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Religions for Peace Convenes 10th World Assembly

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August 20th marked the first day of the 10th World Assembly of Religions for Peace (RFP), in partnership with the Foundation Peace Dialogue of the World Religions and Civil Society. Religions for Peace is the world’s largest and most representative multi-religious coalition with “Inter-religious Councils” (IRCs) in nearly 100 countries, currently headquartered in New York. The RPF’s 10th World Assembly is taking place in Lindau, Bavaria, Germany from August 20th-24th on the theme of “Caring for our Common Future Advancing Shared Well-being.” Some 800 senior religious leaders, youth and women of faith from over 100 countries are joined by 100 representatives of governments, intergovernmental organizations and civil society groups to forge multi-stakeholder partnerships for the common good.
The 10th Religions for Peace World Assembly was launched with calls for religious groups to take decisive action on the main geopolitical issues of the day, and ending with a “statement of commitment” aimed at fostering multireligious cooperation. Almost every religious leader who spoke at the opening ceremony called communities of faith to look beyond their own local issues. “Nothing can be accomplished if we work separately,” said Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. Kosho Niwano, president-designate of the Japanese Buddhist movement Rissho Kosei-kai, praised interfaith cooperation of the past and said it should continue in the future. Cardinal John Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria, commented: “The future depends entirely on how we address our shared welfare”.
Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, president of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, told a parable involving a double-decker ship where the drinking water was stored on the top level. “The people on the bottom level needed water to drink and so they started to drill a hole in the side of the ship to get the water from the outside,” Bin Bayyah said. “If those on the top level would share their water then everyone would survive. But if they don’t, the ones on the bottom will drill the hole and soon the entire ship will sink and everyone will perish.” He went on: “It is the same for everyone here,” Bin Bayyah said. “We must work together or we will all fail.”
Miguel Ángel Moratinos Cuyaubé, high representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, said meetings like the ones in Lindau were important to the process of raising the profile of religious groups as part of the solution for global challenges. “In the 21st century we can say that religion is relevant once again, and this is very important,” he said. “There is a consensus in the world that we must all take steps to save the planet from climate change or conflict.”
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, federal president from host Germany, was the only nonreligious leader to address the assembly. He called for religious leaders in Lindau to eliminate the role of religion in sparking conflict. “We must be united in our shared belief that religion must never again be cited as a justification for hatred or violence,” Steinmeier said. “No war must ever again be waged in the name of religion.”
The assembly featured discussions on an array of key global issues, such as climate change, terrorism, women’s rights, warfare, poverty, sexual violence and migration.
Vinu Aram, co-moderator of Religions for Peace and director of the Shanti Ashram, led the main assembly of participants from more than 100 countries in a closing “statement of commitment.” She encouraged them to keep the statement in mind while in Lindau as well as after their return home. “Guided by the principles of my own religious tradition, and respectful of religious differences, I commit myself to principled multi-religious cooperation for peace,” the statement reads. “I will work as a partner with sincere believers of other religions and men and women of goodwill on matters of deeply held and widely shared moral concerns.”
In a historic assembly for RFP, Dr. Azza Karam was elected as their first female Secretary General. She serves as a Senior Advisor on Culture and Social Development at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). She represents UNFPA as Coordinator/Chair of the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Engaging Faith-Based Organizations for Development; and coordinates engagement with members of a Global Interfaith Network for Population and Development with over 500 faith-based organizations. She has served as the Senior Policy Advisor in the Regional Bureau for Arab States at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) where she coordinated the Arab Human Development Reports. With the support of the Ford Foundation, she founded the first Global Women of Faith Network during her tenure at Religions for Peace, while also advising on interfaith development work in Muslim-majority countries. During this time, she served also as President of the Committee of Religious NGOs at the United Nations.