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World: Havel's Forum 2000 Foundation Urges 'Grand Coalition Of Religions'

  • Don Hill

Czech President Vaclav Havel convened yesterday a conference of prominent Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish, and Christian leaders, seeking, he said, to lay the foundation of what he calls a Grand Coalition of Religions. It was a follow-up to a five-year series of Forum 2000 conferences that he arranged in Prague from 1997 through 2001.

Prague, 4 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Dalai Lama, exiled spiritual leader of the world's Tibetan Buddhists, says there is a reason the world has so many religions. He says the Earth's people are so numerous and come in so many varieties that a multitude of religious viewpoints are needed to satisfy them.

"Why do we have so many religions? Is it necessary? I believe yes. It is necessary because among humanity there are so many different dispositions. Therefore, one religion, one philosophy, simply cannot satisfy, cannot serve the [needs of all] people."

The Dalai Lama spoke yesterday at a conference of clerics of major world religions convened by Czech President Vaclav Havel. Havel's Forum 2000 Foundation -- formed to conduct a series of annual meetings to discuss major world issues from 1997 through 2001 -- announced at the conference that it has taken on a new mission. It will convene a series of dialogues entitled "Bridging Global Gaps," (BGG). The first gathering next October is to bring world financial institutions and global corporations face-to-face in conversations with antiglobalization activists.

Yesterday's conference, on the responsibilities of religions in the modern world, served as a kind of forerunner for the BGG gatherings.

The Dalai Lama said that adherents of different faiths need to learn to appreciate and admire the truths understood by other religions. "All major religious traditions have the same message -- message of love, message of compassion, message of tolerance, message of contentment, message of self-discipline. So all religions [should be] talking [to each other]."

The Dalai Lama is exiled from his homeland because Tibet's Chinese communist rulers have sought to suppress his spiritual leadership. He told the conference that, around the world, governments have succeeded only temporarily in dampening religious observance.

"In spite of a lot of material development, human faith still has a very important role among humanity. Obviously, in some areas for the last several decades, governments deliberately tried to eliminate religious belief, but now freedom comes, religious interest is growing."

Speakers at the conference also discussed world terrorism. Czech Roman Catholic priest Tomas Halik, the meeting's moderator, said that religious symbols are being misused to escalate conflicts among nations.

Havel also addressed the conference. Referring to the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, Havel said: "It was not those terrorists who designed the aircraft, radars, biological weapons, and chemical weapons. They are our inventions, inventions of modern people. Terrorists only demonstrated an awful way in which all this [technology] can be abused against people, against human life."

London-based Mohammed Mohammed Ali, exiled Iraqi opposition activist, said that many Muslims were among the victims of the September attacks on New York's World Trade Center. The attacks, he said, were attacks on civilization itself. Ali said also: "Because I am from Iraq, I call to support the Iraqi people to end the most brutal and terrorist regime of Saddam Hussein, so that we can end the atrocities and the [weapons of mass destruction that threaten] the world."

Christian Protestant clergyman Hans Ucko of the Church of Sweden said that the first globalization movement in the world was Christianity. He said many people now perceive modern globalization as just another Christian-Western attempt to conquer the world. He said that mere religious tolerance has become insufficient. What is needed, he said, is appreciation of other beliefs, of other religious traditions.

Ucko said that religion is not the cause of religious conflict, but an intensifier of conflicts.