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Religions aim for a closer relationship

Time to talk: this poster for the special week promotes interreligious dialogue

Religious communities across Switzerland are joining together this week to celebrate the Week of Religions under the slogan "Let's trust each other".

The first annual event promoting interreligious dialogue and trust runs until November 10.

Over the past few weeks and months Switzerland's Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Bahá'ís and others have been preparing invitations for their neighbours.

"The week's programme is pretty much the usual one for each of the different religious communities but with a special advertising campaign and preparations to welcome people from other faiths," Martin Hoegger, the pastor from canton Vaud's reformed church in charge of ecumenical dialogue, told swissinfo.

The organisers behind the first Week of Religions, the Swiss interreligious working group, mostly want people to get to know each other. But this hasn't stopped them from organising some special events.

Geneva's Nouvel Orchestre will be playing music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Ernest Bloch, Aydun Saygun and Henrik Gorecky - Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Catholic composers - under the theme "Music and spirituality". Concerts are planned in Neuchâtel on November 8 and on the following night in Basel.

On Wednesday the Arzillier association is organising an interreligious day in Renens near Lausanne in canton Vaud, where half the population is made up of foreigners.

"It has taken a huge amount of organisation," said Hoegger, an Arzillier committee member.

To give the day some extra visibility, the organisers have plastered the region with posters showing a bishop sharing a cup of tea with a rabbi and imam as a Buddhist priest looks on.

Other activities and events are planned elsewhere in Switzerland, including interreligious and intercultural meetings in Basel and a visit to a Buddhist temple and a mosque in Emmen, canton Lucerne.

Election campaign

The week of religious dialogue and peace building comes shortly after the Swiss People's Party's controversial parliamentary election campaign, criticised by many observers as racist.

It was also planned well before a group of rightwing politicians decided to launch a campaign calling for a ban on the construction of minarets in Switzerland in May.

"We should learn to live together and build bridges without preaching; each person keeps their identity but we try hard to see what's true, good and beautiful in our neighbours," said Hoegger.

"Our action is inspired by Hans Küng, founder of the Global Ethic Foundation; to build a bridge you need foundations on both sides."

Hoegger admits that the week might be simply preaching to the converted but states that "you have to begin somewhere" to create a desire for a dialogue.

For the interreligious working group, the week is sure to prove popular. It is already planning a second edition in November next year.

swissinfo, Marc-André Miserez

Key facts

Religious breakdown of the population, 2000 census:
Roman Catholic – 41.8%
State-recognised Protestant – 33.0%
Free (mainly evangelical) Protestant – 2.2%
Old Catholic – 0.2%
Orthodox – 1.8%
Other Christians – 0.2%
Jewish community – 0.2%
Muslim – 4.3%
Buddhist – 0.3%
Hindu – 0.4%
Other – 0.1%
No religion – 11.1%

end of infobox

Religious dialogue

The Swiss interreligious working group, which was founded in 1992, is an association representing different religious communities in Switzerland.

It aims to improve tolerance and mutual respect, and promotes meetings between communities to reduce fears. It also advises religious communities so that the authorities take them more seriously.

The group comprises 80 different institutions: Baha'is, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims, as well as inter-religious communities, forums and working groups and charities.

The Swiss Council of Religions, founded in May 2006, is a similar institution that brings together representatives from the three national churches, the Jewish community and Islamic organisations.

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