The World Assembly was held in Germany for the first time. Hence, German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier formally opened the conference on August 20th, 2019. Recognizing the world’s religions’ role to work towards peaceful societies, in his speech Mr Steinmeier urged the delegates to work together for a better tomorrow free of oppression, violence, and war.
Religions for Peace is serious in its conviction that religions must no longer be used as the justification for discord and war, but on the contrary that they can – and must – be instruments of peace. We must be united in our shared belief that religion must never be cited as a justification for hatred or violence! No war must be waged in the name of religion! German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier
After a multi-religious prayer led by children, the opening remarks by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Patriarch of Constantinople, H.E. Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah, President of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies and Co-Moderator, RfP and Dr. Willam Vendley, Secretary General, RfP explored on the central topic of the assembly: Caring For Our Common Future. Closing the opening ceremony, Dr. Vinu Aram, Director of the Shanti Ashram and Co-Moderator of RfP, invited all delegates to join in a Pledge of Commitment According to One’s Own Faith.
On the second day of the conference, delegates and guests took part in an interreligious and spiritual ceremony at the Ring for Peace, a 7.5 metre wooden sculpture that will be a permanent symbol of peace among religions permanently remaining in Lindau. In his address at the Ring for Peace Ceremony, H.E. Miguel Ángel Moratinos Cuyaubé, United Nations High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, emphasised that the global preservation and protection of religious sites is a sign of respect for the diversity of the world’s religions and their raison d’être. With these words, he echoed the symbolism of the Ring for Peace and the message associated with it: the Ring for Peace is constructed of a wide variety of wood from all over the world, forming a wooden Moebius strip – a symbol of continuity.
Following this ceremony, advancing a multi-religious vision of positive peace – what RfP has termed “Shared Well-Being” – was on the agenda of the World Assembly for the ensuing days. Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former President of East Timor, José Ramos Horta, set the tone for these following days packed with interactive panels and small group workshops by providing his expertise on how religions may serve to foster peace. The World Assembly’s online resource center offers recordings of all plenary events, including the panel Middle-Eastern and North African women as Peacemakers, which has received significant media coverage from around the world.
Prof Dr Azza Karam elected to be the first female Secretary General of Religions for Peace
On Wednesday, August 21st, the delegates of the 10th World Assembly elected Prof. Dr. Azza Karam to become the new Secretary General of Religions for Peace. She will be the first female Secretary General to head the world’s largest alliance of religious communities succeeding Dr. William F. Vendley, who has held the office since 1994. Azza Karam is a citizen of the Netherlands and Professor of Religion and Development at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. She is also currently working for the United Nations on issues relating to religion, development and democracy. A native of Egypt, she has worked as Senior Advisor on Culture at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and as the Coordinator of the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Religion and Development, where she coordinated the Global Interfaith Network for Population and Development with over 600 religious organizations from around the world. Since the 1990s, she has worked in various capacities for a number of international organizations. Since PaRD’s inception, Prof Karam has dedicated her time and efforts tirelessly towards making PaRD a success by contributing her vast expertise to develop its governance, ways of working, and thematic focus. Dr Karam addressed the Assembly’s delegates in her acceptance speech on Thursday and layed out her vision for Religions for Peace in the coming years.
Limiting free expression to the realm of religion often excludes those who champion democracy, human rights, anti-corruption, and environmental concerns. The truth is, that if democracy, human rights, anti-corruption, and environmental concerns are not actively struggled for, we can only realise the religious freedom of those in collusion with political power.
Prof. Dr. Azza Karam, Designated Secretary General of Religions for Peace
PaRD workshop on inclusive and peaceful societies
Also on Thursday, August 22nd, 2019, PaRD hosted a workshop on facilitating inclusive and peaceful societies through interreligious peace building and cooperation between religious, intergovernmental, and governmental actors at the World Assembly. The workshop was led by Prof. Mohammed Abu-Nimer (KAICIID), Kirsten Evans (USAID), and Ulrich Nitschke (PaRD Secretariat). The workshop kicked off with an introduction of the hosts and PaRD. Afterwards, Prof. Mohammed Abu-Nimer gave a brief introduction on the concept of interreligious peacemaking as well as the main challenges.
In the following, participants introduced themselves and explained how they or their organization had been involved in interreligious peace building/dialogue. Participants included members of the EU, the National Commission for Interreligious Dialogue of Cameroon, Peace Tanzania, the All Africa Council of Churches, the Interreligious Council of Russia, the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, and the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, among others.
Next, participants were asked to identify the main challenges for successful interreligious peace building. Some of the challenges mentioned were religious actors resisting contact with “outsiders”, a neglect of engaging women and youth, electoral violence, difficult access to the government level, governments undermining grassroots initiatives, as well as a strong separation of religious and secular actors through distrust, issues of terminology or not taking each other seriously.
Afterwards, Ulrich Nitschke, head of the PaRD Secretariat, introduced the main findings of the study conducted by JLI in collaboration with PaRD on partnering with local faith actors. Following the short introduction, participants were asked to share a personal experience in interreligious work, highlighting challenges and how they had been overcome.
In the end, four main action points were identified by the participants of the workshop and were fed into the drafting process of the World Assembly’s declaration:
- Sensitizing each other on both religious and non-religious beliefs and how they can influence actions
- Increasing religious literacy
- Offering peace-building education for religious leaders
- Having joint interfaith actions beyond conversations and dialogue and putting the results of held conversations into practice
The World Assembly's Declaration
Coming to an end, the 10th World Assembly of Religions for Peace adopted and published its joint declaration. Already in its preamble, the assembly emphasized the world’s religions’ duty to work towards peace, acknowledged the widespread misuse of religion, and committed to work against it:
We – 900 women, men, and youth – have gathered in Lindau, Germany, coming from 125 countries for the 10th World Assembly of Religions for Peace. We are grateful for 49 years of determined focus on building peace and on speaking for those most in need. We are an alliance of care, of compassion, of love. We represent a far greater, ever growing, and ever-radiating alliance of “common action” that Religions for Peace gladly serves. In that light we acknowledge with sorrow the ways – subtle and gross – that we and our religious communities have fallen short.
Before bidding farewell, delegates, participants, and guests joined the hosts from Lindau on a spectacular boatride on the tri-state Lake Constance. The Austrian-Swiss-German late summer sunset provided the ideal scenery for the ensuing dinner, dance, and conversations continuing into the late evening.