Brussels – In the presence of HRH Princess Mathilde of Belgium the Belgian Council of Religious Leaders was launched at a ceremony in the Belgian Federal Parliament on Thursday 17 December 2009. The leaders of major religions in Belgium signed the founding document of the council and expressed commitment to continue to strengthen interreligious relations in the country.
The process towards the establishment of this "Belgian Council of Religious Leaders" (BCRL) in Belgium began in 2007 and was helped along by Religions for Peace, Europe. Following through consultations and deep reflection within all the major faith communities in Belgium, their leaders were ready to present the new council to the public convinced that it will promote cohesion in society. "A lot of people believe they are reflecting, when all they are doing, is ordering their prejudices somewhat differently", the President of the council, Rev Dr Guy Liagre said in his opening remarks. "Experience, which is gained by learning to know each other better, is the best injection against prejudices".
Dr Liagre is the President of the United Protestant Church in Belgium. His opening remarks were followed by greetings by Bishop Athenagoras Peckstadt of the Orthodox Church on behalf of all the Christian Churches (as the President of the Concertation of Christian Churches in Belgium), Mr Abulaziz al-Yaha and Ms Biran Tig representing Belgian Muslims, Lama Karta on behalf of the Buddhists, Mr Herman Janssens on behalf of Hindus, Mr Ramesh Mehta on behalf of the Jain community, and the Grand Rabbi of Brussels Albert Guigui.
Godfried Cardinal Danneels, Archbishop of Brussels and Mechelen and a Co-Moderator of the European Council of Religious Leaders, was first among the religious leaders to sign the founding document, followed by all the other senior leaders, as Metropolitan Panteleimon of Belgium, head of the Orthodox Church in Belgium.
Also present were Mme Mia de Schamphelaer, Vice-President of the Belgian parliament, and Mr Van de Voorde from the Prime Minister's office, both of whom expressed the strong commitment of Belgian authorities to support interreligious cooperation.
An exceptional music performance formed an integral part of the ceremony, underlining the many dimensions of interreligious dialogue. The groups of singers Cappella Pratensis and Ibn Batouta which sing music from the Christian and Muslim traditions respectively, performed together, allowing tones from the two traditions to intertwine and challenge each other in new, surprising and still harmonious ways.
The Belgian Council of Religious Leaders will meet at least three times every year. Among the most burning issues on the agenda is the wearing of religious symbols and cloths in public places. A statement on the issue is due in March.