While religion is still one of the drivers of too many conflicts, religious leaders, organisations and individual believers can be very powerful advocates of peace and reconciliation, driven by what their faiths often tell them about the value of peace and peacemakers.

This was the theme of a speech by Sir John Holmes, the Director of the Ditchley Foundation and Former UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, at 3FF’s annual ambassadors’ meeting.

The gathering, on 10 November, was attended by representatives of over 40 countries and hosted by the Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps, Mr. Charles Gray, at the Ambassadors Court, St James’s Palace. It was chaired by Mr Michael Sternberg, QC, 3FF Chairman, and was also addressed by Imam Monawar Hussein, Muslim Tutor at Eton College.

Guests heard presentations on 3FF’s work, particularly in education and mentoring, and their thoughts for greater international cooperation on these activities.

Sir John urged more serious research and analysis of the role of religion in conflicts; engagement in efforts that would solve the issues long term; and the need for politicians and diplomats to learn how to cope with religious conflicts.

He said: “There are many religious groups wholly dedicated to the search for peace and understanding, willing to put their members at risk as they try to mediate and be present on the ground to stop atrocities. Many others, like the Three Faiths Forum, are actively trying to promote inter-faith understanding in the hope that this will positively influence wider behaviour.

“My question is whether all this is enough. Here I think the answer is plainly no. Things are not getting better in this area, as I see it. This is not the fault of the activists doing tremendously brave and pioneering work in so many conflict situations. But it reflects the fact that the huge potential of religions, religious leaders and organisations for conflict reduction and peace-making is quite simply being underutilised, or in some cases not utilised at all.

“But we have to persuade all concerned that peaceful co-existence of religions is the only hope for mankind. Religion does not have to be divisive in international relations today. But too often it is, and if we do not recognise and tackle this as the serious threat that it is, we may all pay a huge price in the future”.

The speech was followed by a lively discussion about the role of education in facilitating understanding on the issues of faith and cultural relations, nationally and internationally.