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Russia, Ukraine religious leaders meet

Religious leaders from from Russia and Ukraine are meeting in Oslo this week to discuss the current crisis between the two countries.

Ukraine flag300The stated goal of the gathering is "to bring about mutual acceptance and understanding," said the Revd Dr Ingeborg Mongstad-Kvammen, General Secretary of the Norwegian Bible Society, which has organised the conference.

A number of Baptists will be in attendance, including Gregori Komendant and Igor Bandura from Ukraine, Sergei Debelinskiy and Vitaly Vlasenko from Russia, and Terje Aadne of Norway.

They are joined by leaders of Orthodox, Catholic and other Protestant Churches, as well as Jewish and Muslim leaders. Heads of religious freedom organisations will also attend the conference, which is taking place from September 9-12 and is funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The delegates will meet Norwegian church leaders and other key figures, such as the Director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute. But most of their time will be spent together, focusing on how the situation has affected the communities they lead.

'We are privileged to have this opportunity to host such a broad panel of religious leaders,' said Dr Ingeborg Mongstad-Kvammen. 'This wide representation from both nations will help to ensure that a robust and positive dialogue takes place.

'Religious leaders play an important role in civil society, and I hope that this conference will be a positive move towards reconciliation.'

The Norwegian Bible Society has worked closely with churches and Christian organisations throughout the region for many years and has significant experience of bringing together different church confessions.

Ingeborg Mongstad-Kvammen'We hope that the dialogue between these religious leaders will serve as a model for further discussion,' added Dr Mongstad-Kvammen (pictured).

'The Bible contains a very strong message of peace. We are part of the United Bible Societies, which has member Bible Societies in more than 140 countries. We work with churches of all denominations to make this book of peace - the Bible - available to everyone.

'This gives us credibility as hosts and facilitators who can bring about fruitful conversations between leaders from both countries, despite theological, cultural and political differences.'

The fighting in Ukraine has killed more than 2,600 people since April and displaced up to one million. A truce was signed by Ukraine and Russian rebel leaders on Friday (5 September), but was followed by fresh shelling in Donetsk and Mariupol over the weekend.

The European Baptist Federation has requested prayer that "this coming together of key religious leaders will make a real and lasting contribution to and end to the violent conflict and peace and reconciliation in Ukraine, and with its neighbour Russia".

Norwegian Bible Society has also asked for prayers:

Pray for safe travels
Pray that each delegate comes with an open heart and a real willingness to listen, to share and to and seek understanding.
Pray that Bible Society staff are able to create a warm and friendly space that encourages open and honest dialogue between delegates.
Pray that this conference will make a positive contribution towards reconciliation between Russia and Ukraine.
Picture: domdeen/freedigitalimages.net
Baptist Times, 08/09/2014
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