AUSTRALIA SUPPORTS LOCAL INTERFAITH DIALOGUE TO PROMOTE HARMONY AND UNDERSTANDING
As part of its continuing efforts to promote interfaith dialogue, the Australian Embassy Manila hosted an Interfaith Partners’ Forum in Davao City on 19-21 May. The forum gathered 74 key interfaith leaders and advocates from a wide range of grassroots and civil society organisations across the country.
“The forum served as an opportunity for the Embassy and its partners to explore innovative approaches to promote interfaith, anti-violence and peace-building messages among various religions,” Ambassador Rod Smith said.
Australian Ambassador Rod Smith (centre, top) together with key interfaith leaders representing 66 civil society organisations who participated in the Australian Embassy Interfaith Partners’ Forum in Davao City.
Representatives from 66 civil society organisations shared their experiences in implementing projects supported by the Australian Embassy, many under the Embassy’s Strengthening Grassroots Interfaith Dialogue and Understanding (SGIDU) program. These organisations represent religious, youth and community leaders, grassroots communities including indigenous groups, women and the academe.
“The SGIDU program provides assistance to organisations involved in programs that promote increased interfaith understanding and messages of non-violence in communities throughout the Philippines, with a particular focus on Mindanao, the Sulu archipelago and Metro Manila,” Ambassador Smith said.
Launched in October 2006, the SGIDU program has already provided more than Php 26 million in grants to a wide range of projects. These include holding of interfaith dialogue seminars, youth camps, women’s conferences, leadership training, school visits, training workshops in leadership skills and conflict resolution, and peace-building programs at the barangay level.
Apart from SGIDU, the Australian Government’s broader interfaith program includes a range of leadership and exchange visits for religious leaders and youth, local government, law enforcement, and civil society sectors. Other activities include peace journalism training for improved and sustained coverage on Mindanao and support for the convening of Muslim experts and leaders advocating democracy, human rights, peace, pluralism, and tolerance in the Southeast Asian Region.
“These initiatives have had tangible inputs in local communities, resolving conflicts, promoting greater interfaith and inter-communal harmony, and spreading messages of acceptance and non-violence,” Ambassador Smith said. “A better understanding and unity among faiths is important in the pursuit of lasting peace and development in the region.”
The Ambassador noted that the event also provided a positive reminder of the similarities between religions, including common concepts of right and wrong, justice and fairness, and a non-violent approach to resolving conflict.
The Australian Government is committed to promoting understanding and fostering respect for religious diversity in the Asia-Pacific Region. In 2004, Australia, together with Indonesia, founded the Regional Interfaith Dialogue process to encourage interaction among the various faiths in the region. Regular exchanges between Australian Muslim leaders and their counterparts in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Southern Thailand are also being conducted to spread messages of peace and tolerance. Australia has also supported the Philippines’ own national Interfaith Dialogue in Cebu in March 2005.