For the second time Athens becomes the bridge between East and West. The International Conference on Religious & Cultural Pluralism & Peaceful Coexistence in Middle East opened its gates on Monday to high level participants.
An initiative of the Minister for Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias that started as a dare two years ago, and this year takes on an institutional character, establishing Greece as a forum of frank and open dialogue for meaningful approach between the participants in the effort to defend Religious and Cultural Pluralism in Middle East and to promote a culture of dialogue and consensus.
This is a special international meeting that will give participants the chance to create or strengthen already existing channels of dialogue in order to achieve rapprochement, networking, mutual respect and finally, peaceful co-existence between all the different religious and cultural communities of the region. It is not by accident the fact that in the conference have been invited representatives from international organizations, from the academic community, as well as from the civil society. The diversity of participants shows the breadth of the issues for discussion and concern, as the pluralism and tolerance create a “horizontal” issue for all political and social relations between states and peoples of the region.
The conference was attended by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Egypt Sameh Shoukry, of Cyprus Mr. Ioannis Kasoulidis and Palestine Mr. Riyad al-Maliki-, the Deputy Minister of Vatican, as well as high-level delegations from all the countries of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Additionally the Archbishop of Athens Mr. Ieronymos, the Ecumenical Patriarch Mr. Bartholomew, the Patriarchs of Jerusalem, Alexandria and Cyprus, representatives of all the Orthodox churches, the Grand Mufti of Egypt and the religious leaders from the Jewish and Muslim world that will represent almost the entire religious and political communities in the wider region of Middle East, are also expected to attend the Conference.
The Greek state attaches great mportance to this event, something that was noted with satisfaction by Minister Nikos Kotzias at the press conference three days ago. The great importance of the conference can be further underlined by the fact that right after the opening ceremony, the President of Greece Prokopios Pavlopoulos greeted participants, while at noon two luncheons were scheduled. The first one hosted by the President of the Greek Parliament, Nikos Voutsis, for secular guests, and the second one by Archbishop Ieronymos for the Patriarchs of the Orthodox Church, the Rabbies, the Muftis, the Deputy Minister of the Vatican and the rest of the Catholic Leaders. At night the dinner was opened by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
MFA Nikos Kotzias also expressed his satisfaction for the wide acceptance of the first Conference which “gave birth” to many initiatives and events for, at least, 80 countries. He stated “I think it’s a good thing that an issue that we put first on the table to this extent, turned out to be an issue that moves people and stirs deep emotions and a sense of responsibility towards what-we-think-to-be civilized mankind”.
The Middle East, as the MFA stressed was “the birthplace of powerful and great civilizations, but also religions, at least those that exist in the West. They co-existed for 2.000 years. It was a great achievement of mankind and was unfortunately annihilated by terrorism, the persecution of small religious groups of Christianity in all of its variations, the diminution of the multicultural character prevalent in these countries, and in particular of the educated Islamic element that helped spread various civilization”.
He went on to add “the region became the carrier and the crucible of all these civilizations and this characteristic cannot be seen on the image painted by the TV and radio. This loss is not just in terms of human lives, which is on its own sad, it is not just the destruction of the future of young people, which is tragic, but it is also in terms of losing the wealth of mankind, as in the region there used to co-exist different cultural and religious traditions for thousands of years.”