be engaged in action, but usually not for a long time. Our key approach to involve youth is to inform them about injustice – which usually triggers their willingness to act.
Changemaker first identifies the causes of injustice and the responsible decision-makers. Then political campaigns are waged, petitions and advocacy work used as tools to pressure politicians. Other tools include lobbying youth branches of parties to influence their parent parties, sending letters to the editor of newspapers, and undertaking more visible symbolic actions.
Laia Corral, Unesco-Cat (Catalunya, Spain)
As Laia pointed right at the outset of her presentation, the UNESCO Centre of Catalonia (Unescocat) is different from the other organisations represented here in that it is not faith-based. Constituted in 1984, Unescocat as an NGO was granted consultative status with the ECOSOC in 2002. It is located in Barcelona.
Unescocat works on all the UNESCO fields and focuses on related areas: human rights; education; linguistic diversity; prevention and resolution of conflicts; sustainability; cultural diversity; and interreligious dialogue.
In the two decades since its inception, Unescocat has organised in Catalonia a number of international meetings at a high level and has promoted initiatives in its own contexts. In the field of interreligious work, Unescocat believes that religious diversity need not be a source of conflict but rather should provoke a dynamic of mutual connections, deep dialogue and cooperation in view of a peaceful, just and sustainable world. Activities have included international seminars of experts on the contribution of religions to a culture of peace, and on the education to pluralism and tolerance. But its main achievement so far has been the Universal Forum of Cultures in 2004, of which the Parliament of the World’s Religions was a main feature.
At the local level, Unescocat created in 1992 a first interreligious platform and in 1997 a permanent body of dialogue, that we know now as the UNESCO Assocation for Interreligious Dialogue, and that is the major entity in Catalonia for interreligious dialogue. It produces occasional publications and a regular newsletter, education material, etc.
Laia works in the area of youth and interreligious dialogue. The youth network comprises 40 members who do common projects, including for peace building, interreligious prayers, etc.
Ziad Moussa, WCRP (International)
The World Conference of Religions for Peace, to which we will increasinlgy refer as the Religions for Peace, works towards interreligious local, regional, international networking. It is a worldwide network of locally-led, action-oriented, independent interreligious councils (IRCs).
These councils leverage the resources of their member communities to serve in two distinct ways: engaging in shared advocacy and delivering cost-efficient services, including equipping local congregations. The emphasis is decidedly put on senior leaders but women and youth have been increasingly mainstreamed into the IRCs and the central decision-making bodies of Religions for Peace.
There are now about 60-70 local chapters or IRCs, and 4 regional councils in Asia, Africa and Europe, Latin America. Every five years representatives of these councils convene for a World Assembly and elect a “World Council”, a body led by senior religious leaders representing historic faith traditions.
Religions for Peace is headquartered in New York with field offices on all continents. Major supporters of Religions for Peace include the Rockefeller and the Ford Foundations, the Rissho Kosei-kai Fund for Peace, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the governments of Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United States, and Finland.
It started in 1970 with the World Assembly in Japan (founders include Jimmy Carter). Participation expanded steadily and exceeded 1000 in 1994. 2000 participants are expected to attend the next World Assembly in Kyoto. Religions for Peace moderator His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan expects “religious communities to meet not only among themselves but with leaders related with governance, economy and culture to develop a notion of ‘share security’ that can unite us all.”
Actions taken in various continents include conflict resolution, peace-building, rejecting the use of violence on religious grounds and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and helping orphans of HIV-AIDS (with UNICEF and CARE).
Participants in the VIIIth World Assembly of Religions for Peace will address thematic topics of advancing shared security through conflict transformation, peace building, and sustainable development.
In preliminary commissions, senior religious leaders from affiliated regional and national interreligious councils will share their experiences and develop action programs for the next five years. The Assembly is also designed to forge action-oriented global partnerships among religious communities and with key stakeholders, including inter-governmental organisations, governments and civil society. High-level individuals, such as
Prince Hassan of Jordan, former President of Iran S. M. Khatami, former Executive Director of UNICEF, are also expected to give momentum to the Assembly.
Objectives of the Assembly include advancing cooperation among religious communities, forging a deeper global moral consensus on critical social issues, building action-oriented partnerships between religious communities, governments, and civil society;
convening working sessions on inter-religious capacity building to equip interreligious councils for action and facilitating networking at national, regional and global levels;
gathering religious leaders from areas of conflict around the globe to engage in multireligious track II-diplomacy; and finally, electing the Religions for Peace Board to implement the Assembly outcomes.
The youth assembly will welcome about 300 religious youth leaders from all over the world. They are expected to develop a plan for youth-led multireligious advocacy and action for shared security in their respective regions and beyond. A youth international committee will be elected in parallel to the international interreligious council. Europe, Asia, North America are assigned 3 seats each, wheras Middle East, Africa and Latin America will have 2 each. 2 additional seats will balance gender, etc. We will add 5 seats reserved to global or wider regional faith-based organisations such as WCC, FEMYSO, WSCF, etc. Youth should be under 31. They will elect their coordinator. Another 5 seats will be reserved to senior advisers, probably aged 31-35. All these will elect an executive cabinet to ensure the action plan is implemented. 3 key words that will prevail for election : organisational representativity, action-orientedness, and sustainability.
Jehangir Sarosh, WCRP (Europe)
An issue to consider is subsidiarity : each chapter or IRC is autonomous, which is both an asset (contact to the grassroots) and a disadvantage (scarce resources). An IRC is based on official representation, contrary to a chapter, where people stand for themselves.
As the moderator for Europe, Jehangir works in consultation with Religions for Peace governing board. The focus is not on interreligious dialogue but on interreligious cooperation, also with local and national governments. Religions for Peace performs international work such as cross-border support, or try to build a multifaith opinion among religious leaders, governments, decision-makers, and academics.
Religions for Peace has a European senior religious leaders council composed of 5 Christians Orthodox, 5 Anglicans, 5 Catholics, 5 Jews, 5 Muslims, and 5 representatives of new religious movements. One of our assets is our credibility before the faith communities.
Jehangir told his hopes to find the funding for a European assembly in 2008 with a focus on youth, women, and senior, with politicians! He expressed his need for the participants’ assistance.
As Ziad pointed out, the central question to answer at this point was whether participants should create a new structure or reinforce the existing one(s). He also voiced his appreciation of the unique maturity of this regional group. Perspectives voiced here could well benefit other regions, he said. The exclusion of non-Abrahamic faiths in the main circles of dialogue is a point that he noted in particular. Jehangir also highlighted a lack of clear-cut rule about electing individuals or ex-officio position. So far, this question has been dealt with case by case.
The issues raised in the discussions included: the terms of reference for the members of the youth council to be elected; the difference between WCRP and the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR); youth quotas in WCRP executive bodies; and intra-religious representation in the youth council to be elected.
The 16 members of the youth council will be asked to design programmes, advise on regional initiatives, meet yearly for work progress evaluation, build bridges between WCRP and the member’s organisation.
The difference between WCRP and CWPR is that WCRP is uniquely action-oriented and representative. But these two organisations cooperate on a number of issues.
The 15% quota for youth at the Assembly apply to all WCRP governing bodies. And women are also assigned 15%.
In Europe we have a bigger problem with intra-faith than interfaith relationship. Within WCRP, minority representatives are heard and respected, but try and represent their wider faith. Still we have to work out a solution through negotiation.
Group Work II. Building Interreligious Youth Networks in Europe
For Group I, it was quite clear from the beginning that a new network was needed: a European Interreligious Youth Platform or Network that would ensure full representativity, ability to respond quickly to emerging issues, interaction with other networks, and stimulating national and local initiatives and religious organisations that are not yet fully engaged in interfaith work.
A proper structure would be needed, possibly inspired from senior European religious councils or Religions for Peace. A meeting space would be a definite plus, with someone responsible. A question also to consider is what relationship this network should have to the Eastern European network. If an organisation cannot afford to go to meetings, we could have national pre-meetings and post-meeting de-briefing.
Projects may include an international Interfaith Day, mutual invitations, or bilateral projects. A website or forums/blogs would help but should be used as a means towards practical projects, and not as an aim. Also maintaining the website is quite difficult without a moderator. Another way to approach activities could be to add onto the spiritual and ethical dimension of existing political campaigns such as Make Poverty History. Participation to the toolkit of the European Youth Forum’s faith expert group was also mentioned.
The list of objectives listed by the Eastern and Central Eureopan meeting was found quite inspiring, though ambitious. Among the main issues that this Group considered are conflict prevention, solution and transformation, peace and non-violence, spiritual enrichment, cultural diversity, solidarity and charity, human rights, health and well-being, gender issues, ecology, integration, poverty and economic justice.
As Group I, Group II decided rather quickly that a new network of youth organisations was needed. But in what framework ? With what tools, and what kind of platform ? Their proposal was to create a website with a public space including presentation of organisation and a non-public space for exchange of ideas, initiatives and projects. There could be three boards : general discussion, sharing of experiences, calendar of events. Each group would have one administrator to update the presentation page, and be an occasional moderator of the forum and technical supervisor. Is there a server WCRP could lend to this platform ? The group thought about using another server and create another domain name, related or not to WCRP. They also discussed technical requirements. Dharmaling has a server in England, which we could initially use for free, then migrate later to another server.
For Group III, too, a new network appeared as the only possible solution. But there are already many existing networks and resources are limited. Participants could start with a contact list, exchange of info about our respective events and send mutual invitations. Possible collaboration on local level but also for the 2008 planned European conference. It would make sense if WCRP acted as a platform to start this effort.
Baker al-Hiyari summarised the reporting by pointing to a mutual agreement on networking through a website that WCRP could support at least in the beginning, or on a possible contribution or follow-up on the toolkit being prepared by the EYC faith expert group, and also on a common interfaith day of action under the facilitation of WCRP Europe particularly. There was also interest in supporting the 2008 event. Yet when it came to cooperation on a toolkit, an interfaith day, or WCRP 2008 event, the questions remained on how to collaborate.
To lauch the discussion, Ziad called participants to set themselves a closer objective towards the coming World Assembly. He voiced his concern that Europe is often not represented properly because of self-satisfaction. Including newer religious movements may be a way to ensure a more solid participation. Helping on the toolkit is also an idea, although we cannot commit now. Starting a website poses no major problem but maintaining it may be more challenging. For the time being a yahoo group might be fine.
In the exchanges that followed, practical matters related to participation in the World Assembly were discussed, as well as possible involvement of a new network with the EYF faith expert group, where options remain open as now.
Plenary discussion and adoption of draft statement
The draft declaration was read, discussed and amended.
As Ziad informed the participants, the Rissho Kosei-kai delegation was impressed by the quality of this group. They realised that their assumptions are not always in phase with reality. They are inclined to put more funding into Western European participation to the next World Assembly, mainly for participants under the age of 25-26.
About 75 young people of the six regions, of which the 16 who will elected to the youth committee, will be sponsored to participate in the senior World Assembly, provided they are 21-25 or even 25-29 years old.
As the next step following this meeting, Religions for Peace will need a short action-plan elaborating on the present declaration, and an estimated budget including in-kind contributions.