April 14, 2002

Charles to be the prince of faiths

Nicholas Hellen and Christopher Morgan

THE Prince of Wales is to launch a multi-faith campaign that is being seen as a move to take on an expanded royal role following the death of the Queen Mother.

He has held a summit for Britain's religious leaders at St James's Palace to combat a "dangerous" breakdown of tolerance in society. He will make public their proposed solution on the eve of the Queen's golden jubilee address to parliament later this month, flanked by a cardinal, two archbishops and the chief rabbi.

The multi-faith campaign coincides with plans to increase his royal profile. He had dinner with Tony Blair last Monday and will, in future, hold bi-monthly meetings with the prime minister. Charles is also to conduct more ceremonial duties, including investitures, and take over from the Queen some of the duties of receiving foreign ambassadors in London. He will also increase his public engagements, particularly in Scotland.

His plan to enlist millions of people in a movement to bridge the religious divide in schools, relief work and deprived areas represents a high-risk intervention for the heir to the throne and eventual governor of the Church of England.

Schemes under discussion include opening Muslim faith schools to other religions, providing sanctuary for victims of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland and joint Christian-Muslim aid for the West Bank.

Charles has moved rapidly since an initial meeting with religious heads on March 11. It was first inspired by a suggestion to the prince from Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi.

He will launch his movement, called Respect, alongside the leaders of all of Britain's principal religions in Birmingham on April 29, at an event co-ordinated by the Prince's Trust. The leaders will include the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and the Archbishop of Wales. Also present will be Zaki Badawi, a leading Muslim; Indarjit Singh, of the Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations; and Barnabas Leith, of the Bahai faith. There will also be Hindu, Buddhist and Jain representatives.

The prince's plan, which will be his principal contribution to the jubilee, will be the first time that he has sought to implement his ideas on the religious role of the monarch in a multi-faith society. He declared his intention to reign as "defender of faith" in 1994. Charles took a close interest in the causes of the riots in Bradford last summer and hosted a dinner at his Highgrove home for leading Muslim figures shortly after September 11.

One religious leader said: "His view is that we have had dialogue between the faiths since the second world war and now it is time for a new stage, harnessing the day-to-day deeds of millions of ordinary people."

It goes beyond the Queen's 50th Christmas message last year, in which she urged people to respond to the terrorist outrage in New York by rediscovering the value of faith and community spirit.

Iqbal Sacranie, a member of the advisory council of Respect, said British Muslims should co-operate with Christians and Jews in providing overseas aid.

Other proposals at a meeting of Respect, held last Wednesday, included a plan for faith schools to share lessons with schools from other religions; the provision of child-minders for refugees and bridge-building in Northern Ireland. Leith, the secretary-general of the Bahai community of the UK, said: "It is about inspiring a genuinely popular movement for people to get to know each other."

The Prince's Trust will approach pop stars to perform at a street party for the launch of Respect on the day before the Queen addresses parliament. One source said: "The prince wants to attract young people because they are most likely to overcome prejudice."