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Kosovo Interfaith Conference brings key regional and international faith representatives together for vital dialogue and reconciliation

Peja, Saturday 25 May 2013 - Yesterday, the Kosovo Week of Tolerance and Reconciliation saw the opening of the Interfaith Conference in Peja, taking place from 24-26 May. Bringing together representatives of key religions in the region, and the international interfaith community, this is the largest such event to take place in Kosovo and the region. Whilst this conference examines the centrality of religion to Kosovo's past, present and future - it also confronts debate on the future of interfaith dialogue. Over 160 faith leaders, community leaders and experts from 42 countries will discuss reconciliation and how faith can be a unifying force, both regionally and globally.

The Inferfaith Conference was opened by the President of the Republic of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga:

"Kosovo holds a unique tradition of interfaith tolerance. This tradition is expressed in the architectural values, in our cultural heritage, in the objects of worship and is a testament that we lived together for centuries. Not so long ago, in Kosovo's recent history, we were engulfed in war and conflict. The war has left many deep scars, and many unresolved issues.

She added: "We are vigorously trying to change the course of our recent history, to leave hatred behind us, together with the loss and suffering that have touched the lives of many of us. We are building a multicultural society, a strong and prosperous state, for every citizen of our country, a nation where religions are considered our greatest wealth, where religious freedom is our main value."

The Foreign Minister of Kosovo, Mr. Enver Hoxhaj said:

"Since the declaration of independence in 2008, Kosovo has built a multiethnic society. Today Kosovo is the best example of protection of religious and cultural rights. We are proud that secularism is one of the key pillars of Kosovo society."

Religious leaders from across Kosovo's diverse religious communities also spoke at the opening of the Interfaith Conference.

Mufti Naim Ternava, of the Islamic Community of Kosovo said:

"The Kosovo Islamic community sees reciprocal dialogue as the only alternative, regardless of beliefs. We have more in common than what divides us.

Through dialogue and tolerance we accept the unity of religion. It is a path which brings us all together in common brotherhood. The greatest gift that today's generation can give to the children is tolerance and reconciliation.This is the highest virtue of all religions.

He added: "We must move from tolerance to co-operation, and from agreements to implementation. This is very important for a climate of trust and mutual understanding in our country. "

Bishop Teodosije of the Serbian Orthodox Church and Bishop of Raska-Prizren said:

"After the difficult challenge of the armed conflict 1999, along with other religious leaders in Kosovo, we have established a true bond of mutual respect and understanding. Although not religious, the conflict has nevertheless reflected on religion. As religious leaders, understanding and tolerance is our responsibility for future generations"

Highlighting the rich Serbian Orthodox cultural heritage he said: "It would be very hard to imagine this area, without our tradition which has been recognised worldwide and has made Kosovo well known as the region with some of the most beautiful medieval Monasteries and churches, four of which have already been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage lists"

Whilst he acknowledged that these places of religion are still misleadingly seen by many as symbols of national ideologies rather than houses of God, he made clear that: "In Kosovo, we have managed to develop a concept of inclusive identity which preserves the original identity of religious and cultural sites and at the same time makes them open for members of other communities with which we share this beautiful land. The gates of our holy sites will remain open for all who genuinely seek spiritual peace and retreat."

Bishop Dode Gjergi, Catholic Administrator of the Apostolic Administration of Kosovo said:

Our mission is to turn the world into better place for the humanity. A believer manages to give in to divine love to come closer his or her brothers and sisters. Dialogue is love. Diversity in Kosovo is a richness that should be used responsibly to create a beautiful mosaic for the future by having an open heart and an open dialogue between communities."

Quoting the words of local Nobel Prize Winner Mother Theresa: "love starts from our home", the leader of the Kosovo Protestant Evangelical Community, Driton Krasniqi, said:

"Kosovo has a heritage of co-existence and in this country we believe there is room for all the people to contribute for the best of this country. "

The leader of the Kosovo Jewish Community, Votim Demiri said:

"Fighting for tolerance and co-existence is a duty for all of us; the failure to know each other creates animosities."

The delegates attended a dinner hosted by the Major of Peja/Pec Ali Berisha, HE Norwegian Ambassador to Kosovo Jan Braathu and HE British Ambassador to Kosovo, Ian Cliff.

A photo exhibition from the book “Besa - Muslims who saved Jews in World War II” by Norman H Gershman opens as part of the Interfaith Conference.

For further information on any of these events, please visit the Interfaith Kosovo website on http://interfaithkosovo.org/  or follow @InterfaithRKS on twitter using #Interfaith #Kosovo or #Interfaithkosovo.