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World Councils of Religious Leaders

WORLD COUNCILS OF RELIGIOUS LEADERS

(Four Councils created in 2000-2003)

In the short period of 4 years, the world has seen the creation of three councils of world religious leaders and one European continental council. A worldwide collaboration between these ‘World Councils of Religious Leaders’ should result in the creation of one world forum, eventually under the name of ‘United Faith Communities Organization’ as a worthwhile partner of the United Nations Organization.

I. World Council of Religious Leaders (WCRL)

(Millennium Peace Summit : 2000 New York, 2002 Bangkok)

Background

Over the years, many leaders, both religious and secular, have recognized the need to create an entity that would address critical world issues from the perspective of the faith traditions. By bringing together the leaders from the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Islamic and Indigenous traditions, the human community can begin to draw upon the collective wisdom and universal moral and spiritual principles that are the bedrock of all the great religions.

       Over the past few decades, interreligious dialogue and relations have advanced to the point where such an entity is no longer an ideal but a concept whose time has come. It took two world wars to give birth to the United Nations. During the last few decades, it has taken numerous conflicts involving religion to make concrete the need for a World Council of Religious and Spiritual Leaders.

The creation of this World Council was one of the fundamental purposes for organizing the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders at the United Nations in August 2000. The goal has been to create a body of religious leaders that would work in close coordination with the United Nations, to bring the spiritual repository of the human community to the solving of critical world problems. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan fully recognizes and appreciates the value religious leaders bring to the political equation. Indeed, there growing acknowledgment that there will not be peace in this world without the leadership and cooperation of the religions, which cross national boundaries and have far greater reach than most political bodies.

The tragedy of September 11, 2001 has created a new urgency as the world faces the danger of realignment along religious lines. As diversity grows in communities around the world, so too does intolerance of differences. These threats are also hastening the opposite – the emergence of a reinforced commitment to find the common voice within religion – the central universal values that would form the basis for a new global vision. The need for a World Council of Religious and Spiritual Leaders is clearer today than it was one year ago. The challenge now is to move from concept to reality.

The Current Crisis

On September 11th, 2001, a tragedy of massive proportion changed the world. Religion moved to center stage in a way few could have envisioned. Religious fundamentalism, a small but vocal presence in all faith traditions, seeks to divide the world along religious lines. The dangers posed by these extremes within the religious tradition are now known to be a grave threat to the human community. Only the world’s respected religious leadership can truly counter this threat.

What could a World Council do to abate the dangers of religious extremism and the consequent terrorist activities? Throughout history, religion has been a force for bringing destruction as well as benefit to humankind. Can a World Council steer religious fervor and commitment toward the common good? Can a World Council strengthen our shared values and help transform ignorance and the fear of difference into respect and appreciation?

September 11th made clear how fragile still is the ability of the religions to honor each other. It also made clear the degree to which we have become a global community, unable any longer to avoid knowing and respecting each other. Ironically, the events of September 11th set the stage for religious leaders to come forward in a new way, their audience no longer just their own constituents, but rather the entire global community.

Mission

During a recent conference call, the Archbishop of Canterbury told us that religions now need to redefine their theologies for modernity. If we are to address the most critical problems, the religions need to act in concert, rather than seek to fulfill their own, sometimes opposing, ends.

This redefining of the theologies can help find the common purpose of religion – to relieve suffering, foster harmony, promote the dignity of all life. In the same conference call, the Chief Rabbi of England spoke about creating a world culture that recognizes the dignity of difference and finds unity in diversity.

The mission of the World Council of Religious and Spiritual Leaders is to create dialogue among the most senior leaders of all the major faith traditions. The purpose is not to discuss theology or matters that pertain to the organization or foundation of any individual faith tradition, but rather to find a means of working together to address critical social issues – poverty, conflict, intolerance, environment degradation, terrorism, etc.  Just as the United Nations requires nation states to dialogue with each other, this Council would necessitate exchange among the religions, where currently there is no formal body for such engagement on world issues.

Structure

Each of the major religious traditions has its own internal dynamic and organizational structure. Most of the religions are nonhierarchical and do not speak with a singular voice. The Catholic Church is the exception. Where there is a hierarchy, this structure would determine representation on the Council. Where there is none, eminent leaders from a religious tradition who have the respect and recognition of their community globally could represent the faith. The Council will evolve from a group of members who are committed to the concept and to working together to address global problems through the wisdom of the faith traditions.

Purpose of the Steering Council

The inaugural meeting of the Steering Council took place on October 22-24, 2001 at the Rockefeller Brothers Conference Center in Pocantico Hills, New York. The Steering Council will define the mission and purpose of the Council. Leaders from the religious traditions and will explore how the World Council could function from the perspective of their faith tradition, and how their tradition could be represented.

Specific subjects to be discussed:

Organization and structure of the World Council

Representation: by religion, region, gender, race

The mandate: responding to a world crisis

Relationship to United Nations and other international organizations, such as the World Bank

Where and when to meet

If critical social problems are to be successfully addressed, an integrated framework of religion, government and business must be created. Just as the United Nations has invited members of civil society to work with government on global issues, the World Council must actively engage with business and government so that all major sectors of society will become part of the process of creating social transformation. Thus initiatives launched by the World Council could be carried out with the help of governments and businesses around the world.

This inaugural meeting of the Steering Council for the World Council of Religious and Spiritual Leaders has been made possible through a grant from the UN Foundation/Better World Fund.

 

New York–[August 29, 2000]– Participants of the Millennium Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders took the historic step, today, of presenting a Commitment to Global Peace to UN Secretary-General Kofi A. Annan that outlines key areas in which religious leaders can play an active role in reducing conflict and addressing the critical needs of humankind.

After-thought: the problem here is that since the creation of this council in 2001, as far as I know, no news at all on the carrying out of their above-mentioned Mission and Subjects to be discussed, has been seen of heard in the media, nor about any concrete positive activities of this council, up to this year of 2007. 

II. Board of World Religious Leaders

The Eliyah Interfaith Institute

First meeting: December 14-17 2003, Seville, Spain

Second meeting: November 2005, Wu Lai, Taiwan

Attended by 45 religious leaders of 5 of the main world religions from 20 different countries.

 RESOLUTION OF THE ELIJAH ACADEMY THINK-TANK,

PROPOSED FOR CONSIDERATION AND ADOPTION

BY THE ASSEMBLED BOARD OF WORLD RELIGIONS LEADERS,

SEVILLA, DECEMBER 2003

Whereas current tensions among religious communities around the world cry out for attention, making us painfully aware of the hostility generated by human behavior and by the ways religion contributes to it; and Whereas we seek to establish alternative models and provide such resources that will encourage hospitality and collaboration between world religions; and Whereas we recognize the important role that religious intellectuals

and scholars play in the shaping of their tradition and in aiding the course of its growth; and Whereas with these goals in mind, the Elijah Think-tank was formed, bringing together men and women, learned scholars of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, who hail from Canada, Great Britain, India, Israel and the United States; and Whereas these scholars have devoted extensive time over the past two years to meet in Arkansas and in Great Britain, and to engage in their various locales in the study of the attitude to the other, as expressed in their religions; and Whereas our cooperative study has brought us to realize that all our traditions express the highest spiritual vision possible for humanity, as well as noble means of treating those outside our own traditions, but also more human elements that, under the impact of various historical circumstances and a range of human reactions to them, have cultivated less noble attitudes to the other, It is our sincere recommendation:

That all of our religions engage in a process of self examination that will allow them to draw forth and develop the loftiest values about human life and dignity, hospitality to the other, and the ultimate vision for human flourishing, as these are contained within the traditions, in order to overcome any historical situations that have led to hatred of the other, ultimately leading to war and bloodshed.

That all of our religions empower their scholarly representatives to undertake such study in a sustained and considered way.

That such study and reflection be carried out not only in the privacy of each religion’s study houses but also in the company of experts representing other religions, following our experience of how such collaborative work can have an enriching and transforming effect, encourage the best in our traditions to surface, permit extensive mutual enrichment and enable the kind of constructive reflection that can aid our traditions in conversation with one another in contemporary society.

That a permanent institution be established with the goal of advancing the kind of collaborative research and reflection that we have experienced, providing a symbol of collaboration for world religions and allowing them to face together, in their diversity, the broad range of challenges presented by contemporary reality.

That all participants in the Sevilla meeting on “Religion, Society and the Other” endorse this statement and continue to support and collaborate in the development of collaborative group studies and the development of educational materials to be carried out by scholars of all world religions in the framework of the Elijah Interfaith Institute.

 

III. Leaders of World and Traditional Religions

The First Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions took place on 23-24 September, 2003 in the City of Astana, capital of the Republic of Kazakhstan –under the chairmanship of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The purpose was to develop a constructive dialogue between different confessions.

This Congress was the first representative religious forum held under the patronage of a Head of State. The leaders of the largest confessional bodies from 17 countries of Europe, Asia, Middle East and America participated in this event. Pope John Paul II, Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all Russia, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Ecumenical Patriarch sent welcoming addresses to the participants of the Congress.

Special envoys with messages from the King of Saudi Arabia and President of Egypt attended the Congress. The United Nations Secretary General, the Presidents of the USA, Russia, France, and Iran; the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and Italy, and other distinguished political leaders sent their congratulations.

Within the framework of the Congress, its participants had an open exchange of thoughts on the role of the religion in the contemporary world and the humane character of the values of many religions. The religious leaders adopted the final Declaration of the First Congress, in which it was stated that “the religions must aspire towards greater co-operation, recognising tolerance and mutual acceptance as essential instruments in the peaceful co-existence of all peoples.” The Declaration expresses the readiness of the Congress participants not to tolerate the use of religious differences as the means of fuelling hatred and discord and to save humanity from the global conflict of religions and cultures.

The success of this event led to the Resolution of the First Congress to convene this inter-religious forum at least every three years. This resolution shows the timeliness of the idea of maintaining the constant dialogue between the religions in the sake of the peace and accord.

The Resolution also honoured Kazakhstan in inviting that country to host the Second Congress of World and Traditional Religions in Astana in 2006.

Aims and objectives of the Congress

The purpose of the Second Congress is to create the instruments to enable good relations between different confessions, based on inter-religious tolerance, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.

In reaching this aim the participants of the Second Congress should accomplish the following tasks:

l  to elaborate and adopt the general document setting out the principles of the dialogue between the religious leaders and organisations with state, public and political institutions. This document will mark the agreement to set up a mechanism to prevent conflicts on religious grounds, to provide ways of resolving possible religious conflicts, abstaining from making any appeals or actions directed against other religions, and establishing behavioural norms for believers in relation to non-believers;

l  to ensure the functioning of the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions as a standing international forum by adopting the Provision on the Congress Secretariat, establishing the procedure of its formation and financing;

l  to define the ways the Congress will interact with the United Nations, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and other international organisations in the sphere of maintaining peace and security;

l  to extend the format of the Congress participants to involve scientists, political and public representatives, to enable the discussion of issues of the dialogue development between civilizations on a wider basis;

l  to consider the possibility of extending the Joint Appeal of the Second Congress participants to the world community to undertake radical measures to fight poverty, disease, and social injustice as the grounds for religious extremism;

l  to adopt special resolutions with an appeal for reconciliation to the Heads of States and organizations opposing each other in conflicts in various regions of the world;

l  to provide a wide distribution of the Congress’s ideas and resolutions.

Attended by:

Representatives of Islam: 7 personalities from Saudi Arabia, 2 from Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, India, Libya and Kazakhstan.

Representatives of Christianity: 7 from Turkey, Armenia, Russia, Vatican, USA, Switzerland, UK.

Representatives of Buddhism: 4 from Korea, China, Taiwan, Thailand.

Representatives of Judaism: 2 from Israel.

Representative of Shinto: 1 from Japan

Representatives of Taoism: 1 from China

Representative of Hinduism: 1 from India

Representatives of international religious organizations: 2 Protestant leaders, 1 from USA, 1 from Switzerland,.

Guests of honour

13 political leaders from Malaysia, Switzerland, UNESCO, France (2), Korea, Belgium (2), UAE, USA, OSCE Austria.

Principles of Inter-Religious Dialogue

1.   Dialogue shall be based upon honesty, tolerance, humility and mutual respect. It requires effective listening and learning, producing genuine engagement.

2. Dialogue must assume equality of partners and create the space for free expression of opinions, perspectives and beliefs, allowing for the integrity of each culture, language and tradition.

3.    Dialogue must not aim at the conversion or defamation of the interlocutor, nor may it aim at demonstrating the superiority of one’s own religion over that of others. It should not aim at eliminating differences, but rather at knowing and respecting them. It should enable participants to explain their faith honestly and clearly.

4.   Dialogue aims at avoiding prejudice and misrepresentation of the faith of the other, thus encouraging better knowledge and understanding of the other. It helps prevent conflict and the use of violence as a means of reducing tension and resolving disputes.

5. Dialogue offers a way towards the peaceful coexistence and fruitful cooperation of peoples. It encourages better education, may also help towards a greater understanding of the importance of dialogue by the mass media and minimise the risk of religious extremism.

6.   Inter-religious dialogue can serve as an example for other kinds of dialogue, especially social and political dialogue for the good of societies.

7.   Dialogue conducted in a spirit of tolerance emphasizes that all people inhabit the same earth. This assumes certain shared values such as the sacredness of life, the dignity of all human beings and the integrity of creation and nature.

8.   Dialogue assumes that religion plays a vital and constructive role in society. It promotes the common good, recognises the important role of good relationships between people and respects the specific role of the state in society.

9.   Dialogue is fundamentally important for future generations to benefit from better relations between people of different religions and cultures.

The Second Congress of World and Traditional Religions should have taken place in the City of Astana, capital of the Republic of Kazakhstan –in September 2006 and lasted 3 days. There is however no news at all about this planned Second Congress, nor about whatever follow-up activity since the foundation in 2003 and nobody seems to be reachable for comment.

IV. European Council of Religious Leaders (ECRL)

Called on 12 March 2002 by WCRP, Senior European religious leaders announced the launching of the first pan European religious leaders council, Europe Religious Leaders Council. The Council consists of thirty members representing Western and Eastern European States, including the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States and Turkey. 

Summarizing the discussions of the Executive Committee, Rabbi Sirat noted major changes in Europe including: increasing cultural and religious pluralism; the rapid movement of information, commerce and labor across national boarders; the transformation of the social and political legacies of the wars of the last century; and the new and still fluid forms of political, military, and economic alliances. H.E. Cardinal Danneels noted that Europe is challenged to exercise a major role in the world in establishing international security, as well as economic and political orders that are consistent with its religious and civilizational values. H.E. Metropolitan Kirill noted the growing gap between the deep legacy of religiously inspired values that once offered a basis for moral consensus in Europe and the increasing dominance of other values more related to technical modes of thought and driven by economic efficiency. 

European Council of Religious Leaders (ECRL) is a body of senior religious leaders of Europe's historic religions including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, with Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and Zoroastrians in Europe who have committed themselves to cooperating for conflict prevention, peaceful co-existence and reconciliation. ECRL is a participating body of the World Conference of Religions for Peace.   http://www.religionsforpeace.net/Europe/ECRL.html

Executive Committee meetings:

November 11-12, 2002: inaugural meeting in Oslo, Norway.

September 29 - October 1, 2003: in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina

February 6, 2006: in Oslo, Norway.

Members

Three co-Moderators:

Bishop Gunnar Stälsett, Lutheran Bishop of Oslo and a member of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.

Grand Rabbi René-Samuel Sirat, Vice President of the Council of European Rabbis.

H.E. Dr. Mustafa Ceric, is the Raisu-I-Ulama (Supreme Head) of the Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Grand Mufti of Bosnia since 1993. He is also the Grand Mufti of Sanjak, Croatia and Slovenia. He served as an imam in Chicago and Croatia and as a professor in Bosnia, Malaysia, and the U.S.

Additional members of the Executive Committee :

H.E. Godfried Cardinal Daneels, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels.

H.E. Metropolitan Kirill, Metropolitan of Smolensk.

Mr. Jehangir Sarosh, Moderator of the WCRP/Europe Governing Board. 

H.E. Bishop Stälsett, speaking for the Executive Committee, stated that these new realities present Pan-European challenges that extend beyond the boarders of any single European State, and, thus, require Pan-European multireligious responses. Bishop Stälsett noted that the WCRP/European Council of Religious Leaders would engage relevant European social and political bodies regarding major social challenges confronting Europe and would help to establish multireligious action projects when appropriate. Bishop Stälsett announced that the Council would meet in Oslo, Norway, 11-12 November 2002. 

Dr. Mustafa Ceric, citing the positive value of the Interreligious Council of Bosnia-Hercegovina in the aftermath of the war there, noted that the WCRP/European Religious Leaders Council would complement and assist the national chapters of WCRP. The new Council should provide support for helpful forms of collaboration among the religious communities of different states in Europe. Mr. Sarosh noted the new Council and the existing WCRP national chapters would provide complementary and reinforcing approaches to multireligious cooperation. 

The WCRP/European Religious Leaders Council is part of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP), a worldwide multireligious coalition of believers that is organized on an international, regional, and national basis, on every continent. WCRP national chapters already exist in many States in Europe. WCRP is based upon the principle of acknowledging and respecting differences in religious belief and worship, and it is solely dedicated to multireligious cooperation for peace based on those moral concerns that are deeply held and widely shared among the world’s religious communities.

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In the current development of our world, still troubled by the many conflicts and problems which we all know too well, a start could and should be made on the international level to let these four councils propose qualified personalities on a tentative basis and as an intermediate phase, but who in a later stage could be accepted as full representatives. In this way a world forum could be created as a stepping stone to a formal United Faith Communities Organization.

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           Lucien F. Cosijns, Binnensteenweg 240/A26, 2530 Boechout, Belgium                                    Tel. +32 3 455.6880 lfc.cosijns@gmail.com                     www.interfaithdialoguebasics.info

                                                          Heading Symbols                                                                      Buddhism, Baha'i, Indigenous Traditions, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam,                 Jainism, Judaism, Shintoism, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, Sikhism.


 

 

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