LAPU-LAPU CITY, Philippines (UCAN) Ė About 200 religious representatives from 15 countries in Asia and Oceania resolved to expand interfaith dialogue to support counter-terrorism efforts by governments in the region.
The "Cebu Dialogue on Regional Interfaith Cooperation for Peace, Development and Human Dignity" closed on March 16 with a 13-point declaration emphasizing the need to uphold human dignity and regional security.
The three-day dialogue, held at the Shangri-La Mactan Island Resort in Lapu-Lapu City, stressed the role of media and education in promoting cooperation among countries. Lapu-Lapu City, in Cebu province, is some 560 kilometers (about 350 miles) southeast of Manila.
Government and religious officials, leaders of civic groups and interfaith associations, and peace workers attended the dialogue hosted by the Philippine government. Joining Filipinos were participants from Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Fiji, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Asian Catholic leaders at the gathering included Archbishop Aloysius Sudarso of Palembang, Indonesia, and Bishop Cornelius Sim, apostolic vicar of Brunei, according to the official directory of participants.
Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel, who chairs the Philippine bishops' commission for social action, justice and peace, was part of the 21-member Philippine delegation. He also chairs the executive committee of the government's Interfaith Commission. Another member of that commission, Bishop Antonio Ledesma of Ipil, recently appointed archbishop of Cagayan de Oro, also was part of the delegation, as was Archbishop Fernando Capalla of Davao, convener of the Bishops-Ulama (Islamic scholars) Conference.
Catholic priests and nuns, Protestant bishops and pastors, Buddhist monks, and leaders of Hindu and Muslim associations also joined the dialogue.
During the March 16 press conference that closed the dialogue, Bishop Efraim Tendero, national chairman of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, said the delegates promised that their declaration "will not be placed on the shelf" but will be implemented in their locales.
Bishop Tendero, a member the Philippine Interfaith Commission, also said participants agreed to hold local, national and regional forums to build knowledge, respect and understanding among people of various faiths and to provide "grassroots-level" dialogue opportunities.
The delegates said in the declaration: "We will work for the inclusion of values-based interfaith education in the curriculum at all levels, including postgraduate studies," and in non-formal education for youth and adults.
They committed themselves to undertake collaborative "practical action" to promote dialogue. Noting "with due respect" that some interfaith dialogue has "focused more on philosophical aspects of religion," they considered interreligious cooperation in assisting people affected by natural disasters.
The declaration calls on religious groups to recognize pluralism and to conduct peace education to develop openness and respect for various religious traditions and cultures. It also urges religious groups to build mechanisms and resources for responding to violence and intolerance.
Meanwhile, it calls on governments to uphold freedom of religion and belief, and to engage religious communities in governmental programs including initiatives to address violence and all other forms of "terror."
The declaration urges media organizations to engage experts of various religions to train journalism students in religious and cultural diversity. "Encourage the development and review of codes of conduct and standards for the exercise of media freedom with responsibility," the participants said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who was on a three-day visit to the Philippines, addressed participants during the opening ceremony on March 14. The New Zealand government, according to its Web site, co-sponsored the event.
Clark's 10-member delegation, which included an Anglican bishop, a Presbyterian minister and Muslims, led a workshop on "The Role of Media in Promoting Interfaith Cooperation." It addressed the controversy over cartoons about Prophet Muhammad and the violent protests these sparked in several countries. Clark said the issue "shows the need to engage media organizations in a public conversation" about beliefs and traditions of various religions to prevent tension or division.
Other workshops discussed the role of education in promoting interfaith cooperation for peace, security, human dignity and development.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo explained in a March 13 press release that the dialogue followed up the "Dialogue on Interfaith Cooperation" organized by the Indonesian and Australian governments in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in December 2004.
Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News), the world's largest Asian church news agency (www.ucanews.com).