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Saudi religious centre opens

30 November 2012


CHRISTIAN, Jewish, and Muslim representatives (above) gathered in Vienna on Monday for the opening of a centre, funded by Saudi Arabia, to promote religious dialogue. Spiritual leaders included the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and the secretary-general of the Muslim World League, Dr Abdullah al-Turki.

Also present at the launch of the centre, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), were the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, and the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Austria, and Spain, the centre's three founding states. The Vatican is a founding observer.

KAICIID is an independent institution that seeks to foster "mutual understanding between faiths and cultures". Speaking at the opening ceremony at the Hofburg Palace, in Vienna, Mr Ban referred to conflicts in Syria, Gaza, and Mali, and said that one needed to look "no further than today's headlines to understand why this mission is so vital". Religious leaders wielded immense influence; but today, as in the past, "too many religious leaders have stoked intolerance. . . they have bred division."

The Chief Rabbi of Moscow, Pinchas Goldschmidt, said that he wanted to support an initiative that came "from the very centre of the Islamic world".

The new centre bears the name of the Saudi King, who has taken a personal interest in promoting not only gradual reform in Saudi Arabia, but also interfaith dialogue on the global stage, in an attempt to improve the image of Islam in the West, and counter Islamic extremism.

The Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said that the establishment of KAICIID was part of his country's "long march" towards cautious reform. Another Saudi delegate said that the aim was to achieve "moderation and tolerance".

Saudi Arabia is widely criticised by human-rights organisations, however, for failing to respect religious rights in its own territory. Christians, for example, are not allowed to build churches or worship openly.

The President of the Vatican's Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, said that the world would want to be sure that the centre operated as a forum for dialogue on "religious freedom in all its respects, for everybody, for every community, everywhere. . . The Holy See is particularly attentive to the fate of Christian communities in countries where such a freedom is not adequately guaranteed."


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