The 33rd World Congress of the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) was held in Kochi, India from September 4-7, 2010. More than 600 people attended the Congress, with participants hailing from nearly 30 IARF member groups in East Asia, South Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North America, as well as unaffiliated interest groups. The various faiths represented at the Congress included: Shinto, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Christian, Jewish, Moslem, Sikh, Jain, Hindu, Baha’i, Unitarian, and Unitarian Universalist communities. More than 100 of the attendees were youth and young-adults participating in the IARF’s Religious Freedom Young Adult Network (RFYN).
During the Congress attendees joined together for worship services led by each faith community and participated in “Circle Groups” of 8-10 people that discussed topics raised during Congress events.
Most attendees would agree that the highlight of the Congress was an Inaugural Address by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama’s speech was focused on the centrality of Compassion in religion, and introduced the Congress to many of the key themes that would be addressed in Plenary speeches and workshops later, such as: Human Rights, Science and Religion, and Interfaith Relationships.
“The growing gap between the rich and the poor causes frustration, which, in turn, leads to anger and violence. So, we will have to address the issue soon,” the Dalai Lama said. He noted the importance of teaching values to children through education and reflected on the fact that violence is a symptom of weakness, not strength. The Dalai Lama appeared to enjoy his conversations with a smaller group of religious leaders, including Rev. Morales, following the Keynote – at one point delaying his departure by asking the audience to be re-seated while he finished his tea!
Other special Congress Plenaries included presentations on the themes of:
- “The role of religion in promoting Human Rights,” which featured presentations from UUA President Peter Morales, Swami Agnivesh (Arya Samaj), and Ms. Marzia Rowhani Dalal (Baha’i).
- “Science and Religion: Can they cooperate for the progress of humanity,” which featured presentations by Rev. Abhi Janamanchi (UUs of Clearwater, Florida), Swami Jitatmananda Maharaj (Ramakrishna Mission), and Dr. Stephen Leeper (Chairman, Hiroshima Peace Museum), and
- “Hindus, Muslims and Christians: How they can live together in India,” which featured presentations by Dr. Sheikh Ali, Dr. Ninan Koshy, and Dr. Neelakanda Radhakrishnan
Workshops were also held throughout the Congress on topics that ranged from “The Many Faces of Peace” to “Music as an instrument for inter-religious dialogue.”
Along with the relationship building, learning, discussion, and worshiping taking place, the IARF also conducted its General Meeting during the Congress.
In the elections for IARF’s International Council, the following slate was voted in:President: Reverend Mitsuo Miyake (Konko Church of Izuo) Vice-President: Dr. Shlomo Alon (Interfaith Encounters Association, Jerusalem) Treasurer/Company Secretary: Jeffrey Teagle (British GA of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches) Rev. Dr. Doris Hunter (IARF US Chapter) Dr. Homi Dhalla (Cultural Foundation of the Zarathustra World) Rev. Keichi Akagawa (Rissho Kosei-kai) Mr. Morse Flores (Religious Freedom Young Adult Network – RFYN) Rev. Takeshi Nishida (Ittoen) Adv. V. Rengapashyam (South Asia Coordinating Committee) Brother Albert Xavier (RFYN) Mr. Wolfgang Jantz (Deutsche Unitarier Religiongemeinschaft) Dr. Yehuda Stolov (Interfaith Encounters Association) Rev. Mitsuru Hiraoka (Mutsumi-Kai) Rev. Eric Cherry (UUA) Ms. Annelies Trenning (IARF, Dutch Chapter) Adv. Mohammed Shabeer Ahmend (South Asia Coordinating Committee Rev. Wytske Dijkstra (Remonstrant Church, Netherlands) Ms. Jennifer Dixon (Canadian Unitarian Council) Ms. Kathy Matsui (International Association of Liberal Religious Women)
A Statement of solidarity with the seven Bahá’í “Yaran” (Friends) in Iran was issued at the conclusion of the congress:
After more than two years in prison, seven members of the persecuted Bahá’í faith in Iran have been sentenced to 20 years in jail. These sentences follow a sham trial in which the accused faced a variety of charges, ranging from spreading propaganda against the state and engaging in espionage, to conspiring to commit offences against national security. The Bahá’í faith, whose roots are in Iran, is a gentle religion which emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind and builds on the prophets of many faiths, including Jesus and Muhammad. It poses no threat to the Iranian regime. IARF wishes to express solidarity with the “Yaran”, and to add our voice to the international outcry over these sentences, in the hope that the regime will recognise the centrality of freedom of faith to a just & humane world community.
IARF Congresses are held every four years. The location of the 2014 Congress will be announced in the coming months. For more information about activities in the U.S., contact the IARF-US.