Sunday, July 3, 2022

Promoting inter-religious dialogue: Pope Francis to visit Kazakhstan in September

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“I look forward to this important event from the point of promoting interreligious dialogue, and for the theme of unity to bring countries, which is much needed for the world today,” the Head of the Catholic Church said.

Pope Francis confirmed his official visit to Kazakhstan, as well as participation in the 7th World Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in the coming September during his video meeting with President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

The Pontiff stressed the exceptional importance of achieving unity and harmony in the world in the current difficult geopolitical situation.

“We see how diverse and united your country is. This is a basis for stability. We are happy that in Kazakhstan you understand that. You can count on my support, and I appreciate your efforts,” Pope Francis stated.

In turn, President Tokayev noted that this event is of great importance for Kazakhstan. He also affirmed Kazakhstan’s strong commitment to further developing cooperation with the Holy See in the sphere of spiritual harmony and mutual respect.

President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

The Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions is a unique interfaith forum, convened every three years in Nur-Sultan at the initiative of the First President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev. For almost 20 years, this forum has played an important role in the rapprochement of cultures and civilisations, in searching for answers to the key challenges of our time.

The 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions will be held on September 14-15, 2022 in Nur-Sultan and will be dedicated to the role of leaders of world and traditional religions in the spiritual and social development of mankind in the post-pandemic period.

The idea of convening the Congress was put forward in 2003, at the turn of the century there was a dangerous global situation, directly affecting inter-religious relations in the world. Kazakhstan with its multinational and multi-confessional society, complex geopolitical environment, had not only to be involved, but also to take active steps.

At the beginning of the 2000s, the rapprochement between cultures, religions and peoples was facilitated by the historic visit of Pope John Paul II to Kazakhstan Capital in September 2001, by a major part of the first Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit in Almaty in June 2002 and the International Conference of Peace and Reconciliation in February 2003. These developments led to a new initiative on convening the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.

VI Congress of the Leaders of the World and Traditional Religions.

First of all, it was hard to convince the participants to come and sit at the same table. In September 2003, on the sidelines of the First Congress taking place in Nur-Sultan, some delegates at a private audience with the head of Kazakhstan made no secret of their complaints to other participants and openly expressed the boundaries of their tolerance. It should be noted that in fact the disagreements were of a purely political, inter-state nature and did not raise any interfaith issues. In this situation, the credibility of the First President played a key role in the success of both plenary sessions and the adoption of the Joint Declaration.

Eventually, the participants came to a common understanding that it is vital to identify the place of religion outside the current and even long-term political conflicts. The culture of dialogue, as reflected in the documents of the Congress and the remarks of the participants, implies mutual respect of heads of denominations.

Over the years, the forum has become a leading example of enhancing interreligious cooperation. The Congress has become an open platform for representatives of world and traditional religions to establish a meaningful dialogue on topical global issues.

Dialogue participants

An important feature of the Congress is a broad and representative composition of its participants. The Congress is attended by high-level followers of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shinto, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism, representatives of religious and public organisations, and influential world politicians. The Congress has become not only a platform for inter-religious meetings, but also a dialogue between religious and political leaders. This transformation is of great importance for the real positive impact of religious leaders on the situation around the world.

In different years, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, King Abdullah II of Jordan, President of Finland Sauli Niinistö, President of Israel and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shimon Peres, Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir bin Mohamad, former Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chrétien, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill, Grand Imam of al-Azhar Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, General Secretary of the Muslim World League Abdallah At-Turki addressed the Congress.

Traditionally, the Congresses of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions were also attended by UNESCO Directors General Koïchiro Matsuura and Irina Bokova, OSCE Secretaries General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut and Lamberto Zannier, High Representative of the UN Alliance of Civilizations Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Iyad Amin Madani.

The First Congress was attended by religious leaders and honorary guests from 13 countries; the Sixth Congress in Nur-Sultan was attended by over 80 delegations from 42 countries of the world.

Documents of the Congress

In nineteen years, the Congress has gained considerable documentary framework concerning cooperation between different religions. In this regard, the Declaration of the First Congress played a key role, since it highlighted main common grounds and identified shared values of leading world and traditional religions. For Kazakh diplomacy, harmonisation of the first confessional document was a good test for professionalism, because it was necessary to identify common problems for the entire human civilization from the perspective of the religious leaders. It was necessary to carefully take into account the specific features of each denomination, to avoid debate about interfaith differences, and most importantly – to formulate a joint vision of cooperation of different religions.

Congress documents are unique due to the fact that religious figures themselves were directly involved in their development. When adopting documents of the Congress, religious leaders morally commit to make efforts for their implementation. All the main documents were duly circulated to the UN, OSCE and other international forums.

Institutionalising Dialogue

Another significant outcome of almost 20 years of the Congress’s existence was its consistent institutional development. The Congress has become a sort of “inter-confessional Davos,” as today it is the most representative dialogue platform for all religions, international organizations, politicians and experts. It is distinguished by a diverse agenda, an unusual format of participants, as well as political flexibility.

As the number of participants increases and the agenda of issues discussed is developed, the programme of forums has also significantly expanded. Today, congresses not only include plenary sessions, but also several parallel sectional meetings.

The noble ideas of the Congress are widely supported in the world community, both in religious and political circles. They give the world a chance to overcome centuries-old stereotypes about interreligious relations and to develop an effective formula for global tolerance and mutual understanding in the XXI century.

Kazakhstan will continue to do everything possible in the name of peace and stability on the planet and will continue contributing to the activities of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.

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