A major new international inter-religious dialogue initiative, in which the Holy See is participating as Founding Observer, was inaugurated Monday evening in Vienna, Austria. An initiative originally of the king of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, and named after him, the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, or KAICIID, has come to involve the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom of Spain, and the Republic of Austria, as Founders, with the Holy See participating as a Founding Observer.
Conceived as a major international hub of interfaith and inter-religious dialogue in which the sharing of practical know-how developed through hard work at building concord, understanding and peaceful co-existence can take place, and grievances be addressed and remedies to them proposed, KAICIID has the recognition and full support of the United Nations. UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon was in attendance Monday as one of the guests of honor, and spoke words of encouragement. "I fully support your vision of religion as an enabler of respect and reconciliation," said Ban in his remarks to some 800 guests, including guests of honor, among whom were major religious leaders: His Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I; the Chief Rabbi of Moscow and President of European Rabbis, Pinchas Goldschmidt; the President of the Islamic League, Dr. Abdullah Al Turki. High-ranking government officials were among the guests of honour as well, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Saudi Arabia, Prince Saud al Faisal Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of Austria, Dr. Michael Spindlegger, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Kingdom of Spain, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo y Marfil, all of whom also offered their countries’ official auspices for the KAICIID initiative in terms and tones of palpable urgency.
There is no denying KAICIID is an ambitious project: King Abdullah has offered three years of support to it, during which KAICIID is to become financially self-sufficient, and after which KAICIID must stand and walk on its own, or stumble and fall. Indeed, one might define the formal inauguration ceremony Monday evening at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna as an evening of Imperatives. Expressions like, “the Centre must succeed,” and, “this initiative must not fail,” were on the lips of each of the guests of honour who delivered remarks.
The Holy See was represented by the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who perhaps said it best when he called attention to the inescapable fact that the eyes of the world are on KAICIID. “We are being watched,” he said, and went on to say, “Everyone is expecting from the initiative of His Majesty King Abdullah, supported by the governments of Austria and Spain, with the assistance of the Holy See as Founding Observer, honesty, vision and credibility.” Cardinal Tauran went on to say, “This Centre presents another opportunity for open dialogue on many issues, including those related to fundamental human rights, in particular religious freedom in all its aspects, for everybody, for every community, everywhere.”
“In this regard,” he continued, “you will understand that the Holy See is particularly attentive to the fate of Christian communities in countries where such a freedom is not adequately guaranteed. Information, new initiatives, aspirations, and perhaps also failures will be brought to our attention,” and that, when such things do come to members’ attention, “It then will be the task of the Centre – and when possible with the cooperation of other organizations – to verify their authenticity and to act consequently, in order that our contemporaries not be deprived of the light and the resources that religion offers for the happiness of every human being.”