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Participants of the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Astana

The Pope and Kazakh President: Messages of Peace and Unity

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan hosted The Pope Francis and many of the world’s religious leaders for the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. Over 100 delegations from 50 countries signed the Congress’ final declaration

Astana, 21.09.2022.

Participants of the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Astana.
Participants of the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Astana.

Last week the capital of Kazakhstan hosted the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, bringing together leaders of all major faiths of the world to congregate in search of shared human values, peace, harmony, tolerance, and respect between religions, nations, and ethnic groups. A distinctive feature of the Congress was an unprecedented level of participation – over 100  delegations from 50 countries, including The Pope. The success of the Congress proved to the international community the value of Kazakhstan’s initiatives to promote religious freedom and peaceful dialogue.

The VII Congress took place against the background of growing conflicts across the world. In this environment, the efforts of Kazakhstan to strengthen peaceful dialogue between the world’s most influential spiritual leaders are extremely important.  Opening the plenary session, The hosting head of state, The President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, expressed his warm appreciation to the honorable participants – including The Head of the Vatican and the Catholic Church, Pope Francis; the Chief Imam of the oldest Islamic University “Al-Azhar” in Egypt, Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayeb; the Chief Rabbis of Israel David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef; Theophilos III, the Greek Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem; Shi Yanjue, President of the Buddhist Association of China; Jo Bailey Wells, Special Representative of the Anglican Church, Bishop of Dorking; Michael Hübner, General Secretary of the Martin Luther Evangelical Lutheran Union,  and representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church.

“The people of Kazakhstan have absorbed traditions of different civilizations and religions”’ Tokayev noted, “as well as a spirit of tolerance and openness. The holding of the Congress is an important part of Kazakhstan’s policy aimed at strengthening dialogue and cooperation both in our country and around the world. In today’s complex realities it is extremely important that religious leaders, sitting around one table, demonstrate to the world an example of goodwill that overcomes all differences. In my opinion, this is the main mission and unique value of our Congress”.

“As we face an increasingly turbulent geopolitical post-pandemic world”, Tokayev emphasized, “it becomes more crucial to develop new approaches to strengthening inter-civilizational dialogue and trust at the global level. I believe today’s forum has made a significant contribution to this vital ongoing work. On behalf of the people of Kazakhstan, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to His Holiness Pope Francis for his historic visit to our country and participation in the work of the Congress. We are confident that your passionate voice and strong message will be a source of inspiration and hope for many millions around the world”.

“Today, as never before, it is vital to put to good use the peacemaking potential of religions, to unite the efforts of spiritual authorities in search of long-term stability. All faiths are based on humanistic ideals, recognition of the supreme value of human life, and the aspiration for peace and creation. These fundamental principles must be reflected not only in the spiritual area but also in the socio-economic development of states and international politics. Special emphasis is placed on digital and gender issues, on the importance of education, and on the role of religion in eliminating social divides. I am convinced that religious leaders can and must insist on simultaneous and complementary spiritual and technological development”, Tokayev concluded.

Pope Francis, the Head of the Roman Catholic Church, began his speech by talking about the role of the great Kazakh poet – Abay Qunanbaiuly (1845-1904). “Abay left behind creations imbued with religious devoutness, which express the best that is in the soul of this nation”, Pope Francis said. The Pontiff also called on all peoples of the world to make peace. “The hour has come to make our hearts clear, to put aside the history books and leave away the conversations that have long engendered distrust of religion. We need religion to quench our thirst for peace… We need to listen to the weakest, those in need. The pandemic has demonstrated all the inequalities of our planet”.

The Pope went on to recall his motto for the visit – Messengers of Peace and Unity. “Peace is urgently needed”, Pope Francis concluded, because, in our day, every military conflict or hotspot of tension will have a domino effect and seriously compromise the system of international relations.”

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, also addressed the participants of the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in a video format, expressing gratitude to the government of Kazakhstan for organizing the Forum. He also urged religious leaders to use their spiritual authority to seek peaceful solutions to acute conflicts. “Today’s world is plagued by wars and conflicts, humanitarian emergencies, environmental crises, hunger, and poverty”, Guterres stressed. He pointed out that discrimination on the basis of religious differences continues to spread and called for the rejection of racism, xenophobia, and lack of tolerance. According to the UN Secretary-General, people around the world can overcome all the challenges of time and build a better world by uniting as one family and solving problems together.

Upon completion the Congress a final declaration was signed. Its content reflects the scope of modern problems, and possible solutions, as well as the commitment of the leaders of world religions to promote the latter. The declaration will be distributed as an official document of the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly.