The Commonwealth will create a safe space for frank discussions about faith and cohesion between communities and religious and ethnic groups, Secretary-General Patricia Scotland told participants of the Craigmyle Lecture.
Delivering the annual lecture, named after the late president of the Catholic Union Lord Donald Craigmyle, Secretary-General Scotland stressed the importance of focusing on commonalities instead of differences. This, she said, was key to addressing pressing concerns such as climate change, political tensions, discrimination and extremism.
“As with our human DNA, 99.9 per cent of the message of the great world faiths is the same, providing comfort and succour for those in pain and in need of solace, and a template for a life well lived. The tragedy of our history is that the norm is to concentrate on the 0.1 per cent which separates us, rather than the 99.9 per cent which unites us.”
The Secretary-General later added, “In the Commonwealth we celebrate diversity, we respect difference, and we seek to promote understanding, between faiths, ethnic groups, and communities, at every level, local, regional, national, and international.
“We try to understand and overcome the many causes of tension and marginalisation, from poverty, to identity, to differences in cultural practices and political beliefs.”
The Secretary-General told delegates about the new Faith in the Commonwealth project. Done in collaboration with the Khalili foundation, the initiative aims to encourage cultural and religious diversity and improve global citizenship and religious literacy in young people.
Secretary-General Scotland outlined the importance of the Commonwealth Charter in promoting peace, through core values such as tolerance, respect and understanding and gender equality.
“In a religious context, peace has a particular significance and the theme which is currently providing a special focus for the collective work and thinking of our member states is ‘A Peace-building Commonwealth’,” she said.
The Secretary-General also spoke about the role of faith in bringing people together during times of difficulty. Speaking about recent natural disasters in the Caribbean, Asia and Africa, she outlined plans to create a task-force to coordinate disaster relief. She stressed the importance of Commonwealth support through long-term initiatives such as its flagship Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change programme.
She said, “It is at times such as this, when some of our most vulnerable small island states have been affected by such immense suffering and disruption, that Commonwealth solidarity and support are most needed and most valued.”
The Catholic Union, a non-party political organisation that seeks to put the Catholic view in the public square and champions freedom of religion, welcomed the Secretary-General’s Lecture. Director Nigel Parker said, "We were honoured to have Baroness Scotland deliver the 2017 Craigmyle Lecture. The capacity audience enjoyed hearing an inspiring blend of the Secretary-General's personal faith and her call for tolerance and respect among all the major faiths represented in the Commonwealth.
“We were pleased to hear of the ‘Faith in the Commonwealth’ initiative and the unit in the Commonwealth Secretariat dedicated to countering violent extremism. The Secretary-General gave us an excellent personal example of the purpose of the Catholic Union which is lay engagement, by Catholics, for the common good."