Participants at the first Interfaith Mercosur, which concluded today after two days of meetings in Asunción, proposed to consider religions as elements of cohesion among the region's societies. The meeting brought together over 80 social and religious organizations from across the region to put a human and cultural face on what had previously just been an economic and trade alliance.
"You have to understand religion as an important element to life, as a proxy for people, like solidarity," said the Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff at a news conference.
"We have a growing religious diversity and that can not imply difference, separation, discrimination, or antagonism" in the region, the Brazilian Dominican Carlos Alberto Libani Christo, known as “Frei Betto”, opined.
Boff and “Frei Betto" have been the most prominent presenters at this event, which is part of the program that Paraguay has arranged for the first semester in which it chairs Mercosur.
The opening day was attended by the Head of State of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, who in his time as Catholic bishop embraced liberation theology, as did Boff and Frei Betto. In his remarks yesterday, Lugo welcomed the religious diversity of the participants. “There is room for all of us under the same roof, just as we all fit under the same sky, and we live on the same earth and we invoke the God in whom we believe – the God who is sometimes both near and distant – this God that became…a “dialogue” so that we could dialogue with each other,” he stated. “I am also a man of faith, and my faith is renewed when I see people committing themselves every day to this South America that is both rich and poor.”
"We are mystical people and that helps to reduce prejudice and distances that make us more rational," said Boff.
Regarding the role of religion in society, the theologian stressed that it should be an "ethical mission". "In other words, to raise the values of justice, combating corruption, and love of truth, and to encourage citizens to participate, to be active” in social processes, he said. He also felt that this mission should not have "a direct dimension in the political arena”, but in raising awareness of the processes experienced by a country.
"Frei Betto" for his part felt that the best way to promote interfaith spaces would be to harness the "democratic spring” that South America is experiencing, with popular democratic governments, including in Paraguay, to make major structural changes.
"It is time to address the democratic shortcomings, to promote structured systems and ensure a society with less inequality," the priest added.
This report has been compiled from the President of Paraguay's Web site and other news sources.
Photo: Leonardo Boff listens as President Lugo addresses the Interfaith Mercosur