Speech by President of the Republic of Sauli Niinistö at the V Congress of leaders of world and traditional religions In Astana on 10 June 2015

I am deeply honoured for this possibility to address the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. This is already the fifth time when political and religious leaders convene here in Astana. And judging by this positive atmosphere and high level audience, this will not be the last time either. There are real reasons we are gathered here.

In our fast changing world we need forums like this. They look beyond next week or month, beyond our current questions and acute problems. Once in a while we need to look further, wider and higher.

Together we can seek ways how we can learn to live more peacefully, learn to tolerate and also respect views and beliefs that are alien to us. We also need countries like Kazakhstan, who stand ready to host these discussions. Consistent efforts by Kazakhstan to promote dialogue across religious boundaries are well recognised.

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Religion is and remains a major factor in the world. A great majority of the world population, perhaps more than four-fifths, identifies with a religious group. About one in six are not affiliated with any religion, but many of them hold religious beliefs. Religion has remained relevant in the face of scientific and technological progress. Through religion, we try to capture fundamental purpose and principles of human life. This need seems to be part of our DNA, something which unites us.

Different religions and beliefs are manifestations of this common endeavour. The role of religion in a society varies. It also evolves. In politics, religion and religious narratives are used widely in many corners of the world. Most use them to foster peace and prosperity, but some want to spread hatred and destruction. Religion can be a part of a solution, but it can also be a part of a problem. This is something that we have seen throughout the history of mankind.

It is easy to see that religion continues to have major implications for peace and development also in our time. The mobility of people and ideas across borders is growing. Established ways of living are changing. Social cohesion is facing a severe pressure in many countries and continents. Some people are drawn to terrorism and violent extremism. Relations between states can also be seriously affected. 

It is an imperative to design smarter responses to counter challenges and threats we are facing. As religion is part of life everywhere, it should also be part of finding these responses. Religions and religious leaders play here a special role.

Without dialogue and tolerance we cannot expect to find any true answers or common ground. Respectful dialogue is more needed than ever, both between different religions and respective communities as well as within religions. 

For their part, political leaders are responsible for creating enabling conditions for the dialogue. Therefore, freedom of religion and belief should be respected and religious minorities protected. Respect for human rights, the rule of law and good governance is needed to tackle the issues and tensions arising from a modern reality. 

Dialogue is needed both nationally and internationally. In Finland, I meet regularly with the leaders of our religious communities that have organised themselves as a network for co-operation between different religions. I have found these discussions very fruitful and I am pleased with the fact that religions do co-operate to strengthen their dialogue and mutual respect. Together we are stronger.

Internationally, I see the United Nations as an organisation that continues to play a key role in fostering the dialogue. The fundamental building blocks of international peace and security, human rights and development are anchored in the UN system. New avenues are also being opened. The UN Alliance for Civilizations, for example, has done valuable work in connecting youth from different backgrounds. This is now more important than ever.

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Christianity has an old saying: you need to practise what you preach.  In this spirit, I will end my monologue here and hope for a lively dialogue. And thank you for tolerating my views. I promise to do the same for you.