Interfaith Dialogue, the Philippines’ enshrined contribution to the cause of global peace

Published January 9, 2022, 12:02 AM

by Former House Speaker Jose C. De Venecia Jr.


Jose de Venecia Jr.
Former Speaker of the House

Sixteen years ago, on January 2006, as then speaker of the house, we organized a Global Interfaith Dialogue here in Manila, where leaders of government, parliament, academe, civil society, religion, and faith-based organizations from the Asia Pacific region participated, on our humble invitation.

Among the political leaders in Asia and the international community who addressed the conference were then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, former President Fidel V. Ramos, President Jose Ma. Aznar of Spain, Prime Minister Wilfred Martens of Belgium, Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik of Norway, Italian Parliament President Ferdinando Casini, and Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed of Pakistan.

We helped initiate at the United Nations (UN) in November 2004 the concept and practice of Interfaith Dialogue as a way of helping resolve politico-religious conflicts, strengthening the religious moderates, and isolating those who advocate terrorism and violent extremism in the name of religion. The Interfaith Dialogue upholds a global culture of peace and mutual understanding.

A Philippine-led initiative, the Interfaith Dialogue was approved by the UN General Assembly during the Christmas holidays in December 2005. It was a major victory for the Philippines in international diplomacy and our country’s enshrined contribution in advancing the cause of global peace.  Since then, not only the United Nations and individual governments, but also civil society groupings, have been holding these dialogues at local, national, regional and international level.

To institutionalize the Interfaith Dialogue, we also proposed the creation of an Interfaith Council in the UN or at least a “Unit” be established in the UN system whose specific responsibility would be to organize, coordinate, and oversee interfaith dialogues systematically, as well as to assess their effectiveness. We partially succeeded as there is now a “focal point” on Interfaith Dialogue in the office of the UN Secretary General.

Much earlier, as Speaker of the House, we remember addressing the UN Security Council and travelling great distances — meeting with various political, parliamentary and religious leaders and speaking at international conferences — to campaign and galvanize support for an Interfaith Dialogue.

In November 2003, during then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s state visit to Washington, we broached the idea of an Interfaith Dialogue to President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice when President Arroyo and we conferred with them at the Oval Office in the White House.

We also personally secured the support of our old friend Jean Ping, then president of the UN General Assembly. Jean Ping served his beloved country Gabon as minister of Foreign Affairs, chairman of the African Union Commission, and president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) when Gabon was an OPEC member.
We remember being received by then King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the Royal Palace in Jeddah. The well-loved Saudi King reigned for 10 years, from 2005 until his death in 2015. Saudi Arabia is considered the leader of the Sunni Muslims.

The late King Abdullah realized terrorism’s and violent extremism’s global threat more intensely, since his kingdom lies in the vortex of a so-called “clash of civilizations.” He then initiated a series of “Interfaith Dialogues,” first in 2008, in the holy city of Mecca, between the Sunni and Shiite clerics, then in the key western cities of Madrid, Geneva, and the Vatican, among others. We had the honor to speak in both the Madrid and Geneva dialogues on the invitation of Saudi Arabia’s Rabitah and the Muslim World League.

We also met with religious and political leaders of Iran, which represents the Shia Muslims, to promote inter-religious, inter-cultural and inter-civilizational dialogue. In Tehran, we conferred with Presidents Mohammad Khatami, Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Mahmoud Amadinejad, Speakers of Parliament Nategh Nouri, Haddad Adel, Ali Larijani, and Deputy Speaker Aboutorabi Fard, among others. We also wrote Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran was the Philippines’ partner when we initiated the Interfaith Dialogue in the UN, which was supported by around 50 other countries.

Iran’s fifth President, the respected statesman Mohammad Khatami, was also known for his proposal of “Dialogue Among Civilizations” which was recognized by the UN in 2001.

We also humbly recall that, when Spain’s then Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero and Turkey’s Prime Minister now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were starting to organize international group action against extremism through inter-cultural, inter-religious, and inter-civilizational dialogue, we were among the first to speak on their behalf and to bring these proposals to the halls of the UN.

Madrid made a historically appropriate site for an “Interfaith Dialogue,” for a conversation between Christendom and Islam. During their first 350 years of co-existence, beginning early in the eighth century, Spain had been the region of their greatest contact and interaction. Spanish Islam enriched both the classical Arab civilization and Europe’s emerging Christian culture. Toledo, then the Spanish capital, was the first center for the transmission across civilizations of culture and learning, including the Greek and Roman legacy the Arabs had preserved in translation throughout Europe’s Dark Ages.

In advocating the Interfaith Dialogue, we have always pointed out that understanding among the great religions, cultures and civilizations is the anchor for a just and lasting global peace.