I am honoured to be here. I thank His Majesty King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, as well as the Governments of Spain and Austria, for making this inauguration possible.
I thank His Excellency President Heinz Fischer of Austria and His Majesty King Juan Carlos of Spain for their very kind messages of congratulations and encouragement.
Tonight, we join forces to celebrate a new effort for cultural exchange and global harmony.
We need look no further than today’s headlines to understand why this mission is so vital. We see the Syrian conflict taking on troubling sectarian dimensions. We see ongoing tensions and unrest between Israelis and Palestinians.
I have just returned from the region, where I worked to push for an end to the violence. I am determined to ensure that the ceasefire is sustainable.
Both sides must adhere to the agreement. At the same time, the underlying issues must be addressed. More than ever, we need a negotiated two-State solution ending the occupation and the conflict. This is critical to regional stability. A just and comprehensive peace is our ultimate goal – and it is the only way to bring lasting security to all.
I am also concerned about the situation in Mali, where extremists have destroyed valuable religious monuments and artefacts. It is essential to overcome divisions and preserve the country’s unity.
These are just some of the reminders of how important it is to promote long-term mutual understanding that transcends religious, national, cultural and ethnic boundaries and identities.
That is why I believe so deeply in this Centre’s vision to advance respect for human dignity and human rights … foster mutual respect … and generate cooperation for justice, reconciliation and peace.
These values are central to all societies.
Religious leaders have immense influence.
They can be powerful forces for cooperation and learning. They can set an example of interfaith dialogue. They can unite people based on tenets and precepts common to all creeds.
But we must also recognize that throughout history and in the present day, too many religious leaders have stoked intolerance, supported by extremism and propagated hate. Instead of leading along the path of tolerance and peace, they have bred division.
Political leaders also have a responsibility to use their influence for the greater good.
In the face of economic and social pressures, we have seen far too many hate-based political appeals that target minorities. Yet we know that blaming “the other” is not a political strategy for a healthy country, continent or world.
We must all do better in reaching out across boundaries.
I welcome this Centre’s commitment to opening your doors to all the world’s religions.
I fully support your vision of religion as an enabler of respect and reconciliation.
I encourage all of you to cooperate closely with the UN Alliance of Civilizations which will meet here in Vienna next year, February.
This Centre grows out of His Majesty the King’s initiative in 2008 for a United Nations General Assembly meeting on a Culture of Peace.
That historic two-day gathering adopted a powerful Declaration stressing dialogue, understanding, tolerance and respect for diverse religions, cultures and beliefs.
I am deeply grateful to His Majesty for following up on that initiative with this important Centre.
King Abdullah once said, “It is high time that we learn from the harsh lessons of the past and concur on the ethics and ideals in which we all believe.”
I am confident that the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue will bring people together based on a shared faith in our common values.
In this, you have my full support and the support of the United Nations.
Thank you very much.