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Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue Congress, Bilbao-2005

BKA Team

Stimulated by the Congress presentations and the ensuing discussions, and mindful of the motives that prompted us to convene this event, we, the organizers, wish to draw attention to a number of insights that have crystallized now to the point that they need to inform the decisions and concrete choices that we make concerning the interaction among the different cultures and religions that have a role to play in our common future.

  • In every human life suffering is inevitable, but much of the suffering in our world brought about by social inequities and unjust structures is not. Like suffering, the desire for peace is also a part of life. Unless the victims of the inequalities are recognized and the injustices addressed, there is little hope that the desire for peace will prevail in their unavoidable struggles for justice. Given the rich diversity of religions and cultures throughout the world, the resources for addressing these problems peacefully seem immense, but in fact this diversity as often as not ends up aggravating these problems.
  • Moreover, the diversity of cultures and religions is no longer defined primarily by national boundaries. The changing structures of society today, especially in the great urban centers of the world, is spreading diversity ever more widely. The nature of the global economy, which has led to an increase in migrant communities, has brought peoples of different cultures and religions into closer proximity. These encounters have often resulted in tension and conflicts as each party struggles to make sense of itself in the face of the “other.” Attempts to defend or assert one’s self-identity are often made at the expense of the other’s rights and self-identities.
  • While recognizing that diversity gives rise to fears of a loss of identity and sense of community, and seems to threaten traditional ways of belief and of valuing the things of life, we all know from experience that diversity is both a fact of life and an indispensable condition for the improvement of life.
  • It is not enough for a multicultural, multireligious society to find a way to coexist in mutual tolerance. If the differences that divide are no more than ghetto walls, the peace that they enable is always a fragile peace and in danger of giving way to unspoken but deep-seated hostilities.
  • Clearly some universal common ground is needed to sort out the ethical issues involved. But to be truly universal, it must mirror the diversity of the peoples for whom it is intended, and not simply presume to transcend it. The only assurance that this can come about is that the voices of diversity are given a forum for expression. This is the spirit in which different cultures and religions join together in dialogue.
  • If such dialogue is a necessity for the peaceful pursuit of a new social order, and not simply a luxury to be enjoyed by a small number of trained specialists few, it is important that it take place at all levels of society and in as many different forms as that requires.
  • Insofar as dialogue reflects the diversity of the surrounding society, however, it is only natural that the same imparities and prejudices that made the dialogue necessary in the first place should find their way into the dialogue. For this reason, suspicions concerning the motives, agenda, and rules of engagement in dialogue are to be taken seriously.
  • At the same time, the call to dialogue should not be confined to solving particular problems as they arise. Only if it leads to a change of heart reflected concretely in a change of life can it also contribute to a common ground on which all sides can build a future together.
  • The movement in our times towards truly intercultural and interreligious societies is therefore to be embraced and encouraged. The responsibility to sustain that spirit, against all odds, falls in a particular way to educators, civil-society organizations, and religious leaders. The task of seeing it through to concrete and structural reforms lies mainly, but without excluding the agents just mentioned, with those entrusted with the care of our social institutions. But above all, it is in the transformation of the habits of everyday life that the fruits of the dialogue among cultures and religions are born.

Bilbao, 17 December 2005
Barandiaran Kristau Alkartea – Pax Romana (International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs)

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