Nov 27 2012
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King Abdullah interfaith dialogue center opens in Vienna
Speaking to reporters after attending the center's opening ceremony, Prince Saud said: "This is a historic day. We hope the center would contribute to bringing people closer and settle their disputes peacefully."
The opening ceremony was attended by Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo and hundreds of religious leaders.
Prince Saud said he hoped the center would "bring peace and understanding between the various religions. Religion has been the basis for many conflicts."
The center, launched by Saudi Arabia as an international organization with multifaith oversight, aims to help religions contribute to solving problems such as conflicts, prejudice and health crises rather than be misused to worsen them.
"The prime purpose is to empower the active work of those in the field, whether in the field of dialogue, of social activism or of conflict resolution," said Jerusalem-based Rabbi David Rosen, representing Judaism on the nine-seat board of directors.
"We want to empower you," he told an opening session where dialogue projects from Europe, the Middle East and Africa reported on how they worked to foster inter-faith understanding.
The center plans to work first on improving how religions are presented in media and schoolbooks, involving faith leaders in children's health campaigns in poor countries and hosting religious leaders for fellowships at its Vienna headquarters.
Saudi officials at the Vienna conference stressed the dialogue message was being spread back home as well.
"The aim is to promote acceptance of other cultures, moderation and tolerance," said Fahad Sultan Al-Sultan, deputy head of a Saudi national dialogue effort launched in 2003. "There are problems but we have achieved some success."
Board member Reverend Toby Howarth said its international status sponsored by Austria, Saudi Arabia and Spain gave the center several advantages over non-governmental organizations or church groups working on similar issues.
It would have more "pulling power" dealing with government ministers on issues such as improving the way religions are presented in a country's schoolbooks, said Howarth, who is interfaith adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The fact that King Abdullah is the custodian of Islam's two holiest mosques in Makkah and Madinah would "have weight in some Muslim countries", he added.
Spindelegger defended the establishment of KAICIID in Vienna, saying "it is my deep conviction that there is no alternative to this dialogue". KAICIID officials say the center is independent and would not be promoting any one religion.
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