13 September 2006

Secretary-General, in Message to Congress of World Religions, Urges People of Faith to Bridge Chasms of Ignorance, Fear, Misunderstanding

NEW YORK, 12 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's message to the Second Congress of World and Traditional Religions in Astana, Kazakhstan, today, as delivered by Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva:

You meet during a period of sharply increasing intolerance, extremism and violence.  Recent developments in the Middle East have only fuelled this trend.  Relations between adherents of major world religions have been particularly affected.  If unaddressed, these may even threaten stability in many places.

Driving these disturbing developments is the growing tendency to articulate differences in terms of identity -- be it religious, ethnic, racial, or otherwise -- rather than in terms of opinions or interests.  For whereas opinions and interests may be open to re-evaluation and negotiation, identities rarely are.  This has entrenched today's identity-fuelled differences, and made solutions appear elusive.

That is why gatherings such as yours, which bring together leading religious figures, are so important.  People of faith are a strong influence on group and individual conduct.  As teachers and guides, you can be powerful agents of change.  You can inspire people to new levels of commitment and public service.  You can help bridge the chasms of ignorance, fear and misunderstanding.  You can set an example of interfaith dialogue and cooperation.

Together, you can help chart a path of moderation for the devout, showing them that they can remain true to their convictions and beliefs while engaging fully in the changing world around them.

Your deliberations should also enable you to make an important contribution to the "Alliance of Civilizations", which I launched last year at the initiative of the Spanish and Turkish Prime Ministers.  This initiative is intended to respond to the need for a committed effort by the international community --- in both its intergovernmental and its civil society forms -- to bridge divides and overcome prejudices, misconceptions, and polarizations which potentially threaten world peace.  Meetings such as yours will be essential for its ultimate success, a goal made all the more urgent by recent alarming events.

It is in this spirit that I wish you a successful Congress, and encourage you to spread its message of dialogue and peaceful coexistence in your communities.

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