CONGRESS OF THE LEADERS OF WORLD AND
TRADITIONAL RELIGIONS
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Statement of Director General of the World Council of Churches Samuel Kobia Print E-mail
Your Excellency, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan! Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, senior delegates! I was honored to participate in this magnificent forum which brought together religious leaders at III Congress of World and Traditional Religions. Once again I would like to congratulate you on its successful organization, which enabled the leaders of all religions to come together again.

First I want to express appreciation to Kazakhstan, who has a distinguished history and is at the crossroads of world cultures and religions. Today it is home for large communities of Muslims and Christians, as well as many other religious communities, representatives of which want to attend their churches and to profess their religion freely and peacefully. As you well know, Your Excellency, despite the fact that the state is interested in peaceful co-existence of religious communities in the society, the government is not in power to impose religious dialogue. Religious communities must work themselves to find effective ways for dialogue and cooperation. Of course, the state can support such cooperation, creating conditions for it and providing opportunities for free religious worship. I would like to support your efforts to ensure religious freedom for all religious communities in Kazakhstan.

Your Excellency, the call for dialogue firmly rooted in the practice of religious leaders. Recently, however, leaders like you, also call for interfaith dialogue. The idea to turn Astana into a city in the world on the basis of the inter-religious dialogue is very good and correct. Our presence here at the forum as religious leaders means that we support this initiative. Also, this Congress gives us the opportunity to participate in important work on establishing and developing relationships with each other to strengthen our common work for the sake of the world. 
I am very grateful that I can call your attention to and express my thoughts on the summit of prominent religious leaders. I serve as the Director General of the World Council of Churches, which is a worldwide organization. Its members include 349 Protestant and Orthodox churches all around the world, and in its ranks, there are about 560 million Christians. Every Sunday, the faithful gather to worship in the large urban centers and small rural communities throughout the world, including Kazakhstan. Weekly meeting provides a rare opportunity of getting spiritual and moral education for million-audience.

One of the most important roles that religious leaders play in building peace is the role of associations: to gather everyone together to find together the ways to address violence gripping the world and conflicts. Here I would like to give an example of effectiveness of this role can be. In 2007, within a peacekeeping operation in the Middle East, the World Council of Churches held the conference in Amman (Jordan). It was a unique opportunity, when for the first time churches of Jerusalem gathered together to express solidarity with one voice to all the churches throughout the world. The World Council of Churches was able to gather together leaders and representatives of different churches to discuss urgent and complex problems, because it enjoys the confidence of their representatives. A wide range of participants and representatives in Amman is a hopeful example of ecumenical solidarity. This encourages us and makes not to lose hope in respect of international politics. We have learned that united churches can make a positive change.

The call, launched in Amman, continues to exert influence on many parts of the world. Recent month in San Anselmo (California), Christians, Muslims and Jews involved in the process of peaceful Israeli-Palestinian settlement, invited the World Council of Churches to tell about its experience in Amman. In several public speeches, I told about the Amman experience to scientists, activists, religious leaders, who wanted to contribute to the peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our discussions convinced us that we could hope for real change and establishing peace, because people of different faiths in the United States brought to this process their religious leaders and urged them to assist in the establishment of peace based on justice and respect for desires of Palestinians and Israelis.

Religious leaders can also assist in building a peaceful society, presenting a real example of the desire for dialogue and cooperation. This forum gives us such an opportunity, where we gathered to discuss pressing issues, to establish and develop further relationships with each other. This forum is a powerful message to our voters, and demonstrates that the biblical virtues and observance of religious traditions open the way to meetings with representatives of other religions for dialogue and cooperation. Second-level diplomacy is unofficial, informal relationships between members of rival groups or nations aimed at developing strategies, exerting influence on public opinion and arranging human and material resources to help in resolving conflicts. Such a cooperation between leaders of different religions give us the opportunity to gain experience and share it in the field of diplomacy based on faith, as a contribution of the second-level diplomacy in conflict resolution. In these terms, we could think together of creative alternatives to the results of the first-level diplomacy.

Success of any meeting depends on knowledge of the participants about each other, that, in its turn, leads to destruction of barriers and stereotypes. It softens a bit “other” and gives us the opportunity to dispel the myths about the past and assess the threats. Indeed, the meeting with the “other” helps each of us to realize that someone who, at first glance, may seem to be an enemy, in fact, has much in common with us, experiencing the same fears and pressures, has the same experience.

Recently there have been made many attempts, both by governments and religious leaders to create the opportunity for such a dialogue. Within the Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation Program of the World Council of Churches considerable work was conducted on preparation of our churches to establishing contacts with members of other religious communities. Although the purpose of the WCC is to promote visible unity between churches, these efforts should also be encouraged by our churches and communities.

I am still strongly convinced, however, that real actions are taken not at this table, but in those parts of our planet, where there are our churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, gurudwaras (Sikh temples) and the communities, whose representatives meet at other houses to perform their religious rites, not only in order to establish relationships for future cooperation, but also to encourage each other to action that will lead to peace and concord. We have heard many stories about joint efforts of churches, mosques, synagogues and temples that helped to turn local government policy towards social justice, to establish programs to combat hunger and homelessness, to provide new initiatives in health and education, as well as to strengthen solidarity with each other when a community is under threat.

It is necessary, and very important to gather religious leaders and scholars for conducting inter-religious dialogue. But let us recognize that often we are the very people who are involved in organizing the masses to struggle for peace. Sometimes theology, doctrinal traditions, religious practice, bureaucracy force people to refrain from good deeds, from participation in the dialogue to cooperation in actions and activities organized for peace. At this meeting, we must find the way of liberation, support and enhancement of peace initiatives of general public and communities.

The third role of religious leaders is providing opportunities for young people as well as the opportunity to learn from us and pose challenges for us. Many religious leaders present here can be attributed to the “older generation”, if you compare them to our successors. Young people today are not burdened, as we are, with the differences they see in others. Living in the increasingly globalized society and communities, more pluralistic than the society in which we grew up, from a young age they interact with people of other religions. Just as soon as they learn from us, we must learn from them. As religious leaders we must provide them with opportunities that we did not have, cooperate and enter into dialogue with people of other faiths.

Your Excellency, let me share a concrete example of our experience. For several years, the World Council of Churches, in collaboration with Muslim and Jewish colleagues provides a chance for young people to take part in the monthly program called “Building Interfaith Community”. The program is designed for young people wanting to know each other better and overcome stereotypes. While teaching to fully respect and recognize the authenticity of every religion, this program focuses on the fact that we, religious people, should do and how we should overcome the challenges of today's world and together build the society of mutual obligations, based on respect and cooperation . The program also includes spiritual contact and participation, studying scriptures of all religions, lectures and seminars conducted by specialists from Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities.

The staff of the World Council of Churches responsible for work with young people often says: “Young people are not the future they are the present!” These young people in our congregations and communities are very skilled in building relations. Thanks to the Internet, they can make friends, collaborate on projects and share interests, including peacekeeping, with people all around the world. In all our religions, today, as never before, the younger generation representatives have the unique opportunity to establish ties with different people. Our role as religious leaders in building a peaceful society inevitably entails the need to encourage young people to understand people of other faiths, that leads to mutual respect, and that, in its turn, may help in preventing intolerance and conflicts.

The privilege to lead our communities also imposes on us the responsibility not only for our community, but for everyone else. Gathered together to build peace and establish tolerance, we have done more than could be done separately. Giving real examples to our communities through development of international relations with people of other religions, we are building a foundation for mutual respect, which is a harbinger of peace-building. Supporting our followers, and being open to everything that they want to offer: in the form of a specific gift or action of any context, we, as religious leaders, can contribute to building peace and cooperation. If we have time for it and take an innovative approach to the matter, we will enable inter-religious dialogue to be the main part of transformation of our societies and our world as a whole.
 
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