Paris, France—More than 90 participants attended a UPF conference titled “Building a Peaceful and Inclusive Society: The Role of Religions.”
UPF-France held the interfaith meeting on June 2, 2018, at its Espace Barrault office. The gathering was intended to prepare for the national inauguration of the Interreligious Association for Peace and Development (IAPD), to be held in September.
Participants from various denominations and NGOs attended the event—some of whom had to follow the presentations and discussions through closed-circuit television in an overflow room.
A highlight of the event was the participation of Dr. Andrew Wilson, a professor at the Unification Theological Seminary in New York and the editor of World Scripture: An Anthology of Sacred Texts. This reference book was published in 1991 at the request of UPF founder Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon. Contributors to the book included famous scholars of religion such as Ninian Smart, Huston Smith and Sheikh Ahmed Kuftaro, the late grand mufti of Syria.
The first session, on the theme “Religious and Political Leaders: Which Cooperation?” was opened by Jacques Marion, the president of UPF-France, who reported about the recent IAPD inauguration for Europe and the Middle East in Vienna, Austria, and explained the vision behind this UPF project.
Then Mr. Camel Bechikh, founder of the association Fils de France (Sons of France) and an assistant to the imam of Bordeaux in southern France, spoke about issues facing Islam in France, where religious institutions have been challenged since the Enlightenment, and about the need for Muslim women to take a more prominent role in religious matters.
Three members of Coexister then took the stage. The 3,000-member association is a well-known youth organization promoting interreligious and “inter-belief” dialogue in France. Every year it organizes an interfaith tour around the world, with four young persons from different religions or beliefs visiting over 70 nations in eight months, meeting with local religious leaders and communities.
Ms. Radia Bakkouch, president of Coexister, spoke about the history and goals of the movement. Then Eloi Deschamps, a young Catholic, gave a testimony about his experience in the 2017-2018 interfaith tour, when he met some UPF representatives and contacts. Vincent, also a Catholic, spoke about the 2019 interfaith tour for which he is preparing.
There followed an animated question-and-answer session on the role of women in religion and on further experiences of Coexister members.
The theme of the second session, “Dealing with the Challenges of Our Time by Looking toward the Ultimate Reality,” emphasized the need to focus interreligious dialogue on a core understanding of God.
Mr. Jean-François Moulinet, coordinator of the French chapter of Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU), an organization that is affiliated with UPF, introduced World Scripture and spoke about the ongoing translation of the anthology into French.
Then Dr. Andrew Wilson gave a presentation on the theme of “God’s Maternal Love.” Giving both historical and biblical references in Judaism and Christianity, referring at times to the Quran, he explained how a better understanding of the “feminine” aspect of God would bring about a more peaceful, inclusive and harmonious practice of religion and help to create a more peaceful world.
Mrs. Brigitte Wada, the president of the French chapter of Women’s Federation for World Peace (WFWP), another organization that is affiliated with UPF, reviewed the remarkable work of interreligious dialogue and service accomplished in the last 20 years in the English city of Birmingham by local WFWP and UPF representatives Patricia and David Earle.
The last panelist was a Catholic scholar, Mr. Jean-Marie Setbon, author of a recent book, God at the Heart of Our Family. A convert from Judaism, Mr. Setbon emphasized the need to understand the Bible based on a close analysis of the original text. He spoke about the importance of the family and about his own family’s experience of religious study and dialogue.
Many questions were raised that touched deep feelings among the participants, so the discussion with the audience went over schedule, confirming that interreligious dialogue is “an idea whose time has come” in France.