The Swiss Council of Religions, a body bringing together the country's leading Christian denominations and Muslim and Jewish communities, was launched on Monday.This content was published on May 15, 2006 - 15:45
Representatives of the three religions held an official ceremony in Bern to inaugurate the "landmark" Council intended to work for religious peace and serve as a partner for the government.
Finding a common position on problem issues, such as the recent row over the publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed, and improving understanding and trust among the religions are the Council's other main goals.
Christians, Muslims and Jews hold common responsibility for ensuring religious and social harmony and coexistence, the Council said in a statement.
Agnell Rickenmann, the general-secretary of the Swiss Bishops Conference, told swissinfo that it was important to show society that the various religions were not locked in conflict but were trying to work together for the benefit of all.
Immigration and the globalisation of religion have had a profound effect on the Swiss religious map and the roles of the various religions.
New religious map
Only 30 years ago more than 90 per cent of Swiss inhabitants claimed to belong to one of the three Christian denominations: Protestant, Catholic and Old Catholic.
Islam is now the third-biggest faith community in Switzerland.
The founding of the Council was announced shortly after the publication of the Mohammed cartoons in Swiss newspapers outraged the country's Muslim groups.
Farhad Afshar, from the coordination centre of Islamic organisations in Switzerland, recently told the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper he expected Jews and Christians to intervene on behalf of the Muslim community if the values of Islam were ridiculed by the media.
"In the Council of Religions Muslims, Christians and Jews should stress the main thing they have in common – and that is an obligation to seek peace," he said.
Each religion or religious community that belongs to the Council will appoint a representative to take part in the regular meetings.
"At first the real issue will be to get to know each other a bit better and to enter dialogue. But it may be that in the future it will be important that the religions have a common position on social issues - bioethics, for instance," Rickenmann said in March.
The creation of the joint religious council – unique to Switzerland – dates back to an inter-religious peace meeting held three years ago in Bern cathedral on the eve of the Iraq war.
The Council will be composed of six members. Thomas Wipf, the president of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches and one of the prime movers behind the project, was nominated the first chair of the new body. Bishop Kurt Koch will represent the Roman Catholics, and Bishop Fritz-René Müller the Old Catholics.
The Muslim community will have two representatives: Farhad Afshar and Hisham Maizar, president of the federation of Islamic communities of eastern Switzerland.
Alfred Donath, president of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, will represent the Jews.
swissinfo with agencies
The Council of Religions aims to contribute to religious peace in Switzerland, to foster understanding between the different faiths, to engage in dialogue on faith-related and social issues and to advise the government on these issues.
Initially the Council will be made up of representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Old Catholic Church, the Swiss Protestant Church, as well as the Muslim and Jewish communities. Evangelical churches, Hindus and Buddhists are not represented, but may join later.
Religious adherence in the Swiss population (2000):
Old Catholic: 0.18%
Other Christians: 0.19%
Other religions: 0.8%
No religious affiliation: 11%
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