The plan of action, developed by the UN Alliance of Civilizations, provides concrete recommendations to support member states in their efforts to ensure that religious sites are safe, that worshippers can observe their rituals in peace, and that the values of compassion and tolerance are fostered globally, Guterres told a launch ceremony on Thursday, Xinhua news agency reported.
"Religious sites are powerful symbols of our collective consciousness. When people are attacked because of their religion or beliefs, all of society is diminished," he said. "Houses of worship around the world must be safe havens for reflection and peace, not sites of bloodshed and terror. People everywhere must be allowed to observe and practice their faiths in peace."
With this plan of action, the United Nations is taking an important step to advance that critical goal and address what has emerged as one of the leading global challenges of our era, he said.
The world is plagued with a surge in anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, attacks against Christians and other religious groups, Guterres told reporters after the launch of the plan of action.
In recent months alone, Jews have been murdered in synagogues, Muslims gunned down in mosques, Christians killed at prayer, he said.
Beyond the targeting of religious sites, loathsome rhetoric is also spreading like wildfire. This includes hate speech targeting not only religious groups but also migrants, minorities and refugees; assertions of white supremacy; a resurgence of neo-Nazi ideology; venom directed at anyone considered the so-called "other," said the UN chief.
The world must step up to stamp out anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, persecution of Christians, and all other forms of racism, xenophobia, discrimination and incitement, he said.
The plan of action asks the United Nations to develop a global communications campaign to foster mutual respect and understanding, develop a mapping of religious sites around the world, pursue efforts on the prevention of violent extremism through education, and strengthen cooperation with regional organisations to foster intercultural dialogue.
It also makes recommendations for member states, religious leaders and civil society.