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Inter-faith dialogue key to regional peace

A delegation of 10 New Zealanders from different religious backgrounds travelled to Indonesia in December to take part in an inter-faith dialogue aimed at fostering cooperation and countering religious extremism in the Asia-Pacific.

The event was a joint Australia-Indonesia initiative. Ten person delegations from all Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) members as well as East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand were invited.

The NZ delegation was made up of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish religious leaders, politicians and academics appointed by Foreign Minister Phil Goff’s office. It included Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres and Methodist minister Rev Sylvia Tongotongo.

Concern over threats to regional peace and security was the impetus for the meeting. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono summarized the concern in his opening address when he said if ethnic and religious prejudice is compounded by economic and political rivalries and some sense of unforgivable grievance the result can be explosive.

It was the unanimous view of the conference that no religion could properly be used as the basis for terrorist activity. Common to all religions is a belief in one god and one human family and a commitment to unity, justice and peace for all, irrespective of country, culture or creed.

Joris says the New Zealand delegation did not have much time to prepare but came together as a delegation in a very good way. He says the conference was very interesting because there were delegations from countries with Islamic, Buddhist, Catholic and Protestant majorities.

“It was not a conference organised by the churches but by governments. My impression is that there in the Asian region there are only a few hotspots, notably Mindanao in the Philippines and Aceh in Indonesia. In fact our region has something good to say to the world about how the world’s largest religions can get along in harmony,” Joris says.

In its statement at the plenary session the Aotearoa New Zealand delegation discussed practical measures being taken here to promote harmony. They include a forum to create of an ongoing interfaith dialogue that includes all major faith communities. The dialogue will be based on principles of respect, tolerance, and the good of the diverse people who makeup New Zealand.

The New Zealand delegation also supported a permanent forum for the exchange of insights and ideas, dialogue and cooperation under the aegis of ASEAN and its associated nations.