The Presidents and the Patriarch: Dialogue conference kicks off in Lisbon

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The Presidents and the Patriarch: Dialogue conference kicks off in LisbonVatican News is in Lisbon, where The Imam of the Grand Mosque of Mecca and the Patriarch of Constantinople are speaking at an interreligious convention.

Wednesday 15th May was the first day of the KAICIID ‘Transformative Dialogue’ conference, which is bringing together religious and political leaders in Lisbon, Portugal.

An impressive array of speakers – including the Patriarch of Constantinople, the Imam of the Grand Mosque of Mecca, and three former European heads of state – addressed the conference, giving short talks of around ten minutes each.

The power of dialogue

Introducing the event, Dr Zuhair Alharthi, the Secretary General of KAICIID, stressed that dialogue is especially important given the climate of “growing distrust” in today’s world.

Dr Heinz Fischer, the former President of Austria, spoke next, quoting the philosopher Karl Popper: “I can be right and you can be wrong, or I can be right and you can be wrong, but together we can approach the truth.”

We then heard from Bartholemew I, Patriarch of Constantinople and head of the Eastern Orthodox Church. He noted the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s longstanding commitment to interreligious dialogue, particularly with regard to climate change – the fight against which, he said, is a “spiritual obligation.”

Meanwhile, Salih bin Abdullah al-Humaid, the Imam of the Grand Mosque of Mecca, stressed that dialogue is essential to “immunize” society against “extremism and hatred”.

The final speaker in this initial session was Carlos Moedas, Mayor of Lisbon. He discussed the Pope’s recent visit to the city for World Youth Day, saying it had been a clear sign of the positivity that religion can bring. Over the six days of World Youth Day, he said, “everyone in Lisbon was smiling.”

The role of women

Anyone who has been involved in interreligious dialogue for any length of time can tell you that such discussions tend to be dominated by men.

This was a subject addressed directly by Graça Machel, the Mozambican politician and humanitarian activist.

“If we want a harmonious and lasting peace”, she told those gathered, “women must be involved in the negotiations.”

As an example of how this approach can work, Ms Machel discussed the national dialogue that took place in Kenya before the adoption of the country’s new constitution in 2010.

It was only because women were explicitly consulted in the process, she said, that the constitution ended up containing quotas for the number of women in public life – and, as a result, the country’s 2015 elections saw the highest ever number of women elected to public office.

The fundamental role of spirituality

Perhaps the most inspiring conversation I had over the course of this long day was with Khushwant Singh, from the International Parternship of Religion and Sustainable Development.

“Everything starts from within”, he told me. “Political solutions, structural discussions, technical discussions – they are needed. But first we need to change inside.”

This spiritual struggle, he said, is “the highest art in life.”

Joseph Tulloch – Lisbon