The House of One Foundation has honored Georgian Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili with the inaugural House of One Peace Award. "We honor Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili for his tireless, courageous commitment to tolerance and dialogue," said Christian Wulff, former German President and member of the Foundation's Board of Trustees, in his laudatory speech to the prize winner in Berlin's Parochial Church.
"We are honoring a special person with outstanding services to humanity, fraternity and the dignity of every human being," Wulff continued. The bishop impressed with his courage, he said. "He often takes unpopular positions on equality for women and oppressed minorities. (...) He supports the LGBTQ+ community in a country where this support can put one's life at risk."
In his award speech, the laureate Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili said, "I know very well what it means to receive the Peace Prize in the shadow of war on this continent. I also wonder if I have the right to accept this award when we all failed to prevent the fratricidal and senseless war in Ukraine."
Years ago, Songulashvili decided not to stand idly by and watch the growing hatred against LGBTQ people, the rise of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in Georgia. "We decided not to write the theology of interfaith harmony with ink and paper, but to carve it in stone." Thus was born the Peace Cathedral in Tbilisi.
Under the roof of a warehouse and following the model of the planned House of One, Songulashvili built a church, a mosque and a synagogue, including a meeting room. "The project is intended to contribute to the reduction of prejudice, fear and hatred among people of different religions and to bring about a positive change in their relations," Songulashvili explains.
Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry, who also traveled to Berlin to honor the award winner, said: „The House of One is a model of interfaith relationships. It preserves the distinct space of each religion but brings them together under one roof of encounter with God and each other. Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili is a model of peace building. Always hospitable, always creating opportunities for encounter between peoples, always standing on the side of the oppressed, Malkhaz Songulashvili will risk everything to serve God’s ways of peace of reconciliation.“
Berlin's Protestant Bishop Christian Stäblein (EKBO) honored the Georgian clergyman with great respect: "Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili shows with his commitment to a peaceful coexistence of religions what lived charity means. With his Peace Cathedral he has created a place of respect and peace. I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to Brother Songulashvili for his commitment to persecuted Yezidis, refugees and the Georgian queer community. I warmly congratulate him on being awarded the 1st House of One Peace Prize. May God bless his continued work and the people he serves!"
Scheikh Xwededa Adani, Yazidi dignitary from Oldenburg, who will deliver a greeting at the Peace Award ceremony, recalls an encounter with Bishop Malkhaz in Georgia. The meeting, he said, showed him "how important interreligious dialogue and meeting on eye and heart level is. Georgia is a good example of how different religious communities engage peacefully and for the benefit of their citizens, with charity and respect."
Rabbi Andreas Nachama of the House of One took up this thread: "A peace prize at a time when war is being waged on our continent is something special: for peace on the outside is a great good. A peace prize for a clergyman engaged in tri-dialogue is a great step towards a society of fraternal conversation at eye level. We are pleased to award Bishop Malkhaz, a fellow campaigner in our House of One cause."
Imam Kadir Sanci added, "We know Bishop Malkhaz as a person who is relentlessly committed to the needs of every religious community and denomination. He stands for unconditional charity and lives it himself in an exemplary manner."
Pastor Gregor Hohberg said earlier in his welcoming speech: "The greatest challenge in conflicts is not to align oneself with destructive power. The world is permeated by the myth of redemptive violence. The Bible, but also scriptures of other religions, tell a great counter-story to this: God's love applies to all people unconditionally - friend and foe alike."
Entrepreneur Mustafa Sahin, whose company Eurasia Group AG, donated the prize of 9,000 Euros, explains the decision as follows: "We must honor peacemakers for their courage, for their selflessness. It's about showing: We see your work! Bishop Malkhaz has worked vehemently for the interests of minorities in Georgia, for Muslims, for Jews and many others." The prize will be awarded every two years in the future.
In Georgia, more than 80 percent of the population belongs to the Georgian Orthodox Church. About one-sixth of the population belongs to an ethnic or religious minority. The largest group is made up of Azeris, Turkic-speaking Shiite Muslims, followed by Armenians, who belong primarily to the Armenian Apostolic Church. In addition, there are smaller Yazidi, Jewish or other Christian communities. (Source: ZOIS Center for Eastern European and International Studies)
With the newly awarded House of One Peace Prize, the House of One Foundation wants to honor people who, through their actions, pave the way for understanding between people of different religions and worldviews and often make it possible in the first place. "We all need a new passion for peace, not only on a large scale, but also and especially in our daily interaction," says Roland Stolte, director of the House of One Foundation. "Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili, with his commitment to the dignity and rights of minorities and those in need, as well as his dedication to the Peace Cathedral in Tbilisi, admirably demonstrates every day anew that there is a beauty in peace and that peace without justice cannot endure."