UNITED NATIONS - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on the followers of all faiths to work together to achieve common goals for peace, prosperity and physical and spiritual well-being.

“We live in times of turmoil and transformation - economic, environmental, demographic and political. These transitions bring both hope and uncertainty. Our job is to ensure that hope wins, and our task will be made easier if the followers of all faiths collaborate in common cause,” Ban said, while kicking off an annual event known as World Interfaith Harmony Week. “Let us never forget that what divides us is minuscule compared with what unites us. Working together, we can achieve all our goals for peace, prosperity and physical and spiritual well-being,” he said in a message to mark the event.

World Interfaith Harmony Week is observed during the first week of February, as decided by the General Assembly, which established the event in 2010 as a way to promote harmony between all people regardless of their faith.

The assembly encouraged all states, during the week, to support the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship, among other steps.

“For billions of people around the world, faith is an essential foundation of life,” the secretary-general noted. “It provides strength in times of difficulty and an important sense of community. The vast majority of people of faith live in harmony with their neighbours, whatever their creed, but each religion also harbours a strident minority prepared to assert fundamentalist doctrines through bigotry and extreme violence.

“These acts are an affront to the heritage and teachings of all major religions,” he stated, adding that they also contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms the right of all to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. “It is imperative that the moderate majority is empowered to stand firm against the forces of extremism. But, this can only be achieved through strong leadership,” he added.

The Secretary-General also cited the need to reach out to young people with a message of hope. “Too often marginalised, jobless and facing a future of uncertainty, youth can be easy prey for fanatics offering a sense of cause and community. We need to expose the invalidity of this lure and offer a compelling alternative.”