Youth have the unique opportunity to build bridges rather than walls and to forge friendships which last through life says Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa addressing the Global Interfaith Forum held at the University of Bologna, Italy.

“It is the duty of policy makers and educationists, through the curriculum and methods of teaching in our schools and universities, to emphasize what all religions share in common, the areas of consensus rather than the points reflecting differences” he further said.

Full Speech –

It is with great pleasure that I address this very timely G20 Interfaith Forum in the historic city of Bologna on the theme, “Time to Heal: Peace among Cultures, Understanding between Religions”.
I am grateful to Professor Alberto Melloni, Chair of the Italian Organizing Committee, and to his colleagues for their kindness in inviting me to participate. I appreciate the opportunity, particularly because of the relevance of the conference theme to my own country, Sri Lanka, and more generally to the geographic region of South Asia.

A prominent feature of our region is ethnic, religious and culture diversity. Our countries are home to people from diverse ethnic backgrounds, professing different religions and nurtured by an array of cultures. And yet, rising above these differences, we have responded to the challenge of building a sense of mature nationhood, uniting all the different communities. Our future as one nation depends very much on this idea of unity and solidarity which is absolutely essential to achieve our economic, political and social goals.

Extremist ideology, and violence associated with it, represent one of the most serious challenges of our time. It is appropriate to recall the tragic events of 09/11, exactly twenty years ago, and to share our deep sense of grief with the families of victims of this outrage and, indeed, with all humankind.
This is a reminder of the need for eternal vigilance against all forms of terrorist action, whoever be the offenders and whatever be their professed aims and purposes.
It is especially fitting that this prestigious event should take place in Bologna, a city which has rightly established its reputation as a world leader in culture, in the arts and in all fields of intellectual activity. This enchanting city enshrines for all time the spirit of the Italian Renaissance, and its remarkable contributions to the growth of civilization. The world has certainly been enriched by the genius and creativity of the great Italian masters of that period in history.

I observe from the conference documents, prepared with great clarity, that you have placed a sharp focus on the areas in which peace and harmony among cultures play a vital role in our time. I have no hesitation in identifying education as the most important of these areas. Young minds are impressionable, and it is during the childhood years that there is the greatest chance to develop the right attitudes and values. While there are, clearly, differences embedded in the substance of different religions, there is also a core of beliefs and convictions that are common to all religions.
It is the duty of policy makers and educationists, through the curriculum and methods of teaching in our schools and universities, to emphasize what all religions share in common, the areas of consensus rather than the points reflecting differences. Youth in our educational institutions have the unique opportunity to build bridges rather than walls and to forge friendships which last through life.

The government in my own country is giving priority right now to reform the content of education to bring it in line with modern requirements and to equip our youth to secure satisfying livelihoods which will sustain them in life.

The grave heath crisis which the world is experiencing at this time, serves to underline the bonds which unite us all: COVID-19 makes no distinction among religions, nationalities and civilizations. It strikes a deadly blow at all humanity. In order to survive the pandemic and resume our lives once more, international cooperation needs to be strengthened.

Vaccines and other protection, made possible by modern medicine, must be available across the globe, with firm arrangements in place for less affluent nations to be assisted by international organizations and by countries with stronger economies. It is a battle that has to be won, not by some, but by all.

While it may be legitimate for countries to close their borders temporarily to contain the virus, isolation is not the answer. One of the realities of the world in which we live, is the free movement of goods, services and people across national frontiers. Migration in search of a better life is challenged by conditions prevailing today, but employment opportunities on an equitable basis must continue to be available freely.
This is a field in which gender equality and dignity is of special importance. Gautama the Buddha, in his final sermon, The Maha Parinibbana Sutra, declared that the moral quality of a society is to be assessed by the kindness and compassion shown to its more vulnerable members.
Our government is very much preoccupied with the protection of women and children against exploitation and all forms of discrimination at home, in places of employment and in society at large. Outdated laws relating to marriage, custody and inheritance are being currently updated by the Parliament of Sri Lanka. Our attitude is one of zero tolerance of human trafficking.

Climate change and other environmental issues are in the forefront of our minds. Sri Lanka is trying its best to adopt a balanced approach to human development. While progress on economic issues is necessary to support rapidly growing populations, this cannot be done at the expense of the environment.
Arahat Mahinda, the son of Emperor Dharmasoka of India, who brought the cherished gift of Buddhism to our shores, addressing King Devanampiyatissa of our country, said, “O, King, you are not the absolute owner but only the temporary trustee of our mountains and forests, our rivers and streams, the fauna and flora of our land: you are duty bound to hand over these assets to future generations in the condition in which you inherited them from your forefathers”. These words, an integral part of our culture, continue to define our policy towards the environment.

Reconciliation is a critical need of our time. Conflicts and escalating tensions are all too evident around us. Peace and stability come from healthy relationships with all who live in our countries, including those with whom we have deep disagreements.
Here, again, our religion teaches us that hatred is not conquered by hatred but by love alone. Rather than dwell on grievances derived from the past, we must focus on the present, the need for harmony with points of view different from our own, and the inspiring new frontier which awaits us all if we forge the urgently needed links of brotherhood and understanding.

To this end, this refreshing symposium in Bologna, the oldest seat of learning in Europe, makes a contribution of the highest value. The G20 Interfaith Forum, which has been a regular event over the last seven years, presents a rare opportunity for intercultural dialogue. I am deeply conscious of the honor you have bestowed on me by your invitation to address this prestigious gathering. I thank Professor Melloni and his colleagues warmly, and I wish your discussions every success. Theruwan Saranai. [May the Tripple Gem Bless you]