Hridaya Chaitanya Dasa, temple president of ISKCON’s Radhadesh community in Belgium, was elected to represent the Hindus of Belgium at the formal inauguration of the Belgian Council of Religious Leaders (BCRL) on December 17th.
ISKCON also catered for the event, which was held at the Belgian Parliament in Brussels and attended by about 120 guests including some major leaders of Belgian society.
The future Queen of Belgium, Her Royal Highness Princess Mathilde, was the guest of honor. Leading politicians such as Jos Chabert—President of the Belgian Senate—and Mia De Schamphelaere—Vice-President of the Chamber of Representatives of the Belgian Parliament— also appeared.
Although Belgium’s Prime Minister Yves Leterme was unfortunately unable to attend, his representative Mr Van de Voorde read out the Prime Minister’s message, expressing his strong support for interreligious cooperation.
VebjÃ¸rn Horsfjord, General Secretary of the European Council of Religious Leaders, commented on the formation of the Belgian Council, saying, “This ceremony is very encouraging. It is the second launch of a national Religions for Peace interreligious council in Europe in only two months. I am convinced that bringing together religious leaders to promote peaceful coexistence is a great value to any European society.”
As an interreligious council, the BCRL consists of the leaders of all the major religious communities in Belgium, namely Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains.
Thus, the speech by Reverend Dr Guy Liagre, chairman of the BCRL, was followed by those of Bishop Athenagoras Peckstadt (Christian churches), Abulaziz al-Yaha and Biran Tig (Muslims), Lama Karta (Buddhists), Ramesh Mehta (Jains), the Grand Rabbi of Brussels, Albert Guigui (Jews), and ISKCON’s Hridaya Caitanya Dasa (Hindus).
Other speakers were invited to make presentations about the meaning of the BCRL, including ISKCON Communications’ European Director Mahaprabhu Dasa.
Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel, was the first religious leader to sign the Council’s founding document, which articulates its commitment to strengthening harmonious interreligious relations in Belgium. By signing the document, all the religious leaders expressed their conviction that the BCRL will contribute to attaining more cohesion among the different religions and cultures present in Belgian society.
They will all agree with the organization’s Statement of Purpose, which reads: “The BCRL is committed to supporting peace and harmony between all religious and cultural groups; to be an instrument of dialogue between different Belgian religions, and to interface between religious groups and the civil and political authorities.”
The formation of this council is an important step in the process of receiving formal recognition for Hinduism as an official religion in Belgium—a process begun by Mahaprabhu Dasa’s hard work in founding the Hindu Forum of Belgium and the Hindu Forum of Europe.
Throughout the inauguration celebrations, the catering staff of devotees from ISKCON Radhadesh worked hard, serving delicious sanctified prasadam snacks and sweets. And judging by Princess Mathilde’s repeated expressions of delight, she appeared to appreciate both the refreshments and the devotees’ service very much. In fact, Her Royal Highness spoke with devotees at length at the event, especially Hridaya Chaitanya and Mahaprabhu Dasa.
Speaking to Flemish National Radio along with fellow BCRL representative Hridaya Chaitanya Dasa after the reception, Reverend Guy Liagre mentioned that he would like to have the Council’s next meeting at ISKCON’s Radhadesh community.