The president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has called for a binding international treaty to protect churches, mosques, synagogues and other sites of spiritual significance - writes Stephen Brown for ENI.
"The wanton destruction of religious sites causes deep emotional wounds, sharpening hatred, fuelling conflict and obstructing the search for peace," René van der Linden told delegates at the Third European Ecumenical Assembly, taking place in Sibiu in Romania, on 6 September.
Van der Linden, a member of the upper house of the Netherlands' parliament, said he intended to initiate work for an international instrument to prevent the future destruction of spiritual sites.
The Council of Europe, whose headquarters are in Strasbourg, eastern France, is an inter-governmental body for 47 European nations, including the 27 member states of the European Union. Lawmakers from the national parliaments of its member states make up the council's parliamentary assembly.
Van der Linden said his proposal for a treaty to protect Europe's religious heritage followed a visit he made in August to the Middle East, where he met leaders of the religious institutions of Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
"Jew, Muslim and Christian - they joined together in a call for religious heritage around the world to be given effective, international protection in all circumstances, whether war or peace," stated Van der Linden.
He has made the promotion of intercultural and interreligious dialogue a major theme of his three-year presidency of the parliamentary assembly, and has invited Pope Benedict XVI, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I, and Patriarch Alexei II of the Russian Orthodox Church to address the assembly.
The Sibiu ecumenical assemblyended on 9 September 2007 and was organized by the Conference of European Churches and the Council of European (Roman Catholic) Bishops' Conferences . The two groupings account for most of Europe's Roman Catholic, Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox churches, and their meeting follows similar assemblies in Basel, Switzerland in 1989 and Graz, Austria in 1997.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]