Immediately following a much ballyhooed, but ultimately failed attempt, to bring the world’s religious leaders to the United Nations in 2000 for a first-of-its-kind engagement between the UN and the world’s religions, called the Millennium Summit, few thought religious communities and the UN would ever find the same footing with one another again. Infighting within and amongst the religious communities and mismanagement of the event by organizers soured already fragile trusts for years to come.
Today, it is a different story. Religious implications in world conflicts have changed the conversation. The role that religious communities – which are older, larger, and arguably better organized than the UN – can play in the delivery of humanitarian services has become unavoidable. Governments are sponsoring conferences, collaborations, and capitalizing major projects for multi-religious cooperation, including, to name a few: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Russia, Jordan, and the US. While it never left, religion has found its way at the UN again.
Speaking of the United Nations’ emerging outlook, Dr. Azza Karam said, “it is not a question of whether you will deal with religion and culture questions, but how you will deal with them.” A Senior Advisor on Culture at the UN Population Fund and Chair of the Inter-Agency Taskforce on Faith Based Organizations, Dr. Karam gave the keynote address at special retreat for dozens of UN officials and religious community leaders, serving as an end cap to World Interfaith Harmony Week. Hosted by Ven. Chung Ohun Lee, Ph.D., Executive Director of UN and Interfaith Affairs of Won Buddhism International, at the new [architecturally recognized (Architectural Digest, August, 2012)] Won Dharma (Retreat) Center on Feb. 15-16, 2013 in Claverack, NY, the gathering is becoming an annual strategy session for UN officials and religious communities leaders interested in moving the two into closer streams of cooperation.
Speaking with 47 years of personal UN experience, former UN Director of Political Affairs and Deputy Director Security Council, Dr. Abdelkader Abbadi, remarked that “the moment is ripe for a new paradigm to take hold. The UN is now acknowledging the value and necessity of dealing with religious communities in a way like never before.”
Dr. Jinheung Byun, Secretary General of the Korean Conference on Religion and Peace, said that “the UN has been instrumental in peacekeeping and peacemaking in Korea and with UN assistance, the Korean people turned Korea from a recipient country to a donor country within 60 years. Religious communities now want to develop principled multi-religious partnership with UN, following the example of our success in Korea of cooperation for the common good between religious communities and the government.”