Interfaith dialogue participants meet with King of Norway

December 18, 2000

OSLO, Norway — Participants in a national interfaith dialogue project met privately with King Harald V of Norway on 11 December 2000 to present the results of the year-long project and discuss their commitment to extending and broadening the dialogue into the future.

Last year, the King was the guest of honor at the launching of the interfaith dialogue project, held at the University Aula with Professor Hans Kung and the Bishop of Oslo, Mr. Gunnar Stalsett, as the keynote speakers. Six dialogue groups - on the issues of religious freedom; family life; cohabitation, sexuality and equality; environmental issues; violence and non-violence; and religious and values education - were formed at the event and have continued to meet throughout the year.

"The personal interest shown by His Majesty in interfaith dialogue was deeply appreciated by all the participants and has lent weight to the project," said Mrs. Britt Strandlie Thoresen, who represented the Baha'i Faith at the meeting. "In the year since we launched this effort, we have formed bonds of fellowship and understanding among Norway's various faith communities, which we hope will contribute to an atmosphere that welcomes diversity in our increasingly multicultural country."

The interfaith dialogue project was sponsored by Norway's Commission on Human Values and the Cooperation Council on Religious and Life-stance Communities, one of Norway's principal interfaith organizations. According to a government press release, the Commission on Human Values was appointed in January 1998 with a three-year mandate to "contribute to a broad mobilization for human values and socio-ethics," to "enhance positive joint values, and strengthen the responsibility for the environment and community" and "to work against indifference, and promote personal responsibility, participation and democracy."

The representatives who met with the King were Mr. Dag Hareide, member of the Values Commission and main initiator of the project; Mr. Egil Lothe, head of the Buddhist organization in Norway; Mr. Inge Eidsvag, member of the board of the Values Commission; Mrs. Nazim Riaz of the Islamic Council of Norway; Rev. Ornulf Steen of the Church of Norway; Mrs. Barbro Sveen, coordinator of the Cooperation Council for Religions and Life-stance Communities; and Mrs. Thoresen, member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Norway.

The half-hour meeting with the King took place at the Royal Castle in Oslo. Mr. Hareide gave an overview of the work of the six dialogue groups in the year since the opening event at the University Aula.

"This led to a broad conversation about the importance of interfaith dialogue, its possibilities and limits, and its importance as a step toward the removal of prejudices, toward mutual respect and deep tolerance, leading in the end to a peace-building process," Mrs. Thoresen reported.

"His Majesty told us about his school days and preparation for religious confirmation and said that he had been given broad information about other religions as early as in 1953. He found this very valuable, he said, because Norway is now a multicultural and multi-religious country and he represents all inhabitants of Norway. The King stated the importance of listening to each other, and not using the dialogue project as a platform for persisting in one's own viewpoints."

Because the mandate of Values Commission expires at the end of December 2000, the Cooperation Council on Religious and Life-stance Communities will take on the task of carrying forward the dialogues.