Religious leaders meet on terror

BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders are meeting in Brussels for the first major attempt since September 11 to try to curb conflicts fought in the name of religion.

More than 80 religious representatives are at the conference chaired by the head of the Orthodox religions, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission.

Their stated aim is to forge new means to ensure that "no individual or organisation succeeds ever again to use religion to instigate violence and terrorism."

Attending the Wednesday and Thursday seminar are Orthodox church leaders, two Cardinals, Jewish leaders, senior Imams and Muftis plus leaders from moderate Muslim states.

President George W. Bush sent a message to the gathering "The Peace of God in the World -- Towards Peaceful Co-Existence and Collaboration between Monotheistic Religions."

He said the theme provided "an extraordinary opportunity to address the importance of religious tolerance."

"Interfaith meetings such as this help connect meetings of all faiths while fostering greater understanding of the common beliefs we share as peace-loving people," he said.

The 80 delegates are focusing on religion as the backdrop to recent conflicts from ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia to the war in Afghanistan.

They are expected to agree an "Announcement of Principles" condemning the abuse of religion to justify violent acts.

They will also call on the international community to provide all the necessary political, economic and humanitarian assistance to rebuild Afghanistan.

An appeal is also due to be made to politicians and the media "to avoid spreading falsehood by associating, either directly or indirectly, one group or religion with the irreligious acts of the few."

Patriarch Bartholomew said before the meeting: "It is incumbent upon the enlightened leadership of the three religions to express with one voice once again the desire of God for peaceful co-existence among peoples."

To bring world peace, he said, the voice of religion was "sharper than any knife" and it was important to show that religious leaders stood united.

At the end of the two-day conference the delegates hope to adopt an action plan calling for regular meetings between religious leaders, seminars for policy-makers, teachers and journalists and inter-faith and cross-cultural youth initiatives.

They also hope to establish a secretariat for the cross-religious body at the liaison office of the Orthodox Church to the EU in Brussels.

Others at the seminar included EU Commissioner Anna Diamantopolou (Social Affairs).

Religious leaders in Brussels include Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Rev. Konrad Raiser, Secretary General of the World Council of Churches, Sheikh Ahmed Kuftaro, Grand Mufti of Syria, and France's Chief Rabbi Rene-Samuel Sirat.