Religions in Catalonia unite to promote global change

24 August 2011

A dialogue about how religions can contribute to achieving the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has come to fruition with a new publication in Spanish.

In a significant interfaith initiative for Spain, Baha'is, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Christians – Evangelical, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Universal Unitarians – gathered together to explore their beliefs in relation to the MDGs which all 193 UN member states and other international organizations agreed to achieve between the years 2000 and 2015.

"Catalonia has been a pioneer in Spain in interfaith dialogue," said Lluís Cirera Font, a Baha'i who has served for several years on the Initial Group for Interfaith Dialogue, created under the auspices of the UNESCO Centre for Catalonia.

The concept of a publication reflecting the group's discussions emerged after two years of regular meetings, he said.

"The idea came about that this should not be only for us but should also be useful for society in general. When we decided to discuss the Millennium Development Goals and the contribution that religions could make towards their objectives, the idea of the book took hold."

The book was first issued in Catalan, followed now by a Spanish edition – titled Religiones y Objetivos del Milenio ("Religions and the Millennium Goals") – published by the UNESCO Centre of Catalonia, supported by the Foundation for Pluralism and Coexistence. An English-language version is also in preparation.

"Without a spirit of sincere conversation, of a longing to learn and understand others, of in-depth dialogue among people of diverse backgrounds, the book would not have been possible," said Mr. Cirera.

Spiritual principles

The first section of the publication reviews the contributions which the various religious communities are making to achieve the MDGs at the local level.

It is an effort that requires not only economic and political decision, but a great deal of will power, said Mr. Cirera.

"The book attempts to reflect religion's ability to motivate people into action and overcome the limitations and paralysis of will in a world that is sunk in hedonism and materialism. If the spiritual principles that religion offers were taken more into account by those who make decisions, the result of efforts would undoubtedly be better and longer lasting."

Another element of the book is the inclusion of passages from Holy Scriptures relevant to the promotion of social and economic progress.

"With this collection of quotations, anyone will realize that all peoples, even from different religious backgrounds, can work together towards common goals," said Mr. Cirera.

Case studies of good practice within the different communities are included, each example chosen to inspire their respective members, as well as other readers, to make their own contribution to the process. There are also statements from the international leaders or representatives of each community.

"The culture of peace and dialogue as well as the willingness to work together towards a more equal development of all humanity have converged in this publication in an emblematic way," said Francesc Torradeflot, Secretary of the Initial Group for Interfaith Dialogue and a member of the UNESCO Centre for Catalonia.

"They do so by also giving an example of coherence between the local level – the interfaith dialogue work of a Barcelona group – and the global level, being the contributions from international religious leaders," said Mr. Torradeflot.

"Religious and spiritual traditions are contributing and can continue to contribute effectively to achieving the MDGs locally and globally. This publication is an example of good practice that can become a guide for many," he said.

The publication has been warmly welcomed by both religious and other organizations. The Roman Catholic religious teaching order Carmelitas Vedrunas, for example, has organised several training sessions based on the book for its nuns, who are now able to apply the various religious perspectives in schools where students come from diverse backgrounds.

"I believe that interfaith dialogue should serve to build bridges between people," said Lluís Cirera Font. "It is not an argument about who is right on specific issues that are sometimes too complex but rather, seeing those essential aspects that can be shared by all and building upon them.

"Although the external response to spiritual concerns may be different – the result of the historical and social conditions of each period of time – basically what drives such actions comes from one single source, from the same origin. Indeed it is one common faith," he said.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) originated from the Millennium Declaration, adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2000 following the three-day Millennium Summit of world leaders.

The Declaration asserted that every individual has the right to dignity, freedom, equality, a basic standard of living that includes freedom from hunger and violence, and encourages tolerance and solidarity.

The eight MDGs are: the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; the achievement of universal primary education; the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women; the reduction of child mortality rates; the improvement of maternal health; the combating of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; the ensuring of environmental sustainability; and the establishment of a global partnership for development.

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