Moscow will be hosting the World Summit of Religious Leaders, July 3-5-an unprecedented event. More than a hundred leaders of many religions and denominations promptly responded to the call of Russia's Interreligious Council, the summit initiator.
The summit participants will not tackle theological issues, say the organizers. The gathering will not aspire to achieve a doctrinal rapprochement, let alone establish a syncretistic religion. Cooperation is what the summit is about. Teamwork is a tangible goal thanks to moral bearings shared by all world religions. Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate's External Church Relations Department, tells about how the summit idea arose, and what religious leaders expect of it, in an interview with Marianna Belenkaya, RIA Novosti political commentator.
M.B. What gave rise to the summit idea, and why has it appeared just now?
V.C. The idea emerged after 2000, in the wake of the Moscow-hosted first large-scale interreligious conference within the post-Soviet area. That was when the prospect for a more extensive representation occurred to us. The idea was under debate for several years. When it became clear that Russia would preside over the G8 and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in 2006, we determined to appoint the summit for this year. We timed it to shortly precede the G8 summit in St. Petersburg so as to bring religious leaders' message home to the G8, to the Council of Europe, and to the public at large.
M.B. What response do religious leaders expect by holding their meeting before the G8 summit?
V.C. In one way or another, religious communities of the whole world speak up on and in connection with interstate conferences of every kind. They address the World Economic Forum in Davos, and the World Social Forum. United Nations General Assembly sessions frequently give rise to religious ideas, as well. Political developments concern all people, believers being no exception, so religious communities always pronounce on particular political events, G8 summits among them. Thus, there was a signature collection for religious leaders' appeal on environmental issues last year, preceding the G8 summit during Great Britain's G8 presidency. We can only regret that the appeal did not get truly extensive support. So you see that the idea has been under discussion for several years, and I hope the religious summit in Moscow will come as a new impetus to religion-related events connected with the G8 summit.
M.B. So you hope the forum will become a regular arrangement?
V.C. We are treating it as a one-time event for now, but if anyone eventually calls to arrange something similar before the next G8 summit, the initiative may prove viable.
M.B. What issues do you consider most urgent for the Moscow summit?
V.C. These are terrorism and extremism, globalization, the world order, and the correlation between human rights and moral responsibility. A rather pointed discussion is on at the moment between people who are posing human rights as supreme value, and those who discern higher goals-morals, patriotism, faith and holy things. We can surely make ourselves heard if we tackle the matter seriously, and work out a non-standard appeal to the world.
M.B. Just what do you mean by "non-standard appeal" and what achievements do you expect of the summit?
V.C. Many interreligious events were held recently. A major meeting of a global scale gathers once every several months, while lower level contacts come up practically every day. They all share problems, and one of the worst comes as: "Too much empty talk." I hope we will abandon highfalutin words about peace and friendship at the summit and will arrive at something practical.
M.B. You have here referred to interreligious and interdenominational conferences and forums, even at a more modest level than this, as rather frequent events. You said religious leaders could find common language. But then, their appeals for mutual respect all too often fail to reach the community's ears. What can be done to bring religious leaders' appeal home to each and every person?
V.C. To be heard, we must speak about practical things, and we must be daring in our prophetic epistle to the world leaders. I hope our summit will be brave enough in its appeal to those who wield power in this world to change the things in the world order that worry many people. But then, what matters is the sheer fact of religious leaders-some of whom belong to nations presently walled off from each other by political conflicts-coming together to make a joint appeal to the world. The more daring, prophetic and practice-oriented this appeal will be, the more interest it will present to people, and the more will listen to it.
M.B. What do you think lies behind the world's support of the Russian forum initiative? Russia has centuries-long experience of many religions and denominations living side by side. Is that one of the reasons?
V.C. True, our proposal was met with approval at a very high level in many countries. First of all, we owe it to the respect and influence Alexis II the Most Holy Patriarch [of Moscow and All Russia] enjoys. He came as one of the principal inviting parties at the summit. But there is something else-I hope the world is taking an interest in the Russian model of relations between religions. We have really achieved peaceful coexistence of the many religions, with the diverse lifestyles they demand, and with related judicial systems, which vary as widely. Thus, certain parts of the Russian Empire lived according to the Shari'a, and the adat was de facto governing Muslims even in the Soviet years. So, you see, Russia is able to incorporate many lifestyles and even different legal systems-a model that may prove useful worldwide.
M.B. On what principle were the invitees chosen?
V.C. We forwarded invitations to religious leaders we hold in respect, also proceeding from recommendations by the many religious communities.