IIFWP France: Renewal of Our Nation

by Hanna Lel

The program held January 18, 2003 in Paris is part of a series of conferences sponsored by the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace to help assist leaders think about the internal reformation of their nation. France enjoys peace and prosperity, but faces cultural and social issues, which need new and bold approaches. Insecurity has become the central concern, dominating the last presidential campaign. Juvenile delinquency, widespread corruption, carelessness, the multiplication of natural or man-made disasters, have resulted in an erosion of trust, hope and social ties. As a consequence, people turn to police forces, rather than using an educational approach to solving problems.

Former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin admitted that for years, the various governments had naively thought that economic and social reforms would bring about the necessary changes. He said that new approaches were needed. The French government is thus thinking about "moral education."

Our meeting opened at 2:30pm with two panellists addressing the need for cooperation of religions with other forms of authority.

Mr. Paul Frank, Honorary Member of the Supreme Court of Luxemburg and General Secretary of IIFWP, Europe, reminded us that European societies have received spirituality from Jerusalem and humanism from Athens and Rome. The harmony was not easy to preserve and most European nations have faced a rise of secularism and hedonism while spiritual values have been ignored. He expressed his confidence that religions can again be heard if they bring a common message of hope and love, going beyond their dogmatic differences and by involving themselves in common actions for the sake of other people. "Spirituality knows no enemy," Mr. Frank forcefully said.

He also suggested that the people present at the IIFWP Paris Conference find one or several areas where they can cooperate together for the sake of France and Europe and gave the example of a Catholic Ambassador for Peace from Luxemburg who initiated a team of several people who now work together, offering to the Luxemburg society a precious tool for the sexual education of young people. As an area of cooperation, Mr. Frank presented an idea developed by the International Relief Friendship Foundation that involves family service. Different families (parents and children together) through service projects learn to overcome egocentrism by cooperating with each other for the sake of the community.

Then we welcomed, Mr. Bernard Zamaron, delegate from the Robert Schuman Center for Europe and Ambassador for Peace. A well-known figure of European federalism, Mr. Zamaron reminded us that religion comes from the Latin religare - to relate, or to connect. "The important point, he said, "is the vertical connection between human beings and a power above ourselves. He reminded us that, Robert Schuman, one of the founding fathers of Europe, had a vertical sense and advocated the reconciliation between the Germans and the French, just five years after the end of Nazism. "Without the vertical axis, this would never have worked. The problem is that nowadays, 99% of the people think of their bank account on earth, and not so much about their soul-account in Heaven."

Hearing this statement, two Protestant ministers in the room nodded. One of them is the President of the African churches in France and his life illustrates his thirst for spiritual treasures. A successful medical doctor and specialist of pneumology, he heard the call of Heaven and became a pastor, traveling between Paris, New York and Vladivostok to spread the gospel.

The two speeches were followed by debates at each table. A former Algerian ambassador advocated that France needed an anthology of religious scriptures concerning morality. "All religions," he said, "have a common view on what good and evil are." Many people stressed the mission of fathers to show authority at home. Without real fathers, young people cannot develop their moral sense. A Laotian woman agreed but stressed the importance of horizontal communication in the family too. "At home, I talk so much with all of my children. We really share everything, and we are good friends. In this loving atmosphere, we develop trust."

After a coffee break, the second part of the program began. Two panellists talked about youth, and how to prepare young people for successful lives. Rd Jean-Luc Berlet, Ph D in political philosophy and author of, "The Complex of God" spoke about education. Quoting Socrates, who was the son of a sculptor and a midwife, he said, "In education, teachers act like a midwife. Of course, the child has to learn something, but most of all, his true self has to be awakened. Once born, the soul is to take a substantial shape. In this way, education is similar to sculpture." He emphasized that education should not limit itself to the social dimension of man. "If we assume that man has eternal life, as all religions stress, then, there should be an education to and for the "transcendent."

Mr. Laurent Ladouce concluded with some Unificationist insights on successful youth. "A successful life starts with the notion of being well born, this means to be born in true families, with true love, true life and true lineage. During his life on earth, man is the active partner of God. While the first Blessing is concerned with man's vertical growth and his becoming a teacher, the second Blessing is about the horizontal achievement of man and his being recognized as a parent, as a patriot and as a saint, by living for the sake of others. Finally, man should not just seek his own profit, but should use his creativity to benefit others. This is the third Blessing and is about becoming owners. He gave examples of successful lives and concluded with considerations on the various stages of life and the responsibility given to young people.

Another session concluded with remarks from some of the participants. The president of the Muslim Women of France expressed her gratitude. "I am 73, and today I feel so young again. You know, when I was a child, my mother educated me to respect other religions. Beside our house was a church, and my mother said that I should always offer the best flowers and best food to the priest. So I did." A young student reported about youth's desire to be trusted and to show their capacity for altruism. Several other people expressed their gratitude for being invited to such a wonderful program.