|An interfaith prayer meeting to celebrate Christmas at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Mandalay on Dec. 21, 2016. (Photo by ucanews.com )|
Religious leaders in Myanmar will hold an interfaith peace conference against a backdrop of religious violence and sectarian strife.
The "Meeting of interfaith brothers and sisters who coexist forever in Myanmar" is scheduled to be held in Mandalay on March 18. About 1,000 participants from different religions, government officials, union ministers, political parties, civil society groups and ethnic groups are expected to join.
Reverend Zaw Win Aung from the Methodist Church in Mandalay said that people from different religions in Mandalay have lived peacefully together for centuries.
"It is time for religious leaders, government and civil society people to become unified and actively participate in a nation building," Reverend Aung, who is a conference committee member, told ucanews.com.
He added that widespread hate speech has affected interfaith harmony and the conference will no longer tolerate it.
Bishop David Nyi Nyi Naing from the Anglican Church in Mandalay said the gathering will increase the peace among religions.
"We hope that our religious leaders will play a greater role in ending the decades-long conflict and help our country transition to democracy," Bishop Naing told ucanews.com.
The meeting comes of the back of a wave of hate speech against Muslims fueling bouts of religious violence since 2012.
Mandalay, the second largest city in Myanmar, was shaken by anti-Muslim violence in June 2014 that left two people dead and dozens wounded following online rumors that a Muslim man had raped a Buddhist woman.
Another potential flash point is Mandalay-based monk, U Wirathu's brand of extreme Buddhist nationalism and anti-Muslim rhetoric that is a growing force in Myanmar society. The State Sangha recently barred Wirathu from giving sermons for a year as they fueled violence.
Kyaw San, a Muslim from Mandalay, said that widespread hate speech was the main hindrance to interfaith harmony.
"The government must take a strong action," Kyaw San said.
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