Dr. John Graz, former director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Adventist world church, was one of the speakers at a day-long religious liberty festival at an Adventist Church in Ticino, a French-speaking region of Switzerland. He was translated by Elsa Cozzi, Children's Ministries Director for the Inter-European Division of Seventh-day Adventists. Photo: Corrado Cozzi.

Swiss Adventists Promote Dialogue as Path to Peace

"Lasting peace is possible only if we teach our children the weapon of dialogue, the only winning weapon we have," said Giampiero Vassallo, head of the Religious Liberty Department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in French-speaking Switzerland and in the region of Ticino.

The first Festival of Religious Freedom in Ticino was held Saturday, May 21 at the Adventist Church on Cabione Street in Massagno, Lugano, Switzerland. Vassallo was one of the organizers.

John Graz, former Adventist Ambassador to the United Nations and, for more than twenty years, Secretary General of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA), also spoke at the event. "Seventy-five percent of people on our planet are not free to choose their profession of faith," he said. "It is therefore necessary to realize the privilege we have in living in a country that protects our rights. Let us not forget that everyone has the right to belong or not to belong to a religion."

The one-day festival provided opportunity for dialogue between guest speakers and the audience. In the first part of the day, David Jennah, President of the International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty in Switzerland, drew a parallel between the Declaration of Human Rights and the text of Genesis referring to Cain and Abel. Later in the morning, John Graz described the religious freedom lived by Jesus Christ.

  • John Graz (left) related experiences from his more than two decades of work with Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Adventist world church. His translator was Elsa Cozzi, Children's Ministries Director of EUD. Photo: Corrado Cozzi.

  • (from left) John Graz, former Secretary General of the International Religious Liberty Association; Gianfranco Rossi, former Secretary-General of the International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty (ADLR); Mrs. Rossi; and David Jennah, Switzerland ADLR President. Photo: Corrado Cozzi.

  • (from left) John Graz, former Secretary General of International Religious Liberty Association; David Jennah, Switzerland ADLR President; and, Giampiero Vassallo, local representative of ADLR. Photo: Corrado Cozzi.

In the afternoon, Graz told the audience about the crisis regarding global religious freedom, which he saw first-hand during his many years of international service. He described the experience of those still in prison for defending their faith, and he related stories of religious intolerance, along with remarkable stories of solidarity between members of different faith communities.

There was also a presentation by Father Abraham Unal, head of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Ticino, who spoke of the situation of Christians in the Middle East who do not yet enjoy religious freedom.

Paolo Tognina, an evangelical theologian and RSI journalist (Radio and Television of Italian Switzerland), also spoke during the afternoon. Tognina told attendees that, "to create a culture of diversity, we need to create places for dialogue, exchange and opportunities for civil dialogue."

Vincenzo Pacillo, associate professor of Law and Religion at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, presented the theme of Religious Freedom and Religious Fundamentalism. He stated that we need to eliminate all special privileges from recognized churches and ensure an inclusive ecclesiastical policy.

The debate also included Imam Samir Radawan Jelassi, representative of one of the Islamic communities in Ticino. In his speech he shared the situation of Muslims in Ticino. The debate was moderated by Bruno Boccaletti, producer of religious issues for RSI.

Report by G. Vassallo and C. Cozzi, CD-EUDNEWS.