Baha'is of Peru help energize an interfaith coalition, winning key recognition

LIMA, Peru - Recent efforts by the Bahá'í community of Peru to promote religious understanding have helped to energize an on-going interfaith collaboration aimed at winning wider Government recognition for non-Catholic religions, leading to the establishment of a new national Directorate of Interfaith Affairs.

Specifically, Bahá'í cooperation with a Peruvian human rights organization contributed to the inclusion of a wider and more diverse group of religious organizations in the collaboration. In the end, the Government responded by creating the new directorate, which will support greater freedoms for non-Catholic religions in Peru.

"The Bahá'ís helped us a lot," said Dorcas Rosas, a spokesperson for INTERDES, a Peruvian non-governmental organization that organized the coalition of religions. "They helped because they had good relations with a lot of the other religions."

Since May, the activities of Bahá'í communities to promote religious tolerance have focused on the distribution of a letter written by the Universal House of Justice, the international governing council of the Bahá'í Faith, and addressed to "the World's Religious Leaders." The letter calls for decisive action to eradicate religious intolerance and fanaticism. [The full text of the letter can be found at:]

Since the letter's release, Bahá'í communities around the world have worked to distribute it to international, national and local religious leaders. Thousands have so far received the letter, and the response has been overwhelmingly appreciative, with many leaders saying they plan to undertake concrete actions in the field of religious tolerance.

In Peru, the Bahá'í community showed how dialogue among the religions can be an important catalyst for action, said Antonio Morales, a member of the external affairs committee of the Bahá'í community of Peru.

Mr. Morales said INTERDES, a non-governmental organization with the full title of the Ministerio Internacional de Desarrollo (Ministry of International Development), had been seeking wider freedoms for non-Catholic religions for several years. But, he said, it had worked mainly with evangelical Christian groups in that effort.

However, said Mr. Morales, the Bahá'í community of Peru had become friendly with a more diverse group of religious organizations in Peru, in large part because of its activities to promote tolerance, such as distributing the letter of the Universal House of Justice to religious leaders.

In fact, it was because of the efforts of the community to distribute the letter that it came into contact with the chairman of INTERDES, Julio Rosas. After receiving the letter, Mr. Rosas invited the Bahá'ís to a meeting.

"When we went to INTERDES, we were able to suggest that they should work with all of the religions in Peru," said Mr. Morales. "And because of our friendships with the other religions, INTERDES asked us to invite them into the work."

Ms. Rosas, the daughter of Julio Rosas, confirmed that Bahá'í contacts with such diverse groups as the Hare Krishna, the Islamic Association of Peru, and the Mormons helped INTERDES to widen its collaboration. "The Bahá'ís helped us to contact the others," said Ms. Rosas.

Ultimately, some 15 different non-Catholic religious organizations in Peru, including the Bahá'ís, joined in asking the Government to grant greater religious freedom for all. Traditionally, the Government has had a special relationship with the Catholic Church, granting it tax breaks and other exemptions that the other religions don't have.

The end result was the creation of a Peruvian Interfaith Council, which will be the official liaison for non-Catholic organizations with the Ministry of Justice. As well, the Government has agreed to appoint a National Director of Interfaith Affairs, which will become a parallel position to the Directorate of Catholic Affairs within the Ministry of Justice.