Opening panel of the conference on interfaith cooperation and the family, held at the World Council of Churches, co-sponsored by UPF.
Mr. Heiner W. Handschin, director of the UPF liaison office, opened the session with welcoming remarks, explaining briefly the reason for this conference and the strong bond between faith and family. He introduced the first speaker, Rev. Dr. Peniel Rajkumar, executive director of the Interfaith Program of the World Council of Churches.
Dr. Rajkumar extended the warmest greetings of the general secretary of the WCC, Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, who wasn’t able to join the event due to other engagements. Dr. Rajkumar highlighted the key role of families in educating children, with a particular focus on faith formation. Despite the flux of notion, this fact is self-evident, he said. He quoted Catholic theologian Peter C. Phan—“To be religious in this time—is to be interreligious!”—emphasizing the importance of interreligious cooperation for solving problems and addressing urgent issues of the current time.
The next speaker, Dr. Katsumi Otsuka, regional president of UPF for Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East, emphasized that the family currently faces unprecedented challenges on a global scale. No single government can solve these troubling issues, and political solutions alone will not make a difference, he said. He stressed the need to include religious communities and faith-based organizations, like some of the organizing partners, into the current efforts to solve some of the most serious issues.
He was followed by H.E. Archbishop Ivan Jurkowich, the head of the mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, who pointed out the crucial importance of the family as the school of humanity and its essential function in society—which was expressed in the statement of the recent Vatican Synod on the Family: “The family is the cell of human society and the primary place of education and a special formative environment for youth.” He mentioned also that this year there are two important commemorations: first, the 25th anniversary of the International Year of the Family (declared by the United Nations in 1994); and second, the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (signed by the United Nations in 1989). He pointed out that the many challenges confronting the contemporary family make it very difficult to fulfill its crucial role toward society.
The desire to marry and create a family is still very vibrant in our society, the archbishop said, despite the creeping in of selfish individualism that increasingly is penetrating our contemporary world. It seems alarming that currently there is too little understanding of the importance of the family’s role as the first classroom for people to learn to be human, he said. He therefore called for the defense of the family as a key factor for a sustainable civilization of human compassion and love.
Professor Dr. Adrian Holderegger, president of the Fribourg Peace Forum (FPF) and professor emeritus of moral theology at the University of Fribourg, offered an academic perspective on the role and function of the family and the current challenges with changing norms and values. He described the efforts of FPF to transcend social divisions and contribute to a global effort for the establishment of peace and respect for human rights and human dignity. If there is no understanding between religions, there won’t be any understanding within societies, he said.
Professor Holderegger mentioned that political conflicts in most cases are connected to religious convictions, which on the one hand may contribute to appeasing conflicts but on the other hand may contribute to escalating conflicts. More than ever before, he said, there is a need for core values in today’s society. The family as the sociologically defined key unit in our society is probably most affected by the presence of or lack of those fundamental core values, he said.