I am delighted to convey my warm wishes to all participants in this 20th anniversary summit meeting of religious leaders on Mt. Hiei.
Your anniversary occurs at a time of rising intolerance and growing cross-cultural tensions. It seems that in this age of satellite television and jet travel, distances have collapsed but divisions have not. Instead, our proximity has heightened longstanding suspicions of “the other” –the other religion, the other ethnicity, the other nationality. It has led increasing numbers of people to reject diversity in favour of the familiar.
Events of recent years have only accelerated these trends. They have exposed a widening gulf between communities and nations. If unaddressed, this divide has the potential to undermine broader peace and stability in our world.
In response, we need to reassert the truth that diversity is a virtue, not a threat. Today, there is an urgent need to rebuild bridges and to enter into a sustained and constructive intercultural dialogue, one that stresses common values and shared aspirations. Religious leaders can play an important role in such an exchange. They can stress the core beliefs and ideals found in all the great faith traditions: compassion, solidarity, respect for life, and kindness towards others. They can urge their followers to treat others as they themselves would wish to be treated.
This Religious Summit provides a platform to advance this message. Your discussions –which bring together prominent religious figures from the world over –can not only clarify a way forward, they can also serve as an example of what can be achieved through constructive engagement and debate.
Over these two days, I hope you will explore ways practical ways to come together on this issue. Your discussions can also benefit the UN's own initiative for an Alliance of Civilizations. Led by the former President of Portugal, His Excellency Mr. Jorge Sampaio, this project responds to the clear need for action by the international community to bridge divides and promote understanding. Based on the recommendations of a panel of eminent persons, the Alliance has established several priority areas for action, and is developing a strategy to promote better understanding between the world of politics and religion. Gatherings such as yours can help guide this important work, and ensure the Alliance's ultimate success.
In that spirit, let me wish you a most productive conference.