Vienna, 27 May 2014 – The process of dialogue and exchange with the 16 churches and religious communities recognised in Austria began today on the initiative of Integration Minister Sebastian Kurz. Among the invited representatives of churches and religious communities who participated in this first meeting were Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Michael Bünker, Bishop of the Protestant Church A.B., Fuat Sanac, President of the Islamic Community, Arsenios Kardamakis, Metropolitan of the Greek-Orthodox Church, and Oskar Deutsch, President of the Israelite Community.
Promoting the freedom of religion in Austria and commitment to this principle were the focus of the first meeting and a particularly important priority for Integration Minister Kurz. "There can be no doubt that Austria is a role model for the peaceful coexistence of all religious groups, and we are able to share our model of neutral bridge-building between the religions with the UN and the EU", Kurz said.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn welcomed the prevailing consensus that freedom of religion not only means that religion can be practised in the private sphere, at home. He said freedom of religion also implies that "religion and religious symbols hold an important and legitimised place in public life."
Oskar Deutsch, President of the Israelite Community: "Jewish life in Europe is impossible without circumcision and shechita (or kosher slaughtering), as these practices are the pillars of Jewish life."
The President of the Islamic Community, Fuat Sanac, spoke of a "historic day for the freedom of religion". Joining the other religious representatives, he emphasised religion as a core element of fundamental rights and said Austria is playing a pioneer role in Europe here. With reference to the issue of anti-Semitism, Sanac said: "We are a small community, but we in Austria do our best to make one thing clear: Anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity."
Arsenios Kardamakis, Greek-Orthodox Metropolitan, underlined the role that religion plays in reconciliation: "We must not allow intolerance in the name of tolerance."
The Bishop of the Protestant Church (Augsburg Confession), Michael Bünker, welcomed the dialogue with the Austrian Government that was launched today as something that is "not a matter of course, not even in Europe". The religious pluralism of Austria is a role model, he said, and added: "We share our dedication to the freedom of religion."
Integration Minister Sebastian Kurz explained that the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs is to establish a group of experts for which each religious community will delegate one representative. Starting in June, the group will develop concrete proposals for better coexistence in Austria as well as opportunities for promoting freedom of religion on an international level.
85 % of all people living in Austria say they have a religion and 90 % believe in something "beyond this life". "Religion should not be part of the problem but part of the solution. It is our goal to put what we have in common above that which divides us and join ranks in solving problems", Kurz concluded.
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