In search of peace

In search of peace

Federal government wants to involve religions in peace work © Harald Oppitz (KNA)

Finland as a role model? At an event at the German Foreign Office in Berlin, Finnish representatives presented their "Forum of Religions," in which the three Abrahamic religions cooperate for the benefit of the country.

Buddhist monks in traditional orange robes. Islamic clergy with traditional headgear. And Lutheran pastors from Finland, who wore the white priestly collar with the black dress. They all sat in the Weltsaal of the Berlin Foreign Office on Tuesday. At the invitation of Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) and his Finnish colleague Timo Soini, the conference "Peace Responsibility of Religions" took place there.

A great goal

"We are united by one great goal: to build peace and serve peace," said Michael Roth (SPD), Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office. "I don't know of any religious community that doesn't have the claim to bring about peace." But the reality in the world often looks different.

In many regions of the world, he says, there are currently no conflicts that are not at least ostensibly religiously motivated. Roth described this on Tuesday as the "dark side" of religion: "We experience that terror, violence and oppression are justified with religious motives."

That's why the German Foreign Office launched the "Responsibility of Religions for Peace" initiative a year ago. At that time, the focus of the first conference was Islam. This year, for the first time, representatives of non-Abrahamic religions are invited: Hindus, Buddhists, Shintoists and Daoists.

"The large continent of Asia with its many states and nations is unique not only because of the diversity and abundance of religions that have long been rooted there," Roth said. But religion is also being increasingly instrumentalized in Asia: Religiously motivated acts of violence against religious minorities have increased.

The Berlin conference focused on four topics: Mediation by religious representatives, the relationship between religion and the media, peace education and gender equality. And because it was a declared goal of the Foreign Office to offer the religious representatives a protected space for debate, the conference took place largely in camera.

All those involved could profit from the expertise from the far north. For the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has for many years relied on the competence of religious communities in conflict resolution, said the Finnish special ambassador for intercultural and interreligious dialogue, Pekka Metso, to the Catholic News Agency (KNA) on the sidelines of the event.

"Forum of Religions"

In Finland, for example, he said, there is a "Forum of Religions" in which the three Abrahamic religions cooperate for the good of the country. And Finnish Undersecretary of State Anne Sipilainen also made clear at the beginning of the conference that mediation has long been an approach in Finnish foreign policy. "A lasting peace requires a wide range of actors," Sipilainen said. "Instead of portraying the state and religions as incompatible, we should seek ways of cooperation."

A small episode during the panel discussion in the World Hall made it clear that by no means all problems have been solved in this regard. The first Muslim university rector in the Islamic world, Zaleha Kamarudin, advocated demystifying Sharia law.

"We look at the spirit and soul of Sharia and translate that into something that can be easily understood."

Roth, on the other hand, said that what is needed today is "a clear signal" and a "consensus" that "certain rules are no longer applicable in a civilized society that respects the rights and dignity of all."Otherwise there will simply be no basic acceptance of religions in society.

At the same time, he stressed that religious representatives often enjoy high esteem and trust. This is a valuable "treasure of peace" that must be used, promoted and expanded, he concluded. It is unacceptable for people to deny humanity to others in the name of a religion, or to call believers to hatred, violence and intolerance, he said. Then the state could not and should not remain neutral.

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