MOSCOW, July 5, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Religious leaders gathered in Moscow have condemned the use of religion to justify terrorism and violence and urged political leaders to be more environmentally responsible.
The declaration, which came at the end of a World Religious Summit organized by the Russian Orthodox Church, will be delivered to leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) most industrialized nations when they meet in Saint Petersburg in mid-July.
However, unlike international human rights campaigners who on July 4 issued a series of recommendations to the upcoming G8 summit, the religious figures said their intention was not to influence the G8's political agenda.
The three-day World Religious Summit sought to highlight the importance of religion in tackling terrorism and armed conflicts, and in protecting moral values -- or, as Metropolitan Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church put it, to make the "voice of religion" heard.
Russia's chief mufti, Ravil Gainutdin, told journalists that politicians need to pay more heed to the opinions of religious leaders, warning that if they fail to do so "mistakes are made and then society ends up turning to religious leaders."
In the three-page declaration to be sent to the G8 summit, the religious leaders, who came from 49 countries, said they condemned "terrorism and extremism in any forms as well as attempts to justify it by religion," adding that they regretted "the actions of pseudo-religious groups and movements that are ruining the freedom and health of people as well as the moral climate in society."
Metropolitan Kirill, one of the leading figures in the Russian Orthodox Church, said "under no circumstances should religion be used to sustain, let alone inspire, anything that goes against religious moral laws, including violence, blood, terrorism, bombings and military actions. I think that this appeal, if it is met, will really help reduce the degree of conflicts, including military conflicts."
Jewish and Muslim leaders called on Israelis and Palestinians to end hostilities and Metropolitan Kirill said religious leaders had sought to defuse violence in war-torn Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim republic, by warning against interreligious hatred.
The Environment, A Long-Standing Concern
Religious representatives also stressed that religion had played a key role in launching the ecological movement in the 1960s and urged world leaders to be more environmentally responsible.
Energy security issues will take center stage at the Saint Petersburg G8 summit, reflecting Russia's role as a key energy supplier.
German Protestant leader Bishop Wolfgang Huber said he hoped environmental protection would also have a place on the G8 summit's agenda.
He welcomed the debate among the religious leaders about the environment, saying "it was absolutely necessary that at this point in time the contribution of religions to ecological awareness, to the wise use of resources, should be emphasized. I think that includes a message for the G8 summit because not only energy security but also the way in which we use energy in all our societies has to be taken into account."
Despite its desire to stress positions that religious leaders hold in common, the summit reflected some tensions.
Pope Benedict XVI was not invited due to the ongoing conflict between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which accuses the Catholics of proselytizing in Russia. This long-standing rivalry continues to block a papal visit to Russia.
The Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, was also conspicuously absent, reflecting Russia's fears of antagonizing China.