Some fifty Brazilian faith leaders, human rights experts and lawmakers collaborated to define a clear platform of common values to address pressing social challenges at a forum in Goiania, Brazil on June 25, organized by Global Peace Foundation Brazil. The first Interfaith Social Forum, “Unity in Diversity,” initiated a dialogue among leaders of nine different religious communities to affirm shared values and uphold the perspective of faith in the civic square.
The forum was hosted by Igreja Catolica Ortodoxa Sao Nicolau in Goiania with the support of pastor and Federal Congressman João Campos. Father Rafael Magul of the host church served as master of ceremony.
A majority Catholic country, Brazil is home to diverse Christian communities as well as Buddhist, Jewish, and Baha’i and indigenous faiths. The country has one of the highest rates of income inequality in Latin America, as well as high crime rates and political instability.
Global Peace Foundation Brazil CEO Massimo Trombin opened the forum by asking attendees to focus on what their faiths have in common. “There cannot be harmony among religions if we only point out the elements that divide us,” he said. “Service is a common denominator of all faiths,” he offered. “It is in the practice of service that we can forge peace and interfaith unity.”
Dr. Jose Eduardo Barbieri, professor of law and founder of the Institute of Human Rights, proposed a need to fundamentally reexamine laws in order to protect human dignity and freedoms. He asserted that today’s laws don’t acknowledge spiritual values such as forgiveness and love, and thus often overlook a core dimension of the human experience, limiting the law’s ability to protect individual rights and distinguish right from wrong.
Another human rights advocate, Richardo Brisolla Balestreri, observed that the Golden Rule is essential to the practice of most faiths. “We must treat people the way we would like to be treated without distinction of religion, race or social position. If we do not, we cannot be called people of faith,” he said. He noted that spiritual practice is about a personal struggle to embody the value of serving even those who are different through compassion and forgiveness. “The main purpose of scriptures is to put us in spiritual competition with ourselves to seek for our own self perfection,” he commented. “But, today we see people pointing out the imperfection of others.”
Other Christian panelists emphasized care for the less fortunate and recognition of freedom of conscience as values that transcend belief systems. Sister Petra Silvia Pfaller, a missionary from Germany who has lived in Brazil for 25 years, shared her experience of using the national pastoral service as a tool for building peace and spreading the love and compassion given from God to others. Her service to people from all walks of life has uplifted the dignity of people who are often associated with the fringes of society such as those in prison, the poor and disadvantaged women and children.
“We must treat people the way we would like to be treated without distinction of religion, race or social position. If we do not, we cannot be called people of faith.”
Federal Congressman Leonardo Quintão, a member of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Religious Freedom and author of the recent bill for religious freedom in Brazil, spoke against religious persecution in support of freedom of conscience. “It is important to make clear in a federal law that Brazil respects this right,” he said. “All religions should be treated with respect and recognition, including those who do not want to express faith.”
The Global Peace Foundation’s work of promoting a shared vision and ethic for interfaith cooperation and social cohesion was also recognized at the forum. Edilson De Brito, a constitutional law expert, police chief, teacher and Baptist church elder, gave credit to the organizers and told the forum, “The central issues of social justice, human rights and even politics deal with values.”
The forum is the first of a series that aims to foster interreligious cooperation and take practical steps to tackle complex challenges in Brazilian society, such as identity-based conflict, poverty, and protecting basic human rights and dignity.