Senior United Nations officials today stressed the importance of religious communities joining forces to foster peace and development and to combat extremism.
“All of the world’s great religions share the values of peace, human dignity and respect for others,” said Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, at a special event at UN Headquarters to mark World Interfaith Harmony Week. “We welcome opportunities to join forces with people of faith who are working for peace, development, human rights and the rule of law.”
Mr. Eliasson noted that many religious groups have been at the forefront of grassroots efforts to help the poor, provide health services and support young people. However, he warned that religious extremism is causing lasting damage and widespread suffering.
“We cannot let small numbers of extremists of any faith obscure the good work of the vast majority of believers in our world.”
In particular, he expressed concern over young people who turn to extremists promising rewards or salvation, and are conscripted to campaigns of hate and violence. “Young people naturally have much energy and idealism. We should find ways to help them use these positive qualities to improve conditions of life.”
While many conflicts in the world are marked by religious disputes, Mr. Eliasson underlined that inter-faith dialogue can help resolve conflicts. “With dialogue, we can combat hate. With inter-faith harmony, we can build bridges to a better future.”
The President of the General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic, said the UN can greatly benefit from engaging with religious leaders around the world who are working to achieve peace, and pointed out that many UN agencies have strengthened their partnerships with faith-based groups.
“We ought to re-embrace the calls of our respective faiths for individuals to show respect for all and compassion for the most vulnerable, notwithstanding their differences, in recognition of God’s image not only in ourselves but in everyone else – however they may worship and wherever they may live,” Mr. Jeremic said.
“Let us reach out to one another, on equal footing, and truly work on healing the wounds of centuries of conflict between peoples of different religions – vigilantly mindful of the danger that the ills and grievances of bygone centuries, if they continue to be reawakened, can engulf us in a maelstrom of unmatched ferocity.”
The event, entitled “United for a Culture of Peace Through Interfaith Harmony,” was organized by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization (UNESCO) and the Committee of Religious Non-Governmental Organizations.