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by Jakob Staubmann,

In a world often divided by religious and cultural differences, the importance of fostering peace and understanding cannot be understated. It is with this goal in mind that a collation of faith-based organizations and the Spirituality and Justice Initiative recently held a gathering in Vienna on January 29th, 2024. Located in the historic Kur-Haus, adjacent to the renowned St. Stephen’s Cathedral, this event brought together representatives from the Jewish, Islamic, and Buddhist communities, as well as esteemed university professors, to discuss their beliefs and perspectives on promoting peace and dialogue in Austria and beyond.

The evening began with a series of insightful presentations from esteemed speakers, each offering a unique perspective on the pursuit of a peaceful life and interfaith dialogue. Gerhard Weissgrab, President of the Austrian Buddhist Religious Society, shared his thoughts on the importance of mindfulness and compassion in cultivating inner peace and extending it to others. Edina Husovic, representing the Islamic Religious Authority of Austria, emphasized the teachings of Islam that promote peace, justice, and respect for all humanity.

Elmar Kuhn, a board member and President of the Coalition of Faith-Based Organizations, highlighted the collaborative efforts of various religious groups in addressing social issues and working towards common goals. Ingeborg Gabriel, an Austrian Roman Catholic theologian and social scientist from Vienna University, underscored the significance of dialogue in bridging gaps between different faiths and fostering mutual understanding.

Jaron Engelmayer, Chief Rabbi of the IKG Vienna and Rabbi of the Vienna City Temple, spoke eloquently about the importance of interfaith dialogue in building bridges and breaking down barriers. His words resonated with the audience, emphasizing the need for unity and cooperation in the pursuit of peace.

Following the presentations, the floor was opened for a question and answer session, where members of the audience had the opportunity to engage with the speakers. While the atmosphere remained predominantly positive and constructive, some attendees expressed their concerns about the absence of representation for non-religious individuals and the pressing issue of conflicts in the Middle East.

The event organizers had made a conscious decision to focus on the shared values and beliefs of different faith traditions, aiming to foster an environment of harmony and understanding. While they acknowledged the importance of these concerns, the organizers were keen to prevent any potential divisive discussions that could detract from the overall purpose of the gathering.

Despite this, one of the representatives did touch upon the Middle East problem, sharing their perspective on the matter. However, the organizers skillfully managed the situation by swiftly transitioning to the next speaker, redirecting the focus back to the original theme of the meeting and preventing any potential conflicts from arising.

Ultimately, the gathering successfully fulfilled its mission of promoting peace and dialogue among different faiths. The ideas and insights shared throughout the evening left attendees with much to contemplate and a renewed sense of purpose. It became clear that further meetings and discussions were necessary to continue the journey towards peace, at least in the realm of ideas and understanding.

The speakers, representing various faith traditions and academic backgrounds, brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the event. Their willingness to engage in open dialogue and share their perspectives demonstrated the power of interfaith cooperation in building bridges and fostering peace.

As the gathering came to a close, participants left with a renewed sense of hope and a commitment to continue working towards peace in their respective communities and beyond. The collation of faith-based organizations and the Spirituality and Justice Initiative had successfully created a space for dialogue and understanding, paving the way for future meetings and collaborations that would further the cause of peace.

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