The flyer for the program.
Mr. Carlo Zonato, president of UPF Italy, welcomed the participants.
Mrs. Gabriella Mieli, Responsible for External Relations, UPF Italy (top left), the moderator, with some of the speakers.
Rev. Francesco Barile, Primate Lutheran Bishop.
Fr. Valentino Cottini, a diocesan priest from Verona
Pastor Francis Canale, Evangelical Pastor of 'Equippers Church
Father Jacques Serge Frant, Monk of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church
Imam Nader Akkad of the Grand Mosque of Rome
Tenzin Khentse, Tibetan Buddhist monk
Rev. Sergio Coscia, director of the Family Federation of Turin
The speakers and participants of the webinar.
The speakers and participants of the webinar.

"Interfaith Cooperation: Foundation for Peace and Social Cohesion" was the theme of the webinar panel discussion held on 5th February, 2024, to celebrate World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW) and the International Day of Human Brotherhood.

Organised by the Interfaith Association for Peace and Development (IAPD-Italy), a project of Universal Peace Federation (UPF-Italy), the meeting was opened with a greeting from Mr Carlo Zonato, President of UPF Italy.  "The federation," he explained, "recognises as its first founding value the awareness of the spiritual dimension in the life of each of us, hence binding us with bonds of fraternity and belonging to a single human Family.  This dimension is able to inspire our conscience to live for the good of others and for the greater good."

He then introduced the IAPD which, he explained, "aims to foster dialogue and cooperation among different faiths; promote and cultivate the value of spirituality in various sectors of society; and cooperate together with governments and civil society organisations, to build 'One Human Family Connected with God.'"

Moderator of the meeting, Ms Maria Gabriella Mieli, External Relations Officer of UPF Italy quoted the UN Secretary General, urging "Charting a course together toward a more peaceful, just and harmonious world for all."  She then introduced the first speaker, Rev. Francesco Barile, Primate Lutheran Bishop.

The prelate began by stating that "often, religions and denominations have been the cause of conflict and bloody wars due to the arrogant presumption that one's own religion was the one solely chosen by God to represent the truth."  For the bishop, the solution to fundamentalism lies in sincere faith and recognition of the heritage of common values of all world religions and wisdom.  He went on to explain that freedom of religion "means affirming that religious belief is stamped at the very core of the constitution of a human being and cannot be oppressed or instrumentalised."  He urged faiths "not to give up the urgent task of building bridges between peoples and cultures," in the knowledge that "the Creator desires that there be bonds of brotherhood among all men."  He pointed out that the way is "the ecumenical road that leads to respect for religious traditions and believers of other faiths."

Fr. Valentino Cottini, a diocesan priest from Verona, opened the talk by quoting Pope Francis: "Let us no longer remain sacristy or parlour Christians, but feel called to become bearers of God's hope and healing."  These are words of motivation for all Catholics, he explained, like the opening words of the Abu Dhabi Declaration, signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyib: "Faith leads the believer to see in the other a brother to be supported and loved."  During the pandemic, he recalled, Caritas and many other faith-based and voluntary organisations provided assistance to anyone "without having it preceded by a flag."  These are attitudes capable of planting seeds of peace because each person is a filial image of God."  I say this as a Catholic priest who recognises in every religious expression a search and a manifestation of the Divine that is expressed in a human being."  He ended by urging to "go out into the streets of the world to sow seeds of charity and peace."

According to Rev. Francis Canale, Evangelical Pastor of 'Equippers Church', "interfaith collaboration is the result of a virtue, it is the fruit of a seed that we must plant in our personal soils.  And that seed is mercy, as our Lord defines it."  He then referred to the parable of the Prodigal Son, where the two sons represent two immature ways of relating to God, mirroring the polarisation of our time: the rebels who have lost touch with their spiritual dimension, and those who practise a dogmatic faith and do not understand the Father's love. Tolerance and mercy can make a difference in both cases.  He ended by affirming that "the love of God the Father can convey to us that compassion and willingness of spirit to pursue a path of cooperation and cohabitation, without burdens, without problems and without hypocrisies."

Father Jacques Serge Frant, Monk of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, referring to the first sentence of the Abu Dhabi Declaration, noted that it is addressed to all humanity, "so that every human, being regardless of his or her religion, may be recognised as a brother."  He urged moving from living only by the letter of the law to the practice of its deepest spirit, which is love, and hoping that interfaith cooperation will not remain indifferent to the cry of the poor and to injustice.  "Believers who enter politics," he warned, "must not make their religion a political ideology, because fundamentalism is the greatest perversion of religiosity.  For the monk, the reciprocity of the Golden Rule is the essential basis of the modern concept of human rights and sustainable social cohesion.  "But are we ready to live this dimension?"

After the musical interlude entitled "Pray for Peace," by Reba Mc Entire, the panel discussion continued with Imam Nader Akkad of the Grand Mosque of Rome, who recalled two events: the meeting of St. Francis with Sultan Malik al-Kamil, in which two people of different faiths were able to find fraternity even during the Crusades.  And the Abu Dhabi meeting, at which the document on Human Brotherhood was sealed, followed by the encyclical Brothers All.  He went on to cite two verses from the Holy Quran - which base cooperation between faiths on charity and piety and the exhortation to compete in good works to return to God.  These are two prophetic narratives that invite us to cooperate in good, even at the cost of a great effort, and to be the cement in building the common house of peace.  Ending, he reminded that "a dialogue that leads to good deeds must not be limited to lectures, but to work in the field for an embodied dialogue."

For Tenzin Khentse, Tibetan Buddhist monk, "true spirituality is to see in the other a brother to be supported and loved."  'Other,' he explained, is not only the human brother, but everything around us.  All existing is a manifestation of the divine; it is brother and part of me.  He then quoted a phrase dear to him, "More important than two hands joined in prayer is one hand stretched out toward the other."  Extending the hand has a universal value and is a gesture of love.  He then narrated a short story highlighting that "what counts most of all is the heart of those who, in humility, know how to make themselves available to others."  It is reminded that no one absolutely desires suffering, but everyone yearns for the attainment of happiness and serenity.  "This, more than anything else, is what makes us all brothers.  Everyone's responsibility is to be the one who, with compassionate love, creates the possibility for the other not to suffer and to be happy."

"Talking about peace today is increasingly difficult, but also increasingly necessary," began Mr Sergio Coscia, director of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU) of Turin, and "we are all called upon as believers and part of the great human family" to do this.  What can we do, how can we demonstrate our good will as believers without our speeches remaining just words?  "If we want to induce positive change, we must cooperate and demonstrate in deeds that we have the means to build a better world."  It is an uphill path, he acknowledges, but a viable one.  It is necessary, he explains, for representatives of different faiths to manifest an ever-increasing fraternal bond between them and a genuine solidarity drive of unconditional love for others, without distinction.  "It is this dedication that will allow true love, which is the essence of the Almighty Creator, to be established as a concrete reality."

The program concluded with Mr Franco Ravaglioli, Vice President of UPF Italy, leading the question-and-answer session, and with Ms Maria Gabriella Mieli quoting a phrase spoken by Pope Francis at the interreligious meeting last September: "Religions are called to offer the world that which harmony and technical progress alone cannot give, because aiming only at the earthly dimension, we risk forgetting the heaven for which we were made."

 Report by Franco Ravaglioli - English editing by Patricia Neto

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