Regional interfaith exchange programme kicks off

President Halimah Yacob speaking with (from left) Mr Benedict Cheong, chief executive of Temasek Foundation Connects; Mr Ong Keng Yong, Ambassador-at-Large and chairman of Humanity Matters; Mr John Lim, general manager of Kheng Chiu Tin Hou Kong; Mr
President Halimah Yacob speaking with (from left) Mr Benedict Cheong, chief executive of Temasek Foundation Connects; Mr Ong Keng Yong, Ambassador-at-Large and chairman of Humanity Matters; Mr John Lim, general manager of Kheng Chiu Tin Hou Kong; Mr Dennis Khoo, honorary secretary of the International MultiCultural Organisation; Venerable Shi You Wei, abbot of Di Zang Lin Temple; and Sister Theresa Seow, executive director of Canossaville Children and Community Services, before the launch of the Faithfully Asean programme yesterday. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

The second edition of a regional interfaith exchange programme which brings together 30 participants of different faiths from Asean nations was launched yesterday by President Halimah Yacob.

Over three days, the participants will attend dialogues to exchange insights and also participate in workshops on topics such as climate change, radicalism and terrorism, and the spread of infectious diseases as part of the Faithfully Asean programme, which was first held in 2018.

Speaking at the launch of the programme at the Furama RiverFront hotel, Madam Halimah pointed out that the threats faced by the region, such as the Covid-19 pandemic or natural disasters, are not insurmountable as long as religious leaders commit to fighting them together.

"As religious leaders, you can guide your faith communities to live in harmony with our environment, so that we can pass on a sustainable legacy to generations after us," she said.

"Our religious leaders also play a crucial role in helping our communities navigate through the uncertainties of this pandemic and cope with its impact on our economies and social life."

The programme is presented by local non-governmental organisation Humanity Matters and supported by investment company Temasek.

The inaugural programme had 40 participants in 2018.

At the opening event yesterday, participants were joined by leaders from the faith, youth, community and corporate sectors, as well as dignitaries from more than 20 countries.

It was hosted by Ambassador-at-Large Ong Keng Yong, who is chairman of Humanity Matters.

In his address, Mr Ong said the participants of the programme will be discussing a variety of issues.

"Given the multifaceted challenges facing the world today, especially the disruption and harm caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, there is an urgency for us to cooperate in a concerted manner and deliver practical and positive results for our respective communities," he said.

At yesterday's opening, Madam Halimah also launched a digital public exhibition on different faiths.

In her speech, she underscored the importance of collaboration between faith communities and governments and corporations, stressing that the region cannot move forward together "if there is no mutual trust".

Also speaking at the event, Mr Benedict Cheong, chief executive of Temasek Foundation Connects, said the organisation hopes the programme will allow for more intercultural and interfaith collaboration. "We also hope that participants will, through a spirit of openness and generosity, acquire a deeper understanding of the different faiths and cultures and the common threads that bind us together.

"This common understanding will be a key factor in the promotion of harmony and prosperity in the region."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2020, with the headline Regional interfaith exchange programme kicks off. Subscribe