By Deborah Castellano Lubov and Lisa Zengarini
Rt. Rev. Urmas Viilma, the Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church and vice president of the World Lutheran Federation (WLF) for Eastern and Central Europe, is among the participants in 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which was held this week in Nur-Sultan and featured Pope Francis’ keynote speech.
Over 100 delegations from some 50 countries participated in the two-day event, which takes place every three years in the Kazakh capital to promote inter-religious and inter-civilization dialogue, at a time of growing international tensions and confrontation, and in the “Spirit of Assisi”.
Focused on the theme “The role of leaders of world and traditional religions in the spiritual and social development of mankind in the post-pandemic period”, discussions ranged from promoting religious dialogue, to the role of education, and of religious education in particuilar, in combating radicalism, extremism, and terrorism, to contrasting xenophobia, and to strengthening the social status of women.
At the closing of the event, participants released their Final Declaration at 11:00 local time (+6 GMT), and Pope Francis delivered another keynote speech.
On the sidelines of the discussions, Rt. Rev. Urmas Vilma spoke to Vatican News’ Deborah Castellano Lubov to offer his insight into the importance of the event.
He said religions play a crucial role in promoting peace in a war-torn world, referring specifically to the ongoing war in Ukraine.
A global perspective on the current world situation
In the interview, the Lutheran Archbishop, who was also one of the religious leaders who met privately with Pope Francis on Wednesday, noted that the meeting gave European Churches, and in particular the Estonian Church, the opportunity to understand the current world situation in a wider and less eurocentric perspective.
Churches in Europe, he said, are used to ecumenical dialogue and collaboration, but the Congress in Kazakhastan is more about interfaith dialogue at a global level.
A shared aspiration for peace
He further noted that what has emerged from the Congress is the shared aspiration for world peace, which goes beyond the war in Ukraine, dialogue and cooperation against discrimination, xenophobia, and violence against different religious communities across the world.
War in Ukraine and need to dialogue with all
With regards to the ongoing war in Ukraine, Archbishop Viilma expressed his particular appreciation for Pope Francis’ words during his meeting with the Kazakh Authorities upon his arrival in Kazakhstan on Tuesday.
In his address, the Pope emphasized that for “peoples to grow in mutual understanding, dialogue is needed “with all”, no one excluded.
Archbishop Viilma remarked that religious leaders are in a privileged position in that they can cross political “borders”.
This, he said, is exactly what Pope Francis is doing with regard to the conflict in Ukraine although he has unfortunately drawn criticism from some quarters.
“I know that the Pope has been criticized for that, but he is open to dialogue, and I think everybody here is very much open to dialogue, despite our diversity,” he said.