International Secretaries General

Dr. William F. Vendley

Dr. William F. Vendley, Secretary General
Religions for Peace International

DR. WILLIAM F. VENDLEY is the Secretary General of Religions for Peace International. He is a member of its World Council which consists of 60 senior religious leaders from all continents. He coordinates the activities and projects of Religions for Peace in 90 national and 5 regional councils.   

Religions for Peace is the world’s largest and most representative multi-religious coalition advancing common action for peace by working to advance multi-religious consensus on positive aspects of peace as well as concrete actions to stop war, help eliminate extreme poverty and protect the earth.

William assumed leadership of Religions for Peace International in 1994. He is a pioneer in advancing multi-religious cooperation to help resolve conflict and advance development and has facilitated the establishment of multi-religious councils around the world.  In the immediate aftermath of the civil war in Bosnia, he assisted the Inter-religious Council of Bosnia-Herzegovina which served Bosnia religious leaders in their efforts to heal their society and re-build a single, multi-ethnic Bosnia.  He also facilitated the establishment of the Inter-religious Council of Sierra Leone in the midst of a ten-year civil war, supported the successful multi-religious mediations between the rebels and the government and was requested to assist in the formal peace talks in Lome, Togo.  He has advanced multi-religious efforts to prevent conflicts, mediate among warring parties and heal societies in the aftermath of violence in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Liberia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Iraq and many other countries. He facilitated formation of the Religions for Peace Middle East North Africa Council, a regional civil society multi-religious structure designed to foster concrete multi-religious solidarity and action across the region. He is convinced that multi-religious efforts for peacemaking provide unique strengths that complement those marshaled by governments and bodies like the United Nations.     

William co-founded the Hope for African Children Initiative to address the needs of African children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The Initiative resulted in an initial US$ 50M being raised to help equip African communities, particularly grassroots religious congregations, to provide needed services to vulnerable children.  This work formed the base for major additional grants of US$ 150M to underwrite the development work by the 26 African inter-religious councils affiliated with Religions for Peace. 

William is an advisor to a number of governments on matters related to religion and peace.  He serves on the Leadership Council of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He advised President Obama through his service on the Multi-religious Cooperation and International Affairs Task Force of the White House Faith Based Council.  He was appointed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and re-appointed by Secretary Kerry as one of ten members of the US State Department’s Advisory Committee on Strategic Partnership with Civil Society and he is a Co-chair of the State Department’s Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group.

William is a theologian. He has served as Dean of the Doctor of Ministry of Arts in Theology program and Master of Arts in Theology Program at Catholic Major Seminary, Huntington, Long Island, where he also taught Systematic Theology. He has also served as an Assistant and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Theology at Maryknoll School of Theology, Maryknoll, New York, where he developed training modules for cross-cultural theological education and lectured in philosophy and religion.

William earned his BA of science degree from Purdue University (1971) and was the recipient of its Distinguished Alumni for Science Award in 2005. He received a MA in religious studies from Maryknoll School of Theology and a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Fordham University (1984).   

William is married to Mrs. Yasuko Vendley, and they reside in New York.    


Rev. Kyoichi Sugino

Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Deputy Secretary General
Religions for Peace International

Rev. Kyoichi Sugino serves as the Deputy Secretary General of Religions for Peace (RfP). He coordinates RfP’s affiliated interreligious councils, women and youth networks in more than 90 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. Rev. Sugino has been directly engaged in multi-religious diplomacy and track-II negotiations in Iraq, Sri Lanka, and other conflict zones, he co-authored the “Yogyakarta Statement” (March 2015), which aimed at overcoming violent religious extremism and interreligious tensions in South and Southeast Asia.

Rev. Sugino joined the RfP International Secretariat in 1999, and was appointed to his current position at the International Executive Committee meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco in 2011. Earlier in his career, he served as policy research officer at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Rev. Sugino received his LL.B from Chuo University in Tokyo (1989) and an M.L.I. in International Law and International Human Rights Law from the University of Wisconsin (1993). He is an ordained Dharma Teacher in Rissho Kosei-kai–a major Japanese Buddhist denomination–having graduated from Gakurin Buddhist Seminary in Tokyo (1991).

Rev. Sugino has written on the subjects of humanitarian and peace-building issues in many international journals and publications. Rev. Sugino is a member of the U.S. State Department Working Group on Religion and Foreign Policy, a member of the Non-Official Group of Friends of Sri Lanka, as well as a trustee at the RKK International New York Center for Engaged Buddhism.


Regional Secretaries General

Dr. Francis Kuria Kagema

Dr. Francis Kuria Kagema, Secretary General
African Council of Religious Leaders – Religions for Peace

Dr. Francis Kuria Kagema, 49, is the Secretary General of the African Council of Religious Leaders-RfP and Executive Director of Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK-RfP), a position he has held since 2008. He previously served as Programs Director and head of the IRCK-RfP secretariat for a period of six years. Before joining the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya-RfP, Dr. Kuria worked as the National Coordinator for the Small Business Network, an organisation advocating for small and medium enterprises. He also worked as a Financial Analyst at the Nairobi Stock Exchange and as a volunteer with St. John Ambulance Brigade where he worked for 16 years, eventually retiring as Assistant Commissioner, Training and Operations in 1998. A holder of a degree in Veterinary Medicine and Surgery, Dr. Kuria is married with four children.


Rev. Nobuhiro Masahiro Nemoto

Rev. Nobuhiro Masahiro Nemoto, Secretary General
Asian Conference of Religions for Peace

In 1977, Nobuhiro Masahiro Nemoto entered the seminary of RKK. Since 1980, he served as a liaison officer at IARF (International Association of Religious Freedom) secretariat at Frankfurt, a program officer at UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) HQs at Geneva, head of RKK Public Relations Section, deputy director of RKK external affairs dept., and minister of RKK Tsuchiura and Kobe dharma centers.

In 2010, Rev. Nemoto was appointed director of RKK external affairs dept. There, he was in charge of inter-religious dialogue, political affairs, human rights, public information and social and peace actions.

In 2015, Rev. Nemoto served as a special advisor for interreligious cooperation, Chairman of Donate a Meal Peace Fund. In 2016, he served as a member of WCRP Japan board, head of the WCRP Japan Task Force for refugee assistance. And in 2017, he served as Secretary General of Asian Conference of Religions for Peace, an executive specialist of the secretariat deptartment of RKK.

Rev. Nemoto has engaged in refugee assistance for Vietnam, Cambodia, Kurd, Somalia, former Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan as well as in the emergency relief activities for Hanshin-Awaji Great Earthquake and East Japan Great Earthquake.

Rev. Nemoto completed a master’s course on “Human Security Studies” at the University of Tokyo. He holds an MA in Human Security Studies and is currently enrolled in doctoral program in Human Security Studies.


Mr. Elias Szczytnicki

Mr. Elias Szczytnicki, Secretary General & Regional Director
Religions for Peace Latin America and the Caribbean

Elias Szczytnicki has extensive and distinguished experience in inter-religious relations.  Since 2004, he has served as Secretary General of the Latin American and Caribbean Council of Religious Leaders (LACCRL) and the Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Regional Office of Religions for Peace.

As LACCRL Secretary General, Mr. Szczytnicki organizes high level meetings of religious leaders with important international personalities, including Pope Francis. He also represents the LACCRL in various meetings of the United Nations and their agencies, the Organization of American States (OAS), the Ibero-American General Secretariat (SEGIB) and the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Mr. Szczytnicki comes to Religions for Peace after serving as Secretary of the Interfaith Committee of Peru.  He also has been a Member of the National Executive Committee of the Consensus-Building Table on Fighting against Poverty of Peru and a Lecturer in Judaism at the Center of Oriental Studies of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP).

Mr. Szczytnicki holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the PUCP.  Also, he is a graduate of the Certificate on Jewish Nonprofit Management at the Latin American Training and Investigation Center for Jewish Institutional Leadership “Leatid”.

Mr. Szczytnicki is an Argentine living in Peru since 1991.  He is married and has one son.


Dr. Mark Owen

Dr. Mark Owen, General Secretary
European Council of Religious Leaders –Religions for Peace

Dr Mark Owen has been Secretary General of the European Council of Religious Leaders since May 2017, and holds a BA in Theology and Religious Studies, MA in World Religions, and PhD in Tibetan Buddhism. Mark has extensive experience of working with interfaith and multi-faith organisations, and an academic and practical background in religious peacebuilding. Dr Owen is Director of the University of Winchester’s Centre of Religion, Reconciliation and Peacebuilding; which was awarded the much coveted 4* for research impact in the UK government’s latest Research Excellent Framework assessment in 2014. Mark has carried out religious peacebuilding research and practice across Europe and South Asia, and is Programme Leader for the MA in Reconciliation & Peacebuilding at the University of Winchester. Mark is currently engaged in research projects looking at the role of religious actors and organisations in peacebuilding processes in Nepal and Myanmar, and multi-faith approaches to migration and integration in Europe. His interests also include Religion and Conflict Analysis, Freedom of Religion or Belief, and Buddhist approaches to Conflict Transformation. Mark is a founder and trustee of the UK registered charity Freedom to Learn, which works to provide the opportunity of education to children from some of the remotest regions of the Himalayas and South Asia.


Dr. William F. Vendley

Dr. William F. Vendley, Interim Secretary General

Religions for Peace Middle East and North Africa Council


International Secretariat

Ms. Valerie Nash

Ms. Valerie Nash, Chief of Staff


Ms. Luisa Hernandez

Ms. Luisa Hernandez, Director of Finance and Administration

Ms. Luisa Hernandez is the Director of Finance and Administration at Religions for Peace. She oversees all the financial and administrative systems. Hired as the Senior Accountant, Mrs. Hernandez acquired the title of Director of Finance and Administration at Religions for Peace in 2006. She is responsible for budget development and monitoring; managing of international and national funds received from multiple non-for-profit and private agencies; and collaboration and coordination with international field-office financial staff to ensure accurate and timely reporting of all financial information. She provides management and control for the International Secretariat’s Human Resources and Administrative policies, and all fiscal operations of Religions for Peace. Mrs. Hernandez has more than ten years of non-for-profit finance and administration experience. She has worked in collaboration with development agencies like USAID, the State Department, C.D.C, HRSA, UNDP, UNICEF, and other international NGOs. She holds an M.B.A. degree in Finance from Regis University, and a B.A. in Accounting from Herbert Lehman College of the City University of New York. She is certified in USAID Rules and Regulations, NICRA, NYS Notary Public and Individual Income Taxes.


Ms. Deepika Singh

Ms. Deepika Singh, Director of Programs

Ms. Deepika Singh is the Director of Programs at Religions for Peace, where she directs overall program strategy and related implementation and monitoring. Ms. Singh has more than fifteen years of professional experience in international affairs and development, including service in USAID-funded programs in Nepal and consultancies with UNDP, UNICEF, and other international NGOs. She holds a Master of Public Administration degree from Pace University in New York, USA; a Master of Arts degree from Dhaka University in Dhaka, Bangladesh; and a BA with honors from St. Bede’s College in Simla, India.


Ms. Mary Rose O’Brien

Ms. Mary Rose O’Brien, Program Manager

Ms. Mary Rose O’Brien is the Program Manager at Religions for Peace. She has more than ten years’ professional experience working across six continents. Ms. O’Brien has extensive experience working in active and post-conflict countries including Iraq, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka and Uganda, with a particular focus on ethnic and religious conflicts. She has managed multi-million dollar reconciliation and reconstruction projects for USAID and US Department of State programs as well as worked at the grassroots level with local NGOs. She has worked in South America in post-disaster relief and elections issues and conducted research in Palestine, Israel, Cyprus, the Balkans, and Northern Ireland. Ms. O’Brien also has a strong background in organizational and capacity development through her experience as a management consultant implementing ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems and performing organization assessments for both US and foreign government entities and NGOs.

Ms. O’Brien holds a Master of Science degree from the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Boston College with a minor in Faith, Peace and Justice. She is an avid traveler and has visited more than 70 countries and all seven continents.


Ms. Annie Glasser

Ms. Annie Glasser, Communications Associate

Annie Glasser holds a Bachelors degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and a certificate in human rights studies from Columbia University. As an undergraduate student Annie served as a fellow for the Lubar Institute for the Study of Abrahamic Religions, where she was responsible for promoting and engaging in interfaith dialogue. After graduating, Annie carried her commitment to improving cultural understanding through twenty-two countries, and she continues to work toward that mission locally. She has done so at Human Rights first, working with their team combating antisemitism and extremism. And as the youth director at a local synagogue in Connecticut, where she spearheaded the community’s first interfaith youth event, “Full Court for Kindness.”


Ms. Natalya Shnipova

Ms. Natalya Shnipova, Accounting Administrative Assistant

Ms. Natalya Shnipova joined the Religions for Peace team as the Accounting Administrative Assistant in 2016. Born and raised in Kazakhstan, Ms. Shnipova earned her BA in Hospitality Management from Saratov State Technical University, Institute of Management in Saratov, Russia. She holds an AS in Business Administration from Borough of Manhattan Community College and is pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in Finance and Investments at Baruch College of the City University of New York.


Mr. Christopher Zefting

Mr. Christopher Zefting, Program Associate for Youth and Network Coordination

Mr. Christopher Zefting is the Program Associate for Youth and Network Coordination at Religions for Peace. Mr. Zefting holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from Harvard University with a concentration in Religion and the Social Sciences, as well as a Bachelor of the Arts degree from Berry College with a major in Religion and Philosophy and a minor in Anthropology. During his years in the Southern United States, Mr. Zefting worked extensively with student faith organizations, establishing youth-led multi-religious service projects and pioneering inter-faith campus-wide initiatives. While studying at Harvard University, he steered his curriculum to focus heavily on the relationship between religion and science, religion and education, and the human right to freedom of religion and belief. Mr. Zefting is passionate about the role of religious literacy and inter-faith action in confronting internal biases, challenging our notions of the ‘other’, and working toward the profound and subtle realities of Peace.


Ms. Emma Jackson

Ms. Emma Jackson, Assistant, Office of the Secretary General

Emma Jackson holds a Bachelor’s degree from McGill University with a double major in Political Science concentrating on International Relations, and International Development, specializing in Environmental Resources. She has previously worked as a fundraising intern at Academics Without Borders, a non-profit that improves higher education in developing countries. Emma is passionate about human rights and strategies for peace and reconciliation in post-conflict areas and served as both the Director and the VP of Communications at the McGill branch of Amnesty International where she worked to organize human rights focused events, planned and facilitated weekly meetings and managed and improved the club’s social media and communication methods. 


Prof. Paul Sherbow

Prof. Paul Sherbow, Senior Researcher

Mr. Baker al-Hiyari

Mr. Baker al-Hiyari, Special Advisor – Middle East and North Africa Affairs

Mr. al-Hiyari is a long time member of the RfP family, serving as Special Advisor for Middle East-North Africa (MENA) Affairs at the International Secretariat. He is a peace and development Advisor, conflict transformation and interfaith/inter-cultural professional with over 20 years of active experience at the intersection of politics, development, governance, civil society, religion and public affairs in the Middle East, West Asia and North Africa regions

A Muslim from Amman, Jordan, Mr. al-Hiyari assumed several leadership positions in non-governmental institutions, civil society organizations and regional multi–stakeholder initiatives. In addition to being a member of the RfP International Youth Committee, Mr. al-Hiyari has extensive international outreach and engagement.