16 July 2008 Faith communities have a crucial role to play in fostering mutual understanding and in promoting consensus on common values and aspirations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today in a message addressed to the World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid.
“There have been few periods in history when the need for dialogue among world religions has been greater,” Mr. Ban said in the message to mark the three-day event in the Spanish capital, which is bringing together more than 200 religious leaders, politicians, academics and others from around the world.
While many conflicts appear to be rooted in religion, Mr. Ban said, they often have their origins in political rivalries, territorial ambitions or competition for natural resources.
“This unique gathering of religious leaders can help debunk the dangerous myth that religion, even when properly understood, inspires violence,” he said.
The Secretary-General called for action in three areas.
“First, we should reach out to young people, particularly those who feel alienated and powerless, and who, having lost faith in the future, are often vulnerable to extremist ideologies,” he said.
Secondly, Mr. Ban said that the role of religious leaders as peacebuilders had to be reinforced.
“From Indonesia to Sierra Leone, from Nigeria to El Salvador, from Kosovo to Sudan, religious leaders have played and continue to play a prominent role in helping to initiate dialogue between warring parties, in providing emotional and spiritual support to communities affected by conflict, and in facilitating the process of reconciliation,” he stressed.
Finally, he called for the creation of platforms for engaging religious leaders at the international level, citing the example of the Alliance of Civilizations initiative, which, with several UN agencies, is promoting partnership and frank discussion of cross-cultural concerns.
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