Press Releases

    16 July 2008

    United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

    "Faith Communities Have a Crucial Role to Play in Fostering Mutual Understanding and in Promoting Consensus on Common Values and Aspirations"

    Message to the World Conference on Dialogue, 16 July 2008

    VIENNA, 16 July (UN Information Service) -- I would like to thank the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, for this welcome and timely initiative. I would also like to express my gratitude to the Spanish government for hosting this important event.

    There have been few periods in history when the need for dialogue among world religions has been greater. At a time of increasing divisions along cultural and confessional lines, faith communities have a crucial role to play in fostering mutual understanding and in promoting consensus on common values and aspirations.

    It is important to note that many conflicts that appear to be rooted in religion often have their origins beyond the confines of faith.  Indeed, political rivalries, territorial ambitions or competition for natural resources are fertile grounds for the emergence of violence.  This unique gathering of religious leaders can help debunk the dangerous myth that religion, even when properly understood, inspires violence.

     This event is itself a potent symbol of unity among different traditions.  Our challenge is to see this expression of solidarity turned into a genuine force for good.  Your dialogue must lead to commitments and actions.  It must be a "dialogue that delivers".  Toward that end, we must work together on several fronts.

    First, we should reach out to young people, particularly those who feel alienated and powerless, and who, having lost faith in the future, are often vulnerable to extremist ideologies.

    Second, the role of religious leaders as peacebuilders must be reinforced.  From Indonesia to Sierra Leone, from Nigeria to El Salvador, from Kosovo to Sudan, religious leaders have played and continue to play a prominent role in helping to initiate dialogue between warring parties, in providing emotional and spiritual support to communities affected by conflict, and in facilitating the process of reconciliation.

    Third, we should do more to create platforms for engagement with religious leaders at the international level.  For a number of years now, the United Nations has been strengthening and broadening its interaction with faith-based organizations.  The Alliance of Civilizations, along with the UN Population Fund, UNESCO and other UN bodies, have been playing an important part in this process, including by advancing new partnership initiatives and talking frankly about cross-cultural concerns.

    This Forum marks an important step in strengthening dialogue among world religions and in casting a different light on the role of faith communities.  The United Nations will continue to support these efforts through its long-standing work to promote tolerance, to speak out against bigotry, to counter extremism, and to uphold the right of all the world's people to freedom of religion, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Together, we can expand the scope of these initiatives, reach more and more people and faiths, heal the divisions that threaten our societies, and build a more secure and stable world.

    Thank you for your commitment, and please accept my best wishes for a successful conference.

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