- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 22, 2003

The Philippines has proposed a new office at the United Nations to promote understanding and cooperation among the world’s leading religions.

A draft resolution calls on the United Nations to establish an “open-ended working group to examine the contributions of interreligious dialogue and cooperation in strengthening the capacity of the United Nations to promote international peace and harmony.”

The resolution, introduced earlier this month, recommends that the working group explore a permanent “mechanism” at the United Nations to promote interfaith cooperation.

Philippine diplomats say they will press for a modified version of the interfaith proposal during the current session of the U.N. General Assembly, which continues through next fall.

Bayani S. Mercado, deputy permanent representative of the Philippines, said in a speech Nov. 10 to the General Assembly that cooperation among the world’s major faiths could promote a culture of peace.

“The potential of interreligious dialogue and cooperation should be harnessed not just at the national and regional level, but more so at the international level,” he said.

Philippine officials proposed the idea in May when Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo visited the United States. President Bush is said to have expressed interest, and National Security Council aides were briefed on the proposal, United Press International reported.

A State Department official, speaking on background, said the Bush administration regards it as “premature” to take a formal position while the language of the draft resolution is being debated. A private U.S. analysis, forwarded to the Philippine government, cautioned that an interfaith agency could “dilute” the push for human rights by emphasizing cultural differences, not minimizing them.

Jose de Venecia, speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives and a strong supporter of the U.N. interfaith effort, said in September that the proposed new agency “has become a major objective of Philippine foreign policy” to begin “the reconciliation of civilizations.”

As a predominantly Catholic country with sizable Muslim and Protestant minorities, the Philippines is anxious to avert a “clash of civilizations” between the Islamic world and the West.

Mr. de Venecia said the idea has been endorsed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the African Union, as well as by Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, a Shi’ite Muslim cleric.

The proposal closely tracks a proposal by the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace, an organization founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church. Rev. Moon is the founder of News World Communications Inc., publishers of The Washington Times.

“Serious consideration should be given to forming a religious assembly or council of religious representatives within the structure of the United Nations,” Rev. Moon said in an April 2000 address.

That proposal calls for U.N. member states to send to New York a second “religious ambassador,” who would serve on an “interfaith senate” within the U.N. governing structure.

Philippine officials say they are familiar with the federation proposal, but that their plan is independent and differs in some ways.

Efforts to build a interfaith presence inside the U.N. structure date from the founding of the world body at the end of World War II, but both sides have been wary of the religious-secular divide.

The Soviet Union and other former communist states, then officially atheistic, strongly opposed the idea during the Cold War. Some religious figures questioned whether a formal U.N. role would compromise their independence and dilute their various faiths.

A gathering of 1,000 religious leaders in August 2000 at U.N. headquarters in New York created a new interfaith World Council of Religious Leaders. The council’s charter, adopted in Bangkok in 2002, said the body would be independent and “available as a resource” to the United Nations and other national and international bodies “dedicated to promoting world peace, harmony, tolerance, mutual respect among humans and social and economic justice.”

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