Georgetown, GINA, February 1, 2014
As Guyana joined the rest of the world in observance of the United Nations (UN) designated World Interfaith Harmony Week, President Donald Ramotar today called for a redoubling of efforts to foster greater understanding and appreciation among the different religious faiths in Guyana.
World Interfaith Harmony Week was today officially launched at the Guyana International Conference Centre, Liliendaal. The ceremony opened with prayers and messages from the Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Baha’i, Rastafarian, Indigenous and Seventh Day Adventist bodies, and the United Apostolic Mystical Council.
President Donald Ramotar delivering the keynote address at the launching of World Interfaith Harmony Week at the Guyana International Conference Centre, Liliendaal
The President, who delivered the keynote address, boasted of the beauty and uniqueness of Guyana’s multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society, and the commendable level of tolerance that exists among the various faiths.
Four years ago, World Interfaith Harmony Week became an annual event that is observed during the first week of February, as the UN General Assembly’s way of urging countries to encourage activities aimed at fostering greater dialogue among people of different faiths.
The need to intensify such dialogue was underscored by the desire to promote a culture of genuine peace in a world driven, in many places, by religious and sectarian divides, since tolerance and mutual understanding are general aspirations shared by faiths.
The President said that his Government fully supports the goal of increased dialogue amongst faiths, and subscribed to the view that dialogue is the best means of resolving conflicts especially those exacerbated by ethnic and religious conflicts.
President Donald Ramotar flanked by UN Resident Coordinator, Khadija Musa and Mayor, Hamilton Green with members of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO).
“We have all witness the awful tragedies that have resulted by religious and cultural conflicts in many parts of our world. These conflicts have spawned untold loss of lives, and unremitting suffering,” the Head of State said.
Unlike many other countries in the world, the various religious bodies in Guyana co-exist in harmony. The President explained that while interfaith dialogue had to be initiated in other countries in an attempt to ease religious conflicts, Guyana took this step of its own accord.
“For this reason, interfaith relations in Guyana take place characterised by the absence of hostility, animosity and bitterness. The fact that the leaders of our various faiths have come together to foster greater understanding is something to commend and celebrate and encourage. It enriches all of our lives and helps to foster greater unity among all our peoples. It is also the best example that we as a nation can hope for when addressing challenges that we faced,” President Ramotar posited.
Reference was made to the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill which is currently before the National Assembly and whose non-passage is seen as one of the challenges that the country currently faces.
The President said that terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering have and continues to inflict untold suffering on people, and reminded that failure to pass this important law will attract sanctions that will hurt the economy and the people.
“The fact that our religious leaders can come together to advance the goal of interfaith dialogue should serve as a good example to our parliament to put our people’s interest before narrow political agendas. The religious harmony that we have fostered must be held up as a beacon for building greater mutual understanding, cooperation and peace across our land,” President Ramotar stated.
He also called on the different faiths to play a greater role in eliminating social afflictions such as domestic violence, to which far too many lives have succumbed.
“Within our families there is need for support, within our relationships there is need for love and …we must demonstrate empathy, tolerance and above all, a deep compassion for each other’s lot in life…we should talk to each other with respect, treat each other with kindness, and show understanding to those with whom we have differences…one thing is very clear, the violence and crimes must end, it is a moral imperative to work to stop this, it has been a source of much distress and suffering for too many families in Guyana,” the President urged.
He also called on faith-based organisations and the public at large for more support for projects that can help to bring down the cost of living and expand the country’s revenue base; projects such as the Amaila Falls Hydropower plant. This project has the possibility stimulating huge economic activities due to cheapening of energy, while saving an estimated $9B in subsidies per year.
Meanwhile, UN Resident Coordinator, Khadija Musa read to the audience, the message of the UN Secretary General, Ban-Ki-Moon.
In his message, the Secretary General pointed out that each religion harbours a strident minority, prepared to assert fundamentalist doctrines through bigotry and extreme violence. This, he said, is an affront to the heritage and teachings of all major religions.
Further, these acts contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms the right of all to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
“We live in times of turmoil and transformation – economic, environmental, demographic and political. These transitions bring both hope and uncertainty. Our job is to ensure that hope wins, and our task will be made easier if the followers of all faiths collaborate in common cause. Let us never forget that what divides us is minuscule compared with what unites us. Working together, we can achieve all our goals for peace, prosperity and physical and spiritual well-being,” the UN Secretary General said.
A symposium was held subsequently to the launching ceremony engaging mostly young people from different faiths.
A harmony walk will be held tomorrow from the Cenotaph to the Promenade Garden, followed by the first ever interfaith concert at the National Cultural Centre in the evening.
Members of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) will also be going out to various schools as well as the University of Guyana to hold discourses on religious harmony.