Some significant changes are taking place among members of the various religious communities in the Republic of Macedonia. Comments such as those heard at the Second Inter-Confessional Meeting on June 7, 2006 in Tetovo, in northwestern Macedonia, would until now have been unexpected and, in some cases, nearly unbelievable. For example:
- In Islam there is a saying that Islam is the one religion and eventually all must become Muslims. In Christianity, it is the same. This is exclusiveness. Then there is the idea that all religions should blend into one, people becoming one great village. Realistically, we must accept a third principle, that there are different religions, each person is free to find his own. We have a greater chance of happiness if we do the third.
- A beautiful garden is made up of different flowers; together we can make the most beautiful garden or bouquet.
- May we have the courage to be examples of tolerance and understanding to our followers. If we do this, God will bless our efforts.
- If we have love, we will be one. This is our future, to love one another.
- If we want peace, we must have dialogue among us.
- All of us our children of one God. Although we speak different languages and have different customs, we are children of one God.
- It is very important that future religious leaders be better informed about other religions. We should all have the opportunity to know each other better and to know the other religions.
- To what extent we ourselves are true believers and how much we live according to what we believe, will determine how much we understand and love each other.
- Our actions must agree with out beliefs. We will be known by our acts, not by our words.
Along with top leaders of the faith communities - Orthodox, Catholic, Methodist, Islamic and Jewish - there were representatives from the lower ranks of religious workers, professors and teachers of theology and lay persons active in their faith communities.
More than 125 persons attended; for some it was their first exposure to inter-religious dialogue. One young Muslim man described it as an emotional experience, to hear such desires for peace and cooperation.
The primary topics of discussion were the relationship between politics and religions, and religious education in the schools. Religious education has become a playing card in the hands of politicians as they prepare for coming elections. Much to the surprise of the government, a recent proposal for religious education in the public schools was rejected unanimously by the religious leaders. How was it possible that five diverse faith communities could answer with one voice? It was possible because of meetings such as this one in Tetovo.
Concerns were also voiced about efforts to involve youth in the process of cooperation among religious groups and the inclusion of more women in future discussions.
Discussion continued from 6:00 pm until 9:00 pm, with translation into Albanian and Macedonian. A dinner followed, at which participants were encouraged to sit with people they did not know, people from other faith communities.
In my experience, change is slow to come in Macedonia, but in this area of religious cooperation, we are witnessing an exception. Change is moving quickly and with enthusiasm.