The Interfaith Movement.

The emerging initiative aimed at having the United Nations declaring 2011-2020 as “UN Decade of Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, Understanding and Cooperation for Peace” is a powerful expression of the interfaith movement, which looks for developing understanding and mutual respect among individuals and communities belonging to different faith traditions, as well as promoting dialogue and cooperation around shared values and goals.

More on the interfaith movement at:

The Parliament of World’s Religions, convened for the first time in Chicago on 1893, which was reactivated in 1993 and is meeting every five years, was a mile-stone for the interfaith movement . The International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) is the eldest organization in this field, with more than one hundred years of activity. In the last fifty years new global interfaith organizations have emerged, such as: the Temple of Understanding, founded in 1960, The World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP), created in 1970, and United Religions Initiative (URI), launched in the year 2000.

The interfaith movement has also benefited from the creation sixty years ago of the World Council of Churches – WCC, a key actor of the Christian ecumenical movement, which has also fostered interfaith dialogue with other religious traditions. The adoption in 1965 by the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church of its declaration NOSTRA AETATE, opening its dialogue with other religions of the world, is another mile-stone.

How the idea of this DECADE emerged

The idea of a “UN Decade of Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace” was proposed for the first time on March 2006 in the framework of the Project “Towards the creation of a spiritual forum for world peace at the United Nations”, which had been launched two years earlier (May 2004) at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute, near Geneva, by an international group of volunteers belonging to different religious/spiritual traditions and linked to several interfaith organizations. That group – labelled as the “Partnership Committee” (PC)- prepared and circulated a draft proposal, starting a process of consensus building.

After a long process of consultations, which included Mr. Kofi Annan  when he was still the UN Secretary General, the idea of creating a permanent forum was replaced by a more realistic goal:  to have the United Nations  declaring 2010-2020 as a “Decade of Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace”.  In that context, the UN would convene a “spiritual (or interreligious or interfaith) forum for world peace” under its neutral umbrella, with a specific mandate and a fixed term, which would facilitate internal dialogue and cooperation within the religious/spiritual constituencies as well as concerted actions for peace with relevant partners (UN agencies, governments, other organizations of the civil society) along that decade. (See “Presentation of draft proposal for spiritual forum at the UN”).

A first draft proposal for such a DECADE was presented by some members of the Partnership Committee at the Hearings organized by the High Level Group for the Alliance of Civilizations on 17 July 2006 at the United Nations in Geneva. (See “DECADE + Forum proposal First Draft”). This new approach raised a lot of interest and support, particularly from the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO), which offered to be the hosts of a three-day Consultation aimed at developing a consensual proposal for the DECADE.  Consequently, on April 2007 representatives from the WCC, CONGO and the PC had a planning meeting in Geneva aimed at organizing the Consultation, to be held in Geneva on January 2008. In that planning meeting the second draft proposal for the DECADE was prepared, which was later on used for inviting the participants and as basic document for their deliberations during the Consultation. (See “Second draft proposal for UN Decade submitted to the Bossey Consultation”).

The Bossey Consultation

The “Consultation on a Proposal for a DECADE of Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace” took place on 8-11 January 2008 at the WCC’s Ecumenical Institute, Chateau de Bossey, Céligny, near Geneva, Switzerland.

1.  Participants

It gathers 46 people, including representatives of international interfaith organizations; representatives from diverse religious traditions, able to bring the views and sensitivities of their own faith communities; representatives of some Member States committed to the cause of interreligious dialogue and cooperation for peace; and advisers from pertinent UN agencies and programs.  (See “List of participants at the Bossey Consultation”).

2.  Objectives

The primary purposes of this Consultation were to jointly develop a consensual collective proposal for the DECADE and to consolidate a wide alliance or partnership in support of this initiative.

3.  Hosts

The Consultation was hosted by the World Council of Churches and by the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO) and the key speakers at the opening session were Reverend Dr. Samuel Kobia, Rev Dr. Samuel Kobia, Secretary General, WCC and Ms. Renate Bloem, former President, CONGO. (See speeches in “Key note by Renate Bloem Congo at Bossey 080108” “Key note by Samuel Kobia WCC at Bossey 080108”)

4.  Financial support

Seven sources, representing a wide array of religious traditions, contributed to fund this Consultation. They are: Minorities of Europe (6,430 CHF); Rissho Kosei-kai (5,094 CHF); Interfaith International (4,480 CHF); the World Council of Churches (4,000 CHF); World Vision (2,276 CHF); 3HO (2,000 CHF) and the Lama Gangchen World Peace Foundation (1,029 CHF).

5.  Agenda

Main subjects and tasks in the agenda and work programme were: (1) Assessing the situation: Propitious and challenging times for interreligious dialogue and cooperation for peace; (2) How a UN Decade of Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace (IDCP) can facilitate, strengthen and enlarge the scope of what is already being done in this field? (3) Discussing and agreeing on main features of a Decade of IDCP; (4) Agreeing on a shared strategy to move the initiative forward; (5) Drafting a consensual proposal for the DECADE, and (6) launching the DECADE Initiative, which implied agreeing on a new draft proposal, making a collective commitment to promote it, agreeing on a strategy and work-plan to do it, and constituting a provisional steering body for orienting the whole process. (See “Bossey Consultation Agenda and Programme”)

6.  Background document

The Consultation was convened for discussing the “second draft” for the proposed “UN Decade of Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace”,  making clear that –as any draft document- it was aimed at facilitating the process of consensus building and, consequently,  anything in it can be changed. (See “Second draft proposal for UN Decade submitted to the Bossey Consultation”).

7.  Photo Gallery

The Maryknoll Meeting

The Constituting Meeting of the Coalition, held at the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, Ossining, New York, on 2-4 March 2009, was the second main mile-stone in the history of the DECADE initiative after the Bossey Consultation.

1. Participants

Jointly convened by Mr. Stein Villumstad, Chair of the PSC, based in New York; Mr. Trevor Davies, Vice-chair of the PSC, based in Geneva, and Dr. Gerardo Gonzalez, Coordinator of the DECADE Initiative, based in Santiago, Chile, the representatives of 42 organizations supporting the initiative gathered at Maryknoll to establish the Coalition, as foreseen in the Draft Proposal.

This was mainly a meeting of faith-based and values-based organizations. Nevertheless, the Head of the Office for Economic and Social Council Support and Coordination in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the focal point within the United Nations Secretariat for “interreligious, intercultural and intercivilizational” matters, had an active participation during the first day of the meeting. Key officers from ILO, UNESCO and UNFPA had also the opportunity to report on the experience of their respective agencies in the field of faith and interfaith cooperation for development and peace. (See list of participants)

2.  Objectives

The meeting was convened with the following objectives, which were largely achieved:

  • Briefing the participants on the progress made in the implementation of this initiative and the challenges ahead
  • Consolidating the  shared vision for the DECADE and its expected outcomes
  • Formalizing the Coalition
  • Establishing a Steering Committee, taking into consideration the religious, cultural and geographical diversity of the Coalition
  • Better identifying  the current and potential fields for cooperation around priority UN goals, in order to start outlining a “plan of action” for the DECADE
  • Adapting the proposal and the draft resolution to be offered as a resource document for a successful UN General Assembly resolution that launches the DECADE.
  • Agreeing on key elements for a strategy and work program for the period leading up to the expected launch of the DECADE on 21 September 2010.

3.  Financial support

Keeping the approach successfully tested in previous activities of this Initiative, several organizations willing to join the Coalition, including those which had already contributed to finance the Bossey Consultation, were invited to make contributions to make possible the Maryknoll meeting. Nine interfaith and faith-based organizations contributed with fresh funds to finance the Maryknoll meeting. They are: The World Council of Churches – WCC (US$4,408), Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (US$4,000), Religions for Peace – WCRP (US$3,750), United Religions Initiative – URI (US$3,000), Council for the Parliament of World’s Religions – CPWR (US$2,000), International Association for Religious Freedom – IARF (US$2,000), Lama Gangchen World Peace Foundation – LGWPF (US$2,000), Rissho Kosei-kai (US$1,000) and Soka Gakkai International (US$500). The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers made a highly valuable in-kind contribution to the meeting by offering free lodging and food for the three days to 45 people, as well as their conference facilities.

4.  Agenda

(See approved agenda)

5.  Outcomes

According to the pursued objectives, the main outcomes of the Maryknoll meeting were:

  • The draft proposal was revised, producing a final Proposal for the UN Decade of Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, Understanding and Cooperation for Peace, which is being edited and will be circulated among the participants during the last week of March.
  • A document labeled “Terms of Engagement – Declaration to join the Coalition on the “Initiative for a UN Decade for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, Understanding and Cooperation for Peacewas agreed upon by participants. This document defines the objectives, functions and organization of the Coalition, as well as the individual commitment of each organization deciding to join it.
  • The Coalition was formally constituted and the process of having the organizations signing the Terms of Engagement and indicating who will be their representative in (or contact person with) the Coalition started.
  • Guidelines for the operation of the Steering Committee of the Coalition were adopted and most of its member organizations were nominated. Furthermore, Mr. Stein Villumstad, Deputy Secretary-General of Religions for Peace and Chair of the Provisional Steering Committee was elected to continue performing that function now in the Steering Committee of the Coalition.
  • The last activity of the meeting was a Briefing for the UN Community at lunch time of 4 March, in the ECOSOC Chamber at the UN Headquarters in New York, when information on the progress made by the Decade initiative was given and the launching of the Coalition was announced. In that occasion a special message to the Coalition from HE Miguel D’Escoto, President of the UN General Assembly, was red. (See message)

6.  Photo Gallery

(in preparation)

The Maryknoll Gallery

Holy Cross, Melbourne: The Second Meeting of the Coalition

The Second Meeting of the Coalition was convened by the Steering Committee at the Holy Cross Retreat Centre, Melbourne, Australia, on 1-3 December 2009, immediately after the Parliament of the World’s Religions held in that city on 3-9 December. The Coalition meeting was preceded by a one-day meeting of the Steering Committee.

1. Participants

Thirty-one organizations associated to the Coalition participated in the meeting, which gathered a total of 36 participants, including the Executive Secretary of the Coalition and 3 observers. (see the list of participants)

2. Objectives

  • Assessing the progress made in the promotion of the DECADE initiative since the launching of the Coalition
  • Consolidating the Coalition
  • Strategizing for the future
  • Organizing the participation of the Coalition in the Parliament of World Religions

3. Agenda and development of the meeting (Coalition meeting in Melbourne Agenda)

Main issues addressed and discussed during the meeting were:

  • Update on work by Steering Committee and Coalition members since March 2009. A progress report was presented by Stein Villumstad, Chair of the SC (See the report) , complemented by the Vice-Chairs and the Executive Secretary.
  • Experiences of cooperation between religious communities and the UN.
  • Executive Secretary Gerardo Gonzalez presented a preliminary report of the Review of experiences of partnership between FBOs and UN/ and/or Government agencies, being conducted by the Executive Secretariat in communication with key UN specialized agencies. (See the report). Some successful stories are presented in the website www.faithdecadeforpeace.net ). It was recommended to give priority in the review to experiences of multi-religious character.
  • Update and strategy considerations on the political process at the UN with regard to the DECADE proposal at the GA 64th session.
  • The report of the SC and the discussion focused on a strategic dilemma: While the DECADE proposed by the Coalition is clearly “action-oriented”, the resolutions of the UN General Assembly and the recent report of the Secretary General (See the report) dealing with the possibility of proclaiming a “decade of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation for peace” are strongly “dialogue-oriented”. So far the broader theme has been “interreligious and intercultural dialogue” under the “Culture of Peace” agenda that is negotiated in the Third Committee (on Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs) of the General Assembly. The Steering Committee has gradually learned that, for better or worse, certain patterns have been established around this agenda. Certain UN member states have been seen to take the lead, and other states are reluctant to step into this space. In this context considerations were made about the convenience of removing “dialogue” and including “development” in the proposed name of the DECADE, while exploring the possibility of submitting the proposal to the Second Committee, which deals with “Economic and Financial Affairs”, including poverty eradication.
  • Main Strategies and activities for 2010
  • The participants were divided into 4 groups. They were asked to come back with suggestions for the benefit of the Steering Committee related to the following 4 themes:
  • Plan for working with UN member states
  • Plan for working with UN bodies and agencies
  • Plan for working on Coalition building.
  • Suggestions for updating the text of the “Vision and Mission” in accordance with the new strategic orientations which may be adopted.
  • The work done in small groups was brought back to the plenary later in the afternoon.
  • Status of Steering Committee and its mandate
  • The mandate of the SC was reconfirmed. It was recommended to give priority to completing its constitution with members belonging to the Muslim Arab world and to the Indigenous spiritual traditions, which require previously associating new member organizations of those two categories to the Coalition.
  • Promotion of UN Decade by Coalition members during the Parliament

(See note on the DECADE in the Parliament here below)

4. Financial support

Once again the generous solidarity of organizations associated to the Coalition made possible a Decade Initiative activity, in particular the participation of representatives of economically weak organizations. Donations were received from Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha ($ 5,000), the World Fellowship of Buddhists ($5,000), Won Buddhism International ($2,000), the World Council of Churches ($2,000), Lama Gangchen World Peace Foundation ($1,000) and the Temple of Understanding ($1,000). Most of the organizations represented at the Holy Cross meeting contributed also by financing the travel costs and lodging costs of their representatives.

5. Photo Gallery

The Decade Initiative at the 2009 Parliament of World’s Religions

The 2009 Parliament of World’s Religions took place in Melbourne, Australia, on 3-9 December 2009. With over 6,000 participants from all over the world, the Parliament was a forum for presenting and discussing a large variety of matters in its seven plenary sessions and hundreds of specialized parallel sessions.

It was certainly the most important interfaith event of the year. Most of the Coalition member-organizations were represented there. For that reason the Second Meeting of the Coalition was convened in Melbourne immediately before the Parliament, gathering representatives of 31 member organizations.

As planned well ahead, the DECADE Initiative was present at the Parliament through three main channels: A brief presentation at one of the plenary sessions, a symposium of two sessions, and the wide distribution of a brochure.

A. Presentation of the DECADE Initiative in International Plenary Session on Saturday 5 December: A 4 minutes video was presented, with Stein Villumstad, Chairperson of the Steering Committee of the Coalition, reading from the podium during the last 1:30 minutes a message.

[flv width="482" height="292"]http://faithdecadeforpeace.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/UN-Video-Web.flv[/flv]

B. Symposium: “Feeding a plan of action for the UN Decade of Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, Understanding and Cooperation for Peace”

It comprised two sessions. Mussie Hailu, from Ethiopia, who was expected to introduce the subject “Preventing and healing religiously motivated conflicts” in the second session, couldn’t attend because of visa problems. Consequently, the program had to be adapted as described below.

The panel of presenters was composed by:

  • Dr. Gerardo Gonzalez (Chile), Executive Secretary of the Steering Committee of the Coalition which support the proposed DECADE –who organized the symposium-,
  • Stein Villumstad (Norway), Deputy Secretary-General of Religions for Peace, who is the Chair of the SC,
  • Dr. John Taylor (UK), Representative of IARF in Geneva, who is Vice-Chair of the SC, and
  • Serigne Mansour Sy (Senegal), President, Federation of Islamic Associations of Senegal, also member of the SC.

The sessions were respectively chaired by Yoland Trevino (originally from Guatemala), Chairperson of the URI Global Council, and Audrey Kitagawa (USA), Chairperson of the New York based CONGO Committee on Spirituality, Values and Global Concerns (CSVGC). Both of them represent their organizations in the Coalition.

First session: Sunday 6 December, 2:30 – 4:00 p.m.

  • (a) Introducing the proposed UN Decade, by Stein Villumstad, followed by questions and comments from the public, which were responded by the panel.
  • (b) Presenting successful stories of partnership between Faith-based Organizations and UN agencies and Member States around Millennium development goals. It was introduced by Gerardo Gonzalez, following a power-point presentation (See the presentation)
  • (c) Interactive sharing of experiences with the participants. Suggestions for the Plan of Action of the DECADE

Second session: Tuesday 8 December, 2:30 – 4:00 p.m.

  • (a) Brief introduction of the proposed DECADE , by Gerardo Gonzalez, followed by questions and comments from the public, which were responded by the panel.
  • (b) Presenting successful stories of partnership on Human rights (with emphasis on social, economic and cultural rights), introduced by John Taylor
  • (c) Successful stories with special reference to Africa, presented by Mansour Sy
  • (d) Interactive sharing of experiences with the participants. Suggestions for the Plan of Action of the DECADE

The first session was attended by around forty people and the second by around fifty. In both sessions there was a high level of participation from the floor. The brochure with basic information on the DECADE initiative was distributed to all the participants. (See two pictures taken during the second session 1,2 )

C. The Brochure on the DECADE Initiative (See attached)

It contains information on Vision, Mission and expected outcomes” of the DECADE as approved by the SC and stated in the Website; on the “partners”, with the list of organizations associated to the Coalition; on the Symposium at the Parliament, as well as how to contact and support this initiative. Two thousand copies were printed and distributed during the Parliament with the help of most of the participants in the Second Meeting of the Coalition.