CORDOBA, May 15-17, 2019
Words matter. They can build or destroy. They shape the structures and policies under which we live.
We need words which express the kind of society we hope for. In 2004 the Académie française accepted one such word into the French language – ‘convivence’, which means the art of living together harmoniously.
The word began in the Spanish province of Andalusia a thousand years ago. At that time Andalusia was a Muslim province with an unusual degree of trust and respect between Muslims, Jews and Christians. Scholars of the time coined the word ‘convivencia’ to describe the cooperative attitude of Andalusian society.
Last year two eminent Swiss, Jacques Moreillon and Nicolas Borsinger, went to Andalusia. Moreillon is a former Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Borsinger is also distinguished in humanitarian work. They wanted to demonstrate convivence as a practical approach for today’s society, and where better to discuss this than the ancient capital of Andalusia, Cordoba?
Together with Cordoban leaders they invited 22 organisations to join them in organising the Cordoba Forum. Among the invitees was Initiatives of Change, and Dr Imad Karam, Executive Director of Initiatives of Change International, joined the organising committee.
The date of the Forum was chosen to coincide with the International Day of Living Together in Peace, approved by the United Nations in 2017 ‘to ensure peace and sustainable development …through reconciliatory measures and acts of service and by encouraging forgiveness and compassion among individuals’.
On 15 May 300 people gathered in Cordoba’s Congress Hall for the opening of the Forum. After a warm welcome from the Mayor of Cordoba, Isabel Ambrosio, they heard the experiences of people who have paid a high price to build a society of convivencia.
Camilo Ayala from Colombia told of his country’s civil war, of how his uncle had been shot dead in front of him, of how he later met his uncle’s killer, and forgave him. Assaad Chaftari, former commander of a Christian militia in Lebanon’s civil war, told of arranging the deaths of countless Muslims, and of the profound change of heart which led him to apologize wholeheartedly for his deeds through the Lebanese media.
This opened the way to two days of vigorous discussion, in working groups large and small, to develop strategies capable of overcoming hate and fear in the many situations from which participants came. From Kenya and Niger, from Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, from India and Myanmar, the Forum heard of initiatives to resolve conflict and to care for the vulnerable.
Young participants included seven from Initiatives of Change
Enough funds had been raised to enable the participation of 30 young people who are active in projects to improve their own societies, including seven from Initiatives of Change. They came early to Cordoba for a two-day training in dialogue facilitation arranged by the KAICIID Dialogue Centre in Vienna.
A visit to Cordoba’s awe-inspiring mosque-cathedral brought home to us all how much we owe to both Islam and Christianity in pointing the way to convivence. Though adherents of the two faiths have often warred, the tenets at the heart of each have enabled reconciliation, healing, and the growth of harmonious communities.
We left Cordoba with renewed hope and a commitment to playing our part in making convivence a reality in our home countries.