Spain has been in the headlines lately because of the terrorist attacks now known as "the 9/11 of Spain" earlier this month. The attack occurred as the country prepares to host a unique conference aiming to address the issue of religious violence.
"Pathways to Peace: The Wisdom of listening and the power of commitment" is the theme of the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions forum in Barcelona this July. The 111-year-old international interreligious organization will be welcoming over 10,000 delegates from around the world at the event.
"The major objective of the parliament is to seek harmony between religions of the world to engage them in works that promote peace, justice and sustainability," explained Bill Lesher, chair of the board of trustees of the Council in an interview with Sound Vision in February.
About the July conference, he added, "I hope that it becomes a symbol to the world that the religions of the world are not inherently antagonistic to one another. That at the deepest level, the message of all religions is peace on earth and harmony with each other and with the whole human family."
But peace is not just a focus of this particular conference. Lesher said it has been a theme and motivating factor for the Parliament from its inception in 1893. Quoting Hans Kung, Lesher said "there will be no peace in the world until there is peace among the religions of the world."
Apart from religious violence, the other three themes to be discussed at the conference are refugees, clean water, and international debt.
Lesher, who is also president emeritus of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, emphasized the growing attention focused on religion in the last decade, making it an important tool for peacemaking worldwide.
"Ten years ago, we used to say that religion was only reported on the back pages of the paper or in the religious section of weekly magazines like Time," he said. "Now religion is a front page issue, certainly due to the conditions of 9/11 and other places of conflict around the world."
The conference program will center around four different types of activities. One is intrafaith programs, where members of the same faith meet to discuss the conference's themes. The second is interfaith, during which participants of different faiths exchange information about their own beliefs, as well as resources available within their own traditions to deal with religious conflict. Lesher said the Middle East, Kashmir, and Africa are some particular examples of places where religion has been implicated in conflict will be discussed.
The third type of activity, called engagement, will share success stories of how groups involved in the interreligious movement have used faith to address societal problems in a concrete way.
The last kind of activity is called encounter. Here, delegates will be able to meet in a less structured way and discuss any issue of concern in an open forum.
"We do not believe that religions are all the same and we want to preserve and respect the differences," explained Lesher. "At the same time we believe that those differences do not mean that there cannot be respect and understanding which leads to harmony and a motivation to work together for the common good."
Recognizing the historical significance of Spain as the site of a once-great interreligious civilization where Muslims, Christians, and Jews thrived is also one reason the country was chosen as the venue for the conference.
"That rich history of interreligious compatibility is well known and perhaps serves as a model of listening to the wisdom of the past," said Lesher. "But also, the tragic events that followed that harmony are part of history we want to acknowledge and a part of the conditions of religious violence that we want to overcome."
Photo Attribution: "Montjuic Placa Espanya Barcelona" by Baikonur - photo taken by me (Baikonur). Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Montjuic_Placa_Espanya_Barcelona.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Montjuic_Placa_Espanya_Barcelona.jpg