Religious leaders seek common ground through inter-faith dialogue in Prague


Christmas is a religious holiday - marking the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. At the same time, Christmas is widely celebrated in largely agnostic countries like the Czech Republic, as a season for seeking peace, goodwill and understanding. As such, Christmas is a time when religious figures — from many faiths, not just Christian — reach out to each other.

Saint Anna Church
"Prague Crossroads" is the name of the new multicultural center housed in a renovated wing of the former Saint Anna Church in the historic centre of the Czech capital. Earlier this month, religious leaders gathered there for an inter-faith dialogue, in search of commonly held values.

The dialogue grew out of the Forum 2000 civil society initiative that former Czech president Vaclav Havel helped launch. Among the participants was the catholic priest and president of the Czech Christian Academy, Tomas Halik.

"Every year there was a joint mediation at the Prague cathedral. Also Dalai lama was present there several times. Now we start with several conferences which are more focused on special problems: economic problems, social problems, and also, on this inter-faith dialogue."

But does Father Halik believe that such inter-faith dialogue bring any concrete results?

"I think we have realized that there are very important common values in these all religious traditions. Especially in these Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Also today, we have discovered that we agree not only in terms of the fundamental ethical questions, but that we also realize the importance of solidarity and peace in the world, and preservation of creation of the nature."

Originally from Sudan, Mohamed Abbas has been living in Prague since 1988 and is a co-founder of the local Islamic Center. He says that reaching out to other faiths is especially important today.

"In this moment of history we are facing 'existential problems'. So this kind of a debate is always very good. In Arabic language there is a saying; 'Man is an enemy of what he doesn't understand'. So understanding is a solution for eliminating fear. And I think it is also important for nonreligious people to learn about the other ideas. I think it is a sort of enrichment for everybody."

The reverend John Philpot of the Anglican Episcopal Congregation in Prague says he believes that the Czech Republic is perhaps the best setting for such dialogue because the country is so agnostic.

"Well it is interesting to have the dialogue here in a country which is largely an atheistic one. But it brings home some of the realities of the situation, of the secularization of Europe.... Here we are in a church which has not been used as a church for over 200 years and has been put to secular use. So the secularization of this part of the world goes back a long way beyond communism."

While the inter-religious debate held at the "Prague Crossroads" centre may not have found a solution for the world's troubles, participants say the process of brainstorming itself gives hope that common ground can be found.