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Speech by the Secretary General of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, William Vendli Print E-mail
Your Excellency Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan;
Your Excellency Mr. Tokayev, Head of the Secretariat of the Congress;
Your Excellencies Heads and former Heads of States;
Prominent and respected religious leaders;
Brothers and sisters, good morning. The host country has invited me to share some thoughts about the role of religious leaders in peace-building.
Let me start off with a little story. After that, I would like to talk about some principles. And in the end of the speech I want to offer some concrete steps.
When I, staying in West Africa, worked with religious leaders, I found myself in a desert in Liberia, where there is a very cruel war on. I realized there that religious communities have a very high spiritual power, moral legacy and social potential o for peace-building.
In fact, there is desert, there were no conditions of civilization, as a result of the civil war, and thousands of homeless people were in refugee camps. UN provided trucks, God bless them! It was a quiet non-working day.
People greeted me when I walked into the camp; they shook my hand, brought to a huge triangle, strewn with twigs. They said: “This is our mosque”. Then led me deep into the camp to another triangle made of twigs on the floor and invited me inside. “Here is our church” - people said. They lost everything. But their mosques and churches were with them.
We, the religious leaders, often witness the fact that believers have hidden potential, spirituality, and life connection with the transcendent mystery of their lives. Very often, the dark night of grief and loss, gross injustice and the devastating losses like the X-ray beam reveal the hidden spiritual powers.
In fact, people really can stand the unbearable sorrow. And they hope against despair. They sacrifice themselves for the love to others. And they forgive what cannot be forgiven. These spiritual forces are cultivated just by religious traditions.
These spiritual forces thrive in bright rays of daylight. They appear in the form of good deeds, caring for each other, sincerity and commitment to building a social system of transparency, participation and justice, those most important concepts that will help us live happily together.
Second. The ability of religious communities for empathy - is another strong side, which helps in building peace. It is a religious moral legacy - not just a list of permissible and impermissible, although it is also very important. This is a great life morality that forms the character and consciousness, the cultivator of virtue. Without this heritage, we would have lost our memory. We would have limited ourselves with futile attempts that would have never been able to help us achieve true harmony and peace associated with our strengths as people open to the Sacraments.

In addition to our spiritual and moral heritage, we are all together the heirs of hundreds of thousands of temples, synagogues, mosques and churches spread along the world. These local congregations are merged into separate parishes and organized at the state, but often at the regional and global level. This is an interconnected network uniting congregations within their traditions. Each local congregation in a vast religious network is a potential regional center for peace-building.
In short, we have a spiritual, moral and social potential for peace-building. In order to reap the benefits of this potential, we must honestly assess the situation. First, we must admit that sometimes extremists abused our religious traditions. We must put an end to these abuses.
Secondly, we must work together on our common problems. We must make it our mission to solve these problems.
We all know that in fact wars bring seas of blood, maim and destroy the life of innocent people. We all know the destructive power of poverty, as it stops the growth, humiliates and devastates. We know very well that wars bring poverty, losses, orphancy, lack of education and ignorance. Wars and environmental destruction are major threats to world peace. These are our common problems. And they call us for union.
There is also a third point, which is also important. Each of us, in terms of own religious traditions, realizes that spiritual callousness is the result of adverse effects of denial of openness and freedom of the human soul to the transcendent mystery justifying our existence.
Pope Benedict’s speech in the United Nations on April 18, 2008 revived a memory of the enormous shocks which humanity has suffered at the time, when the United Nations was under formation. The Pope said, in the case when people refuse transcendence, the freedom and human dignity is grossly violated.
Similar opinions on the issue are present widely in the traditions of many world religions. Recently, Muslims have written to Christians that love to God and love for neighbors are inseparable. We can find similar statements in many other religions. Buddhist traditions, for example, point out that compassion and participation of a person in the creation of prosperity for other people - the key to save his own soul.
Thus, despite the real differences in our religious and theological teachings, our moral capacity for empathy is common to all.
We know that the human race is faced with new, persistent and serious threats to peace. We know that the actions combining justice and mercy, and will unite us. We also know that it would be unwise and short-sighted to undermine the principles of inviolability of the dignity and freedom of every person.
Therefore, this variety of different religious, cultural and social “means and methods” of action must reflect our general commitment to respect and protect the inviolability of human dignity of each person, as we strive for universal prosperity and peace - building.
And finally, the religious leaders are able, I believe, to take two decisive steps.
First of all, we can join our forces in order to create simple and honest mechanisms that will allow us to achieve interfaith cooperation at all levels: local, national, regional and global. This is what the World Conference of Religions for Peace serves to already forty years old. But we should do even more. We must also work with governments and other stakeholders. And now I want to express special gratitude to the Government of Kazakhstan.
Secondly, we must recognize that our common strong belief, personal moral values expressed by the statement: “treat others as you would want them to treat you”, should become the social paradigm.
Yes, we should start promoting the idea of “common security”. Today, my security is your security. Yes, we recognize and respect the need for public security. Yes, we are grateful for the extension of the idea of universal security. But this is not enough. No walls can be erected to protect us from the needs of others.
Their security must be our concern. We are protected no more than the most vulnerable among us. If express the idea in purely practical terms, we must work together. We always knew that every religion in its religious concepts has its own variety of the Golden Rule: treat others as you treat yourself.
Today, all forces should be aimed at solving practical problems associated with our vulnerability. We must also follow the great religious moral imperatives of acts of care for neighbors.
In short, religious communities have invaluable potential for peace-building. That is the fundamental cooperation among them will lead to respect for some of the differences and free up forces for peace-building, which is so aspired by our hearts.
Thank you.
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