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Cablegate: Interfaith Diatribes Turn to Dialogue in Krakow at Annual

DE RUEHROV #0095/01 2571410
O P 141410Z SEP 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

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1. (U) Summary: At the 22nd edition of an annual interfaith
dialogue to promote peace, held this year in Krakow with
thousands of observers, hundreds of senior religious and
political leaders expressed great agreement on themes like food
security. They also engaged in some interfaith sniping, until
organizers from the Community of Sant'Egidio -- a Catholic lay
movement -- took participants to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau.
The horror of those camps refocused participants on the theme of
the conference and facilitated a dramatic closing ceremony at
which religious leaders gave political leaders an exhortation
for peace (text at paragraph 11). The event set the stage for
next year's interfaith encounter in Barcelona. Embassy Vatican
will follow up with many of the participants in coming months to
continue the dialogue in smaller venues. End Summary.

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Big Event Draws Lots of Big Names


2. (U) From September 6-8, the Community of Sant'Egidio - a
Catholic lay movement with 50,000 active members worldwide -
held its 22nd annual interfaith prayer for peace conference in
Krakow, Poland. The event drew nearly 3,000 Sant'Egidio
volunteers from across Europe, and around 270 "special guests."
The latter included political luminaries like European
Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, former IMF Director
Michel Camdessus, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, the President of
Montenegro, the Foreign Ministers of Malta and Poland, and
legislators and diplomats from across Europe. Even more
importantly for the purposes of interfaith communication, there
were scores of senior religious leaders from around the world,
including 11 active and retired Catholic Cardinals, American
Cardinal McCarrick among them; the Chief Rabbis of Poland and
Israel; Muslim leaders from Indonesia, India, Egypt, Morocco,
Turkey, Lebanon, Ivory Coast, and Qatar; Hindu swamis, Buddhist
monks, Othodox archbishops of various congregations, leaders of
most Protestant communities, and more. The Sant'Egidio
leadership was especially delighted, they told Embassy Vatican
DCM, to welcome Joshua duBois, head of the White House Office of
Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

3. (U) The theme for the conference this year was "Seventy
Years after World War II: Faiths and Cultures in Dialogue."
Organizers made much of both the 70th anniversary of the
invasion of Poland by Germany and Russia during WWII, and of its
20th anniversary of liberation from Communism. Speakers
frequently cited Krakow native Pope John Paul II and his
dedication to interfaith communications -- as evidenced by his
convocation in Assisi, Italy of the first major interreligious
encounter for peace in 1986. Pope Benedict XVI delivered his
own personal message to participants, live via satellite, on the
conference's first day.

Leaders Find Common Ground But Nurse Antagonisms

--------------------------------------------- ---

4. (U) There was substantial agreement between participants on
a range of uncontroversial topics, and even on a few
less-than-unanimous themes. EU Commission President Barroso,
for example, drew enthusiastic applause for his opening speech
(one of many during the uninterrupted three-hour opening
ceremony) that called for the developed world to fulfill its
commitments to poor countries and meet the Millennium
Development Goals. He also made politically timely references
to the need to provide for food security, improve education in
the third world, and address climate change. He noted the need
to link security and development, and end weapons proliferation.
Although he called for better regulation of markets in
"over-powerful states," he tempered that statement by saying the
world needs globalization now more than ever to recover from the
effects of the financial crisis. (Comment: Barroso's speech
was coherent and carefully balanced, striking all the right
notes for a man who wants another term in his job. End Comment)

5. (U) Nevertheless, this interfaith encounter saw more than

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its share of religious prejudice and chauvinism. At the opening
ceremony, attended by close to 2,000 people in a huge hall and a
spillover room with closed circuit coverage, the Rector of
Cairo's Al-Azar University had choice words for Europe and the
United States (both cited specifically) about its treatment of
Muslims. "The problem with interfaith dialogue does not lie in
Islam," he began, then added, "but in the West's treatments of
Muslims as inferiors." After continuing in that vein for some
time, he called for an end to the oppression of Palestinians,
before finally commending Pope John Paul II for his outreach to
people of other faiths. (The opening ceremony also had a
humorous moment, when in the presence of so many European
big-shots and right after Barroso's speech, the Choir of a
Polish Basilica sang an enthusiastic rendition of "I Want to Be
in America" from West Side Story.)

6. (U) Day two of the conference brought more pointed
recriminations between people of different faiths. At a panel
discussion on "Market Society, religions and the Challenge of
Materialism," Mohammed Sammak Raoundi, political advisor to the
Grand Mufti of Lebanon, deviated from prepared remarks to launch
into a tirade. He denounced the killing of Muslims in the wars
in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, particularly decrying the
use of unmanned drones. Raoundi said the wars were being fought
solely for oil and other resources, and that terrorism was just
a "response to the selfish materialism of the West." The
moderator cut him off with a (mild) rebuke, and turned the floor
over to Swami Shantatmananda of the Ramakrishna Mission in New
Delhi. Not to be outdone, the Swami decried British
colonialism, which he said had destroyed the spiritual wellbeing
of India.

7. (U) Not all the day's panels were so lively, and panelists
did find many bases for substantial agreement throughout the
day, such as opposition to the death penalty. Katherine
Marshall, a senior U.S. advisor at the World Bank and one of
very few women speakers at the conference, delivered moving
remarks on how ending poverty and providing for food security
should be a spiritual - not just political -- quest for leaders
in the developed world. She called for better information to
track financial and economic trends, focused dialogue on topics
like fighting corruption, and action on shared priorities like
ending human trafficking. Nevertheless, it was clear throughout
the day that, despite 22 years of such events, much still
divided the participants.

Revisiting Atrocities Refocuses Participants


8. (U) On day three, however, Sant'Egidio organizers put
together a deeply moving series of events that ended the
interreligious sniping. As their first order of business, they
suggested that conference participants fast or at least reduce
their food intake, in order to empathize with Muslim
participants who were still fasting for Ramadan. Many
participants took up the suggestion, which became increasingly
meaningful at the first event of the day: private guided tours,
in eight languages, of the Auschwitz camp. The visit to the
site of Nazi atrocities had a salutary effect - most
participants were too horrified to speak much. A stop at the
nearby Birkenau death camp came next. Participants needed no
words at all there, marching silently for twenty minutes along
the train tracks that carried so many millions to their deaths.
A poignant ceremony, which included a powerful speech by an
Auschwitz survivor and recitation of the Jewish prayer for
mourners, ended the visit. The evening brought individual
prayer services for different faith communities and a colorful
closing ceremony where religious leaders delivered a message of
peace to political leaders (text follows at paragraph 11).

9. (U) Also at the closing ceremony, organizers announced that
next year's peace conference will be held in Barcelona, Spain.
It will be hard to top the drama of Poland, but the Cardinal of
Barcelona beamed as he announced that participants will finally
see the Sacred Family Church completely finished, after over 100
years of construction.

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Comment: Need to Keep Up the Dialogue


10. (SBU) Religious leaders clearly had difficulty reaching
consensus at this event. Still, the most important thing about
the gathering is not consensus in the final document (which is
generally so broad that it would be hard for participants to
disagree about them) but the organizers' success in bringing so
many influential leaders together at all. Sant'Egidio presented
the leaders with a unique opportunity to preview and test
different approaches to the challenging world of interfaith
dialogue and its practical application to the promotion of
peace. It also offered religious leaders the opportunity to
substantially engage each other on the margins of the meeting,
away from the constraints that they may have at home. It is
perhaps because they are risking criticism at home --attending a
meeting organized by a Catholic movement and with the
participation of representatives of different beliefs and
non-believers -- that some posturing during the public events
was inevitable. At the end of the day, Sant'Egidio provided a
free and flexible platform to kick off substantial dialogue that
would be hard to replicate in capitals or at the UN in New York
or Geneva. It's also clear that Sant'Egidio is a master at
organizing such events, and in drawing the maximum drama out of
them. Over the coming year, Embassy Vatican will reach out to
many of the conference participants - and other partners in
interfaith discussions - to continue these discussions in more
intimate settings. (This cable was prepared by Embassy Vatican,
and coordinated with ConGen Krakow.) End Comment.

Text of Interfaith Message of Peace


11. (U) Following is the text of the message religious leaders
passed to politicians and diplomats at the closing ceremony:

Men and women of different religions, we convened in the ancient
city of Cracow, seventy years after the outbreak of World War
II, to pray, to dialogue with each other, to foster a spiritual
humanism of peace.

We pay tribute to the memory of John Paul II, a son of this
land. He was a master of dialogue and a tenacious witness of the
holiness of peace, capable of providing the world with a vision
even in difficult times: it is the spirit of Assisi.

That very spirit has blown through a number of peaceful changes
that took place in the world. It blew in 1989, twenty years ago,
when Poland and other Eastern European countries were restored
to freedom. In September 1989 men and women of different
religions, gathered in Warsaw by the Community of Sant'Egidio,
firmly stated their love for peace: "War never again!" We have
remained faithful to this spirit even when many people, in
recent years, maintained that violence and war can solve
problems and conflicts in our world.

The bitter lesson of World War II has often been forgotten,
though it was a tremendous tragedy in human history. We went as
pilgrims to Auschwitz, aware of the abyss into which humankind
had fallen. We needed to come back here, into the abyss of
evil, to better understand the heart of history! Such immense
pain cannot be forgotten!

We need to look at the pains and sorrows of our world: people at
war, poverty, the horror of terrorism, the many victims of
hatred. Here, we heeded the plea of many people who suffer.
Entire peoples are hostage to war and poverty, and many are
forced to leave their homes. Many have just vanished, were
kidnapped or lack a secure life.

Our world is disoriented by the crisis of a market that believed

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it was almighty, and by an often faceless and soulless
globalization. Globalization is a unique opportunity, yet the
world has often preferred to live it as a clash of civilisations
and religions. There can be no peace when dialogue between
peoples is extinguished. No human being, no people, is ever an

Regardless of their differences, our religious traditions
strongly testify that a world with no spirit will never be
human. They show us the path to return to God, the source of

Spirit and dialogue will give courage to our globalized world! A
world without dialogue will be enslaved by hatred and fear for
the other. Religions do not want war and do not want to be used
for war. To speak of war in the name of God is blasphemous. No
war is ever holy. Humanity is always defeated by violence and

Spirit and dialogue show the way to live together in peace. We
have discovered, even more clearly, that dialogue delivers from
fear and distrust. It is an alternative to war. It does not
weaken anyone's identity but enables us to rediscover the best
of ourselves and of the others. Nothing is lost with dialogue!
Dialogue writes a better history, while conflict opens up
abysses. Dialogue is the art of living together. Dialogue is
the gift we want to make to this 21st century.

Let us start afresh from the memory of World War II, from the
prophecy of John Paul II, and be pilgrims of peace. With
patience and courage, let us give shape to a new era of
dialogue, uniting together in peace those who hate and ignore
each other, all peoples, and all humankind. May God grant the
entire world, every man and every woman, the wonderful gift of

End text.

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