Interfaith, the United Nations and Peace in the 21st Century

Consultation on the establishment of an “Interreligious Council” as an organ of the United Nations


Wednesday, December 8th 2010


The Conference took place in the afternoon of December 8th 2010 in Vienna with a selected group of 50 participants. As an introduction Peter Haider read excerpts from Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon’s speech delivered in the UN building in New York in August 2000, where the establishment of an Interreligious Council at the UN was proposed for the first time. A recently released UPF introduction video was shown to illustrate developments in this effort and the involvement of Ambassadors for Peace in its unfolding. 




The initial speaker of the first session of the conference was Ambassador Dr. Walther Lichem, a former Austrian Ambassador to Canada and several other countries. During all his life as a career diplomat he was involved with UN projects as well. He was one of a few participants in a conference initiated by the former Iranian president Khatami which gave birth to the organization “UN Alliance of Civilizations”, created as an answer of concerned world leaders to the “Clash of Civilizations”. This organization is now especially supported by Turkey and Spain, which became a leading party after the experience of the Madrid train bombings in March 2004.


In his speech Dr. Lichem also spoke about the challenge of the people in the 21st century to live in a society of neighbors with multiple identities. He further emphasized the importance of respect for every culture and the necessity of an open and interested mindset while living together in a peaceful, harmonious and probably happy setting despite experiencing otherness when we look at the religious or cultural traditions of people around us today.




The second speaker was Fr. Richard Reinisch, a Benedictine monk from the famous monastery of Goettweig, located on a mountain overlooking the river Danube. Before Fr. Reinisch joined the monastery he worked as an engineer in China and in Africa for several years. In Africa he experienced how different religions lived together in harmony: Hindus, Catholics, Protestants and Moslems. Further he emphasized that we have to return respect and dignity to other religions. And religion should not be separated from social initiatives. As good examples he mentioned Mother Theresa and Ute Bock, an Austrian Ambassador for Peace who engages herself completely in helping asylum seekers. The common base for interreligious dialogue Fr. Reinisch sees in accepting God as our father, because then we can be brothers and sisters, we can be one family. Also, we need to trust in the goodness of the other person as a prerequisite for dialogue. Fr. Reinisch recently published two books: “Christianity in China” and “Humor in Religions”.


The third speaker was Alexej Klutschewsky, a Russian anthropologist, whose topic was “How could the Orthodox world deal with an Interreligious Council at the UN?”

Mr. Klutschewsky explained that in Russia there are four privileged religions: The Orthodox Church, the Sunnite Islam, Lamaistic Buddhism and Judaism. Smaller churches or new religions are not very welcomed.  The immigration from the Central Asian Moslem countries to Russia is causing ethnic tensions and common Russian people feel threatened by such developments today. The political leaders try to balance these tensions.




Then Dr. Herbert Rauch, a sociologist and social philosopher, who had participated in international UPF-Conferences made his statement. First he praised the atmosphere of generosity and hospitality created by UPF. He can clearly see that the agenda of UPF – promoting an Interreligious Council at the UN – is the right idea at the right time, because the global problems are increasing, and they need to be resolved!

He emphasized three topics on which there should be global agreement:

  1. The dignity of human beings.
  2. The right for all people to live, which can be achieved if wealth is equally shared.
  3. The ecological footprint: we need to take steps to use less and leave more for future generations!

We need to give “reason” a more prominent place in our interreligious discussions again! 

After Dr. Rauch’s contribution there was a coffee break with refreshments.



The first speaker of the second session was Prof. Dr. Elsayed Elshahed, director of the Institute of Intercultural Islamic Research at the central mosque near the UN in Vienna and a professor at the German department of Al-Ashar University in Cairo, Egypt. The topic of his speech was: “Does society need religion and if yes, how much religion is needed?” In his opinion, secularism is the answer to theocracy, as it existed in the Middle Ages in Europe. But in some cases, secularism has become a kind of religion itself! However secular societies are shallow and drained. We need God and we need religious values. Dr. Elshahed thinks that religions will play a more important role in the postmodern world.


One of Prof. Elshahed’s great achievements was organizing a Conference on “World-Ethos” in Saudi Arabia, where he was a professor in the 1990s and despite many obstacles he managed to get Professor Dr. Hans Küng, the founder of “World-Ethos”, invited as a professor of Christian theology there. Finally Prof. Küng left Saudi Arabia with hopeful impressions. He had met Moslem religious leaders and scientists there with whom he had fruitful discussions!

Also, Prof. Elshahed could get the Saudi Arabian government to participate in the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1993, which was a big step forward as well. “If we want a dialogue between religions, we need to be ready to look at the problems as well, not only emphasize the common points”, Dr. Elshahed emphasized. And, according to him, we need to be ready to accept criticism from within and also from outside our religious circles.




The opportunity to practice readiness for criticism opened right away when the next speaker unfolded his ideas. Mag. Christian Zeitz, secretary general of the Austrian academic society, a rather conservative Christian federation, first gave an enthusiastic report on the August 2000 Conference in New York, which he was lucky to participate in ten years ago, when Father Moon introduced the idea of an Interreligious Council at the UN for the first time. Mag. Zeitz could meet so many important people there as never before in his life.

Then, Mr. Zeitz put up three questions for the interreligious dialogue:

  1. What is interreligious dialogue? Quoting Plato, he stated that is has to be a learning process for both parties.
  2. What is the purpose of interreligious dialogue? Quoting Plato again, it is to find a common base. Every religion claims the absolute truth. Is there a third perspective which can make a connection between the two parties? Can we find a basic agreement?
  3. Who are the partners in the dialogue, religious leaders or politicians? Are they 

qualified and do they represent their communities? Another problem Mr. Zeitz sees is that while we are engaged in dialogue, there are things going on in the world which nullify the efforts of the dialogue.


Also, according to Mr. Zeitz, the question of religious freedom has to be separated from juridical or social questions, which have to be dealt with by the legal system and through political representation. After Mr. Zeitz’ speech, which included some criticism of developments within the Muslim community in Austria and internationally, like the persecution of Christians in the Arabic world, tensions between him and Prof. Elshahed became quite apparent, and it was clear to all participants that as UPF we have to invest continuously into this interreligious dialogue, putting all our efforts into it.




As a last lecture Mr. Heinrich Krcek, a Unificationist who had been a Benedictine monk before, introduced the book “World Scripture”, an anthology which introduces sacred texts of the world’s religions. Mr. Krcek mentioned that we are on our way to a world culture and no religion can stand by itself. More and more theologians are calling for a world level theology. After Mr. Krcek’s speech there were questions from the audience to the speakers.


As a final highlight of the conference Mr. Warren Rosenzweig, founder of the Jewish theater in Vienna, who attended a MEPI conference in Jerusalem last August, drew the attention of all those present to the fact that this year December 8th was the final day of the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah. He lit all the candles of his Jewish 8-armed candleabra and all remained silent while listening to the story of the flask of oil that miraculously burned for eight days in the temple during the uprising under Judah Maccabee against the Greeks in 161 B.C. The light of the candles created an atmosphere of peace and unity at the end of sometimes heated interreligious discussions.


A small buffet dinner with many individual discussions concluded this very meaningful conference.


(Mag. Elisabeth Cook and Peter Haider, Tel.: 0650/2588846; E-Mail:



The United Nations was founded in 1945 to protect succeeding generations from the scourge of war, poverty, hunger and disease and to work towards the realization of world peace. Despite its inception with such lofty ideals, the UN has not been able to come close to global peace even with the investment of tremendous resources, and today it faces even greater challenges.


Member States and many Secretaries-General have all agreed that the United Nations needs reform and renewal. The founder of the Universal Peace Federation, Dr. Sun Myung Moon, is introducing a timely proposal for the strengthening of the UN in order that it may fulfill its original founding purpose, principles and ideals as the embodiment of humanity's aspiration for peace.


The existing United Nations structure, composed of national representatives, may be regarded as a congress where the interests of each member nation are represented. However, I submit that serious consideration should be given to forming a religious assembly, or council of religious representatives within the structure of the United Nations. This assembly or council would consist of respected spiritual leaders in fields such as religion, culture, and education.


 Remarks of Dr. Moon at the United Nations, August 18, 2000


Projects similar to this initiative: Weltethos, Parliament of the World's Religions, United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC),  World Scripture, a comparative anthology of sacred texts.