US and Iranian religious leaders seek peaceful conflict resolution

By staff writers
February 21, 2007

Religious leaders from the US and Iran met yesterday in Tehran to discuss the importance of faith groups finding common ground in peacemaking, particularly in light of the growing political tensions between Wtstern countries and Iran over nuclear power and Middle East politics.

The visit to Iran of a thirteen strong delegation of Christian leaders has been coordinated by Mennonites and Quakers, with ecumenical cooperation and participation.

The inter-church National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCCUSA) is represented on the delegation by the Rev Dr Shanta Premawardhana, associate general secretary for inter-faith relations.

The three-hour meeting -which went under the title 'Quest for Truth' - was held in the Iranian capital and sponsored by the Islamic Culture and Religion Organization. It was one of a weeklong series of meetings the delegation of US religious leaders is holding with Iranian religious representatives - both Christian and Muslim - as well as political leaders in Iran.

The delegation arrived early on Monday on Monday 19 February 2007 and has since met with the Archbishop of the Armenian Church in Iran and the senior Tehran-based Ayatollah who leads Friday prayers in the capital and is a member of the Iranian Council of Experts.

The group is expected to meet with others Iranian leaders during the next few days, including President Ahmadinejad. Their goal is to work with religious leaders in the US and Iran to help ease tensions.

At Tuesday's meeting, the presentations offered by representatives and scholars on both sides agreed that although dialogue is important, now is the time for action.

"We need to go beyond dialogue and establish tangible results," said Iranian Ayatollah Dr Monhaghegh Damad of Shahid Behesti University in Tehran. "We need to hold dialogue to eliminate ambiguities and misunderstandings between religions that emerge once in a while and work through them to establish peace."

"Inter-faith dialogue strengthens our own theology," added the US National Council of Churches' Dr Premawardhana. "This is a new paradigm that has arrived out of many years of engaging in dialogue."

"Peace is the key teaching of Christianity and Islam and this will be realized in our lives," declared Archbishop Sabu Sarkission of the Armenian Orthodox church in Iran. "This is the product of dialogue."

The 13-member US religious leaders group includes church members from the Mennonite, Quaker, Episcopal, Catholic and United Methodist trdaitions.

With the focus is on peacemaking, it is intended that the conversations will be able to broach tough issues and matters of conflict in an honest and constructive way.

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