Seoul Conference Explores Paradigms for Peace and Human Development
Written by Joy Pople, UPF International
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Seoul, Korea - “Toward a New Paradigm for Peace and Human Development” was the theme of an International Leadership Conference that drew people from 50 nations to Seoul, Korea, from Feb. 9 to 13, 2014. Distinguished diplomats, scholars and peace activists offered insights into current events on the Korean Peninsula and in the Middle East to the 165 conference participants. Religious leaders, educators, journalists and women leaders described their work to build understanding and improve relations among diverse people in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. For the conference schedule and links to some of the presentations, click here.
The Universal Peace Federation, as the conference organizer and primary sponsor, was pleased to have the support of four partnering organizations: the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, Segye Times, The Washington Times Foundation and the Women’s Federation for World Peace.
In introducing the basic concept of the conference theme, Dr. Thomas Walsh, president of UPF International, identified a variety of characteristics of a “new paradigm for peace and human development," including the increasing inclusion of the marginalized, the resurgence of religion, the growing importance and relevance of civil society and non-state actors, and the digital communications revolution. Dr. Jeung Rho Yoon, chair of UPF-Korea, described the grass-roots outreach of Korean Ambassadors for Peace who keep alive hopes for the reunification of their divided peninsula.
A roadmap for peace in Northeast Asia
The session on peacebuilding issues of North and South Korea featured Ambassador Christopher Hill, former US ambassador to Korea and head of the US delegation at the Six-Party Talks. He emphasized that North Korea does not need nuclear weapons to defend itself and that if North Korea would abandon this ambition the United States would offer energy resources and business development in order to help it rejoin the community of nations. His speech later that day at the Korean National Assembly was covered by national news media.
Other speakers traced the varying interests of Japan, China and Russia in Korean Peninsula issues. Dr. Hyunik Hong, senior research fellow in the Security Strategy Studies Department at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, called for freezing of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and expressed hopes that talks could resume, at least among four nations if not six, as before. Dr. Alexander Zhebin, director of the Center for Korean Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Far Eastern Studies, expressed hope for positive outcomes from Russian proposals for economic cooperation with North Korea. Mr. Hiroshi Yamada, a lecturer on international relations at Kaetsu University in Tokyo, described some of the diplomatic stalemates in the region and the restrictions on Japan’s role in promoting security.
Dr. Charles S. Yang, chair of UPF and The Washington Times Foundation, opened the session by describing the vision of the organizations’ founders, Rev. and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon, for the Northeast Asia Peace Initiative and their efforts to ease tensions between the two nations. The session was chaired by Dr. Alexandre Mansourov, one of the leading experts on North Korea in the United States.
Peace and human development
Keynote speakers at the conference included Mrs. Margareta Timofti, first lady of Moldova, who described the former Soviet republic’s challenges of preserving traditional values while seeking greater links with the European Union. She paid tribute to UPF-Moldova for helping children with autism. Mme. Mintou Doucouré Traore, the first lady of Mali from 2012 to 2013, talked about the suffering and displacement of the people in her West African country caused by separatist forces and expressed hope that UPF will implement a peace initiative in Africa.
A former Japanese minister of defense, Hon. Yoshinori Ohno, referred to Japan's dilemma of being restricted in its use of military force and then described some opportunities for Japan to make a positive impact in conflict areas, such as providing medical services.
The Founder’s Address was delivered on behalf of Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon by Mrs. Julia H. Moon, general director of the Universal Ballet in Korea. She referred to Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s teachings about peace as a profoundly spiritual concept: “Whenever he spoke, he shared an inspiring vision of the human family rising up together in love and overcoming the barriers of nationality, race and religion. He taught that peace describes a state of spiritual and physical harmony; an ideal state of being for the individual, the family, the society, the nation and the world.”
Peace in the Middle East was an issue close to the heart of a number of conference speakers. Dr. Michael Jenkins, a member of UPF’s Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI) steering committee, gave an overview of ten years of interfaith peacebuilding in Israel, Palestine and Jordan. “We are challenged to transcend the barriers of our religions and believe that God inspired religions other than our own,” he said. But those who try to bring people together are viewed with suspicion and sometimes hostility, he reported, and the work of trust-building requires much patience and persistence. H.E. Dr. Mohammed R. Al Hussaini Al Sharif, ambassador of the League of Arab States to the United States, gave an overview of the political and diplomatic stalemates in the region and called for implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative that was agreed upon at a 2002 summit in Beirut.
A session devoted to the principles of peacebuilding was opened by Dr. Michael Balcomb, US president of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. Mrs. Eugenia Kagawa, director of UPF International’s Executive Office, and Mr. Ricardo de Sena, director of UPF International’s Office of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs, contributed insights into the founders’ peace principles, followed by Dr. Thomas Selover of Cheongshim Theological Seminary in Korea, who offered reflections from the context of East Asian culture.
Songs by a North Korean women’s group introduced a session on women in leadership that explored themes of peace, partnership and development. Dr. Lan Young Moon, president of the Women’s Federation for World Peace International, talked about being moved by the suffering she witnessed during her 20 trips on charitable missions to her native North Korea, from which she had escaped as a young girl, but still not being allowed to visit her hometown.
Two other women talked about their humanitarian work. A native Syrian living in the United States, Dr. Rehab Bitar, president of Cultural Bridge, Syria, gave faces to the growing numbers of displaced and suffering people by showing images of women she met while on a recent high-risk journey to Damascus. Ms. Cynthia Turner, executive vice president of Medical Services Corporation, described her work to improve the economic status and stability of communities where people are recovering and rebuilding after conflict.
Additional speakers challenged women to aim high. Dr. Meena Upadhyaya, a professor of medical genetics at Cardiff University in Wales, UK, talked about her life journey as an immigrant from India to her current position as an innovator in cancer research and treatment. Dr. Shigeko Fukai, visiting professor at Chiba National University in Japan, called on women in developed countries to lead a "paradigm shift toward a more sustainable world" both by pressuring their governments to move toward greater sustainability and by changing wasteful lifestyles.
Speakers examined various facets of the term “paradigm” in the conference title, drawing inspiration from art, music and scripture[does this mean literature or does it mean Scripture, as holy texts?] as well as life experience.
With Europe’s increasingly diverse population, education has an important role in promoting better understanding. Mr. Bart ten Broek, secretary of the steering committee of United Religions Initiative in the Netherlands, reported about religious education in schools, where Christian and Muslim students learn about their own religious teachings, rituals and stories and then teach them to each other in a mutual discovery of similarities and differences. Ven. Dr. Michel Thao Chan, president of Reflection of Nations Circle in France, described the graduate programs in peace administration and international governance that he developed, drawing on his grounding in three religious traditions as a Vedantist, Sufi and Buddhist monk.
Addressing the session on the Middle East, Sheikh Dr. Hojjat Ramzy, director of the Muslim Council of Britain, pointed out the diversities of peoples and faiths in the region and recommended “cultural diplomacy” and efforts to mend “the torn fabric of ancient societies” with care and understanding. A former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Hon. Naomi Sarah Tsur, described eight kilometers of an abandoned railway line that had been used as a dump by nearby neighborhoods. As evidence of the mending power of a compelling larger vision, she said that joint clean-up efforts stimulated diverse people to start talking to each other.
By the end of this century, 90 percent of the world’s peoples will be living in cities, stated Dr. Shoichi Ito, a professor in the Faculty of Agriculture at Kyushu National University in Japan. He believes that concern about food security will be a compelling motive for urban officials to establish and maintain good relations with surrounding areas and nations.
Mr. Michael Leonard McIntyre, former president of the Capital Region Interreligious Council in Canada, reflected about his visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem as a participant in the recent MEPI program. With the images of children killed in the bombing of Aleppo, Syria, still fresh in his mind, he recalled Michelangelo’s sculpture “Pieta,” depicting the grief of Jesus’ mother, Mary, at her son’s death. A Buddhist, Mr. McIntyre spoke of the need to open the inner dimension and awaken the heart of welcoming the divine.
Religious paradigms both ancient and modern inform the worldview of people in many walks of life, as evidenced by conference speakers in various sessions. Coming from the homeland of four world religions, Amb. Ashok Sajjanhar, a retired Indian diplomat, recited the ancient Hindu invocation “Om Shanti,” expressing the ageless desire that all beings may live in happiness and peace, free from illness and suffering.
The Arabic term Awneh (meaning “joining hands”) was offered by Mrs. Laudy Sleiman Sfeir, president of Call of Society in Lebanon, as a metaphor for how the 18 communal groups in her nation have been trying, with varying degrees of success, to maintain cohesion. Brig. Gen. Roberto P. Santiago from the Philippines described the vicious circles of conflict in his homeland and how the government has sought to build lasting peace by calling on people of faith to take the lead in setting aside past resentments and working for reconciliation.
“Religion is the tie that binds us back to the original relationship we had with God before the human fall,” said Archbishop George Stallings Jr., president of the American Clergy Leadership Conference. He quoted from the song “Imagine” by John Lennon, which speaks of the brotherhood of humanity and envisions a world of lasting peace if people learn to live with one another.
The final session featured a spirited discussion among three media professionals about transmitting values: Mr. Humphrey Hawksley, world affairs correspondent with the BBC in London; Mr. Thomas McDevitt, chairman of The Washington Times in the United States; and Mrs. Nancy Schultze, founder of Congressional Wives Speakers, also from the United States. The day closed with a banquet celebrating 25 years of publication by the Segye Ilbo newspaper in Seoul.
The following morning, participants headed for Cheongpyeong, a spiritual retreat center in the hills east of Seoul, for a celebration hosted by Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon and the marriage blessing of thousands of couples from around the world, a tangible expression of the expanding vision of the UPF founders of “one family under God.”
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