MOSCOW, March 1, 2004. (RIA Novosti correspondent) - Spiritual leaders of the CIS member states are creating a CIS Interfaith Council. The creation will be one of the main tasks of the second Interfaith Peacekeeping Forum to be held in Moscow on March 2nd-3rd. The forum will be attended by spiritual leaders of traditional religions from all CIS countries.

"Recently the place of religion in all CIS states has changed significantly. Today religion can seriously contribute to integration processes," Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill, head of the Moscow Patriarachate's external church relations department, said at a press conference on Monday.

The press conference was devoted to the second Interfaith Peacekeeping Forum and was attended by head of the traditional Buddhist sangha of Russia Panzido Hambo Lama Damba Ayusheyev, Perm territory mufti Muhammedgali Huzin, the Russian Muftis' Council chief of staff Haris Saubyanov, executive director of the North Caucasus Muslims Coordination Center mufti Shafig Pshikhachev and executive director of the Russian Federation of Jewish Communities Valery Engel.

All the participants pointed to the unique spiritual experience of Russia where four religions, Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, have peacefully coexisted and cooperated for many centuries.

"In Russia we have something that other countries lack, we have an example of a centuries-long friendship, which is much stronger than any oil and gas friendship," head of Russia's Buddhist sangha said.

"Politicians establish relations at the level of thought, businessmen at the level of stomach, and religious leaders will be building their relations at the level of heart," metropolitan Kirill explained, when commenting on the future of the CIS Interfaith Council. According to him, the organization will contribute to integration in the former Soviet Union, dispelling myths about the "enemy". The strengthening of mutual trust and human contacts will help fulfill interstate programs in the CIS, he believes.

The CIS Interfaith Council will deal with interethnic and interethnic problems, issues of social protection of the population, aid to the poor, education and cultural heritage. It will comprise 23 spiritual leaders representing all CIS member states and five traditional religions of the former Soviet Union - Orthodox Christianity, Armenian Gregorian Church, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism.

According to metropolitan Kirill, the idea of "creating the Council is supported not only by religious leaders, but also by the CIS heads of state."

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