A glimpse of the 7th Congress of Leaders of World & Traditional Religions
By Deborah Castellano Lubov -- Kazakhstan
Pope Francis travels to Kazakhstan on Tuesday for the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions being held in the Kazakh capital of Nur-Sultan on 14-15 September. The event will feature discussions to promote peace and concrete commitments on the part of religious leaders from around the globe, including the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmed Al Tayeb, and representatives from the Russian Orthodox Church.
The Congress came to life in 2003 in the wake of the tragic September 11th attacks on the United States, and following Pope St. John Paul II's second 'Spirit of Assisi' meeting in 2002.
In an interview with Vatican News, Kazakhstan's Director of the Department of Multilateral Cooperation of the Ministry of Affairs, Didar Temenov, offers a glimpse of the importance of this event, which this year focuses on the role of religious leaders in a post-pandemic world.
Mission of the Congress
"The mission of the Congress is to further strengthen inter-confessional and inter-ethnic harmony around the world, especially at these very challenging times," he says.
"The world is going through great trials at the moment, and at this time it is very important for religious leaders to make their great contribution to promotion of dialogue between religions among nations at our difficult moment," he recognizes.
Religion, Mr. Temenov highlights, plays "a very important role in the lives of billions of people," though sometimes "political disagreements include religious elements."
"Religious leaders have great influence and authority in order to help solve conflicts in the world, but the most important thing is the promotion of dialogue between different religions, as well as between countries," he says. "And in this connection, the role of this Congress is aimed at strengthening inter-confessional, inter-ethnic harmony throughout the world."
Mr. Temenov expressed his hopes that the Congress might help "the world come closer to greater understanding and dialogue."
The Congress' history
The history of the Congress dates back to 2003, when the then-President of Kazakhstan, Nur-Sultan Nazarbayev, hosted the first one "in a direct response to the rise of religious tensions and extremism following the 9/11 tragic events in the United States."
Six Congresses of religious of world and traditional religions have been held, and Mr. Temenov says his country looks forward to hosting the 7th Congress.
"It will be one of the largest Congresses compared to the previous ones," he says. "Just to give you statistics that almost 20 years ago, when the first Congress was created, it was attended by 17 delegations."
Welcoming Pope Francis
Not only is this year's Congress expected to welcome some 100 participants from 50 countries, it will mark the greatest number in the number of participants, as well as the quality of its distinguished delegations, Mr. Temenov says.
While numerous religions will be represented, other participants will include the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmed Al Tayyeb; Metropolitan Antonij of Volokolamsk, head of the Department for External Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow; Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau; and Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef; and Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem.
The Congress Secretariat, along with several permanent representatives of the world's religions, he informs, decides on the participants, noting they traditionally invite the most renowned and recognized clergy from around the world.
Religion's role in addressing acute questions
Mr. Temenov says the Congress wishes to send a unique message of peace to a world where religious fundamentalism is on the rise.
He notes that recent years have witnessed the world "experiencing multiple crises, including conflicts, pandemics, and natural disasters."
Therefore, he insists, "it is very important that religious leaders play an important role in spiritual and social development, but also address questions which are very acute at the moment."
Commitment to a collective resolution
Kazakhstan, says Mr. Temenov, is hoping to promote a peaceful and decent life for people all over the planet.
"We believe that the Congress will contribute to the development of global interreligious dialogue in the name of peace and stability. And through this commitment to a collective resolution of international disputes, the Congress will contribute to the development of mutual understanding between Eastern and Western civilizations."
The Congress is expected to produce a final document, signed by participants.
"We are planning to adopt the declaration of the Congress, and we hope that all the important messages the leaders would like to send to the people of the world will be included."
Currently, he notes, the text of the declaration is in its final stage of consideration by the delegations.
The declaration will be read during the last day of Pope Francis' visit to Nur-Sultan, at which time he will deliver concluding remarks for the Congress.
Pope Francis' commitment to interreligious dialogue and friendship
Interreligious dialogue has always been very close to Pope Francis' heart, as evidenced by his Document on Human Fraternity, signed in Abu Dhabi, and his subsequent encyclical on the topic in Fratelli tutti.
The Pope has also participated in the Community of Sant'Egidio's Prayer for Peace encounters, in Assisi and Rome, in hopes of keeping alive the 'Spirit of Assisi' among interfaith leaders.
Pope Francis has personally taken part in various interfaith moments, and has always kept friendships with other faith leaders, even dating back to his friendship with Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Buenos Aires.