Ms. Monica Willard

Monica Willard, President, Committee of Religious NGOs at the United Nations.  UN Photo, Paulo Filgueiras

Interfaith Is Alive and Well

As I look at the General Assembly filled with people of faith and goodwill, I am reminded of the difference one year can make. Last year, the Committee of Religious NGOs launched this initiative with the Mission of Jordan and the Department of Public Information and hosted a breakfast for about 150 people. This year we have the good fortune of working with the Office of the President of the General Assembly to organize this event.

The resolution that sets the first week of February as the annual date for World Interfaith Harmony Week recalls previous UN resolutions that set the ground work for this week, such as the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, the resolutions on the promotion of religious and cultural understanding, harmony, and cooperation, the Alliance of Civilizations, and the elimination of all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion and belief.

It also recognizes global and regional initiatives such as the Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace and the initiative “A Common Word.” We are here today because so many people have set the stage for this event. I thank them.

This resolution goes on to state “that the moral imperatives of all religions, convictions, and beliefs call for peace, tolerance, and mutual understanding.”
But for me, the remarkable part of this resolution is that the word “love” is used four times. It encourages the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill based on the “love of God and the love of one’s neighbor or on the love of good and the love of one’s neighbor,” each according to their own religious traditions or convictions.

In today’s program, diverse religious voices and people of faith address the four major pillars of President Al-Nasser’s term in office: conflict mediation, disaster relief and response, revitalizing the United Nations, and sustainable development.

Using these particular issues is the way we chose to demonstrate the amazing work that religions and religious organizations do to create a better world. Interfaith harmony is alive and well. It is carried out daily by people of faith throughout the world. Yet the actions by people of faith that show the love of God or the love of good and the love of neighbor do not get the headlines. We see news that highlights the hatred of one religion against the other. When that is shown often enough, some believe it to be the total truth.

It is time for people of faith to effectively share their stories of working together. We are blessed to be able to bring some of those voices to the United Nations today. We need to have an institutional way to build on this communication, to share the fine work that is being done in order to shift the focus from fear, destruction, and hate to sustainability, revitalization, and peace. It’s time to create an office or to designate people within the UN system who can meet with religious leaders and organizations to learn of the successes and to hear the concerns, so that together, we can build a better world for all.

We are here to demonstrate that people of faith make a major contribution and want to actively support the work of the United Nations. A friend who looked at the program stated that it looked like we were filling the General Assembly with love. As we listen to these diverse voices of people of faith, we know that we are not just filling the General Assembly with love. We fill homes, communities, countries, and the world with love.

World Interfaith Harmony Week offers an annual focus to examine this work. There are other UN days on the calendar that also invite that type of participation from religious communities. September 21 is the International Day of Peace. Many religious communities around the world are already celebrating this day.

It’s time for everyone in this audience to consider how you can demonstrate in your community the importance of the UN days and resolutions and share what they hold. Begin planning for the rest of this year, and specifically plan for World Interfaith Harmony Week 2013.
By acting together, people of faith can have a lot to share next February!

Monica Willard is the main UN Representative for the United Religions Initiative (URI), a grassroots interfaith organization with members in 80 countries. She is President of the Committee of Religious NGOs at the United Nations, an NGO Committee since 1972. Since 1997, she has helped organize the annual International Day of Peace Student Observance at the United Nations with the Department of Public Information and serves as Co-Chair of the International Day of Peace NGO Committee. Monica was a founding member of the Tripartite Forum, a ground breaking, informal group of Member States, UN System Agencies and religious NGOs working together to bring the voice of faith into peace and development issues.

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