Interfaith dialogue is essential for achieving global peace declared a group of over 120 foreign delegates during meeting this week in Manila.
Adopted at a March 16-18 ministerial meeting of delegates from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which represents countries that have declared themselves to be independent from any major power bloc, the Manila Declaration and Program of Action contains principles to guide NAM states in the promotion of interfaith dialogue and cooperation as well as concrete actions on its implementation.
Divided in two parts, the nine-page Declaration states that "dialogue among cultures, civilizations and religions should be a durable process and that, in the current international environment, it is not an option but an imperative, sound and productive tool to promote economic and social development, peace and security, and human rights and the rule of law in guaranteeing a better life for all."
The document also declares that "tolerance is a fundamental value of international relations."
"We now have a landmark Manila Declaration that identifies and reaffirms the importance of key principles crucial in the achievement of peace and development through interfaith dialogue," Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto G. Romulo said in a statement. "The Manila Declaration covers the full breadth and depth of the human aspiration for peace and is anchored on the core values we hold dear - mutual understanding, respect and tolerance."
Guidelines for achieving the declaration's tenants were outlined in the supporting Program for Action, which includes recommendations such as urging governments to seek the assistance of religious and spiritual leaders to resolve intercommunal conflicts and tensions.
Also included in the Program for Action were recommendations for further integrating women and youth into inter-religious fora, adding interreligious studies into school curricula, and encouraging media programs and initiatives that allow for better understanding of other cultures and religions, among others.
"The promotion of intercultural and interfaith dialogue and cooperation…is also a primary strategy to achieve peace," said Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during the conference's opening, who added her expressed hope that the Manila Declaration from the NAM meeting might include "an action plan of practical, action-oriented policies culled from numerous local, regional, and multilateral interfaith and intercultural dialogues."
Speaking after Arroyo, Dr. William F. Vendley, general secretary for global interfaith group Religions for Peace, said that "Religious communities and governments have different and quite distinct identities, mandates, and capacities. Cooperation between them should respect these differences, even as it helps us all to build the peace for which our hearts hunger."
Vendley, who is also part of the Inter-religious Cooperation Task Force for U.S. President Barack Obama, also noted that nation states need to develop strategies for building broader partnerships with religious bodies.
"Each government's main agencies need to become better equipped to enter into principled partnerships," Vendley said, adding that "the Ministers in the NAM meeting can add critical momentum to the growth of partnerships between governments and religious bodies for the common good."
Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem, Permanent Representative of Sudan to the United Nations, noted, "We are confident that the Manila Declaration will guide us in the realization of our objectives and in addressing these challenges. It will also strengthen our common endeavors in pursuit of a secure and stable world that lives by the values of cooperation to serve the common good advocated by all religions."