53rd General Assembly OAS - Washington DC 2023

Event Summary

The 2023 FIDELA Interreligious Forum: Promoting Human Dignity in the Americas

The 2023 FIDELA Interreligious Forum, held on June 20th in Washington, D.C., brought together a diverse array of voices and religious perspectives from around the world. The Forum focused on the critical theme of “Promoting Human Dignity in the Americas.” 

Cole Durham Jr., the Founding Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, remarked that “there is an incredible power in bringing people together and doing our best to understand them.” This power was demonstrated during the Forum, igniting discussions on collaboration, religious representation, the safeguarding of human rights, the societal significance of religious organizations, and the indispensable nature of diversity.

Cynthia Juarez Lange, a Government Relations Representative for LDS Charities, aptly set the tone with her statement that “whatever your belief system, we will be better able to address the world’s problems if we respect each other and work together.”  Ligia Matamoros, a Latin American Youth Pastor for the Latin American Catholic Episcopal Council, further emphasized the importance of community and collaboration, stating, “Because of our faith, we are taught to be a community and walk together.” With the world’s deep divisions taken into account, narrative encouraging unity is increasingly important. 

Religious representation was an important topic of discussion during the Forum. As articulated by Katherine Marshall, Professor of Practice at Georgetown University: “We are convinced that religious perspectives are often not part of global discussions in meaningful ways. Our objective is to bring the enormous creativity of religious communities into the public debates.” Expanding the perspectives involved in discussions regarding the establishment of policies, partnerships, and programs was deemed crucial by a variety of panelists. Katie Taylor, Executive Director of the Pan American Development Foundation, noted, “Religions are global, but they are also very local.” Her remark acknowledged the intimate understanding that religious organizations possess about the communities in which they operate, even when their reach extends globally.

Furthermore, religious organizations were recognized for their significant power to support communities during times of distress and crisis. José Piñero, Deputy Secretary of the Latino Evangelical Alliance,  highlighted the “valuable opportunity” they offer in addressing the global immigration crisis, while Jose Domingo Ulloa,  the Roman Catholic Metropolitan Archbishop of Panama, emphasized that through collaborative efforts they can exert social and political pressure to address problems such as poverty, discrimination, and exclusion.

Azza Karam, Secretary General of Religions for Peace International, drew attention to the current threats facing human rights, asserting, “We live in a time where human rights, rule of law, and democracy are endangered species. Even in the world’s oldest democracies, we are seeing a clear break in respect and adherence to all human rights.” A variety of panelists acknowledged the power of advocacy in countering the erosion of human freedoms. Rashad Hussain, Ambassador-At-Large of International Religious Freedom, declared that “religious actors and religious freedom advocates play a vital role in sounding the alarm on the erosion of human rights. When democracy suffers, so too does religious freedom.”

Juan Navarro Floria, President of the Argentine Council for Religious Freedom, stressed the importance of ensuring that the voices of both religious and non-religious individuals are heard in this advocacy for human rights, “so that their points of view may be applied into public discussion and policy.”

The 2023 FIDELA Interreligious Forum encouraged each panelist to actively participate in shaping the future of their nations, promoting collaboration and advocacy for the betterment of Latin America in particular. Elias Szcztnicki, Secretary General of the Latin American and Caribbean Council of Religious Leaders, concluded, “It is a faith mandate in many of our religious beliefs that we connect faith with responsibility, and that is something Latin America needs. We need to be more responsible for the betterment of our society, not just because solidarity demands it, but because there is no future for Latin America without it.”