Celebrating World Interfaith Harmony Week in DC
Written by Tomiko Duggan, Director, UPF Office of Embassy Relations, Washington DC USA
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Washington, DC, USA - The UPF-DC Office organized an interfaith luncheon program under the theme of the “Interfaith Cooperation and Universal Peace” on February 24. The program was co-sponsored by The Washington Times Foundation and held in the Beech Room of The Washington Times building. It was held in support of the “World Interfaith Harmony Week” initiated by King of Abdullah II of Jordan and adopted by a United Nations resolution in October 2010.
Over 80 guests including ambassadors and deputy chiefs of mission from 18 embassies, religious and civic leaders, and Ambassadors for Peace attended the program.
The following were guest speakers who shared their perspectives and insight about the importance of their faith traditions in building a culture of peace:
- H.E. Dr. Hussein Hassouna, Ambassador and Chief Representative, the League of Arab States to the United States
- Hon. Rev. Walter Fauntroy, Civil rights and human rights activist and a pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church in DC; he served in the U.S. Congress from 1971 to 1990.
- Pastor S. Matthew Goldberg, Pastor of the Maryland Family Unification Church; he offered perspective and insight into the spiritual and cultural heritage of Jewish faith traditions.
- Minister Amar Nath Gupta, former Indian diplomat; he worked personally with Mahatma Gandhi and is head priest of the Rajdhani Mandir (Capitol Hindu Temple), the largest Hindu temple in the Washington DC area.
- Ven. Cang Kim, President of the Cambodian Buddhist Association of Richmond; he assisted refugees from Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, and Laos.
Tomiko Duggan, Director of Public Affairs of UPF-DC Office, began the program with greetings and presentation of the video shown at the International Leadership Conference in Korea used to introduce the vision and activities carried out by the 12 organizational regions of UPF around the world.
Mr. Thomas McDevitt, President of The Washington Times, greeted the audience and asked friends of the Times to watch a re-launch on March 21 with a printing of a new metro and sport sections. He also introduced the radio station programming on America’s Morning Week. One our program’s featured speakers, H.E. Dr. Hussein Hassouna, an Egyptian and the Chief Representative of the Arab Union, was interviewed for that radio program to discuss the recent development in Arab nations after the most recent dramatic revolutionary events in Egypt.
Mr. Otmar Weinmann sang “Imagine,” and the UPF-DC staff member Mrs. Nanae Goto sang “The Prayer,” which received a standing ovation.
Our first speaker, Minister Amar Nath Gupta, began by blowing a conch shell to invite holy spirits to reach out to the heart of guests and offered a prayer in Hindi. He said that “Hindu” is a way of life. God is the origin of life. Peace must come from heart, mind and soul. Peace cannot be achieved by weapons. Even though you have all material goods, peace does not necessarily come to your heart. Peace can be achieved only though act of love. People in this world were not meant to suffer. People need to protect and serve each other.
Venerable Cang Kim came to the program with four fellow Buddhist monks. He emphasized the need to practice Buddha’s highest blessing, which is to keep our brothers and sisters from suffering through serving with hearts of generosity and kindness. Respect for all religions and the work of all religious leaders is necessary for achieving lasting peace.
Pastor Matthew Goldberg spoke about Jewish faith traditions. Jewish religious culture was shaped by the long history of the bondage of slavery, wandering in the wilderness, and the experience of being strangers in a strange land relying only on God for survival. Jewish tradition emphasizes a care for strangers, repentance, forgiveness for the ignorance of God’s will, and seeking of God’s eternal light.
Hon. Rev. Walter Fauntroy said interfaith cooperation is “inter-relating” and being “inter-dependent.” Peace is the most important goal in today’s world. He believes President Barack Obama has an important role in fulfilling the United States’ founding principle all men are created equal under God - beyond race, cultural differences, and social boundaries. This is a responsibility to the world. Religious leaders should not be thermostats measuring what people think and feel but thermometers setting the temperature. They have to testify to the truth and lead. “Truth, love and courage” are necessary in acquiring the essentials of human life: economic access for income to afford housing; education to earn money and have a reasonable life; health care for general well being; and justice that avoids anger, resentment, and the resort to violence.
He called on spiritual leaders to act according to Mother Teresa’s words:
People are often unreasonable, illogical and selfish - Love them anyway.
If you do good, you can be accused for selfish motivation - Do good anyhow.
Goodness you do today will be forgotten tomorrow - Do Good anyway.
Your sincerity and honesty will hurt you - Be sincere and honest anyway.
Your help is truly needed, but people attack you when you help - Help them anyhow.
You give to the world your best and they break your teeth - Give the world your best anyway.
All of this is not between you and them, but between us and God.
The last speaker was H.E. Dr. Hussein Haussona, Ambassador and Chief Representative of the League of Arab States to the United States. He identified himself not as a spiritual leader, imam, or reverend but as a diplomat and an Egyptian who believes in the importance of interreligious dialogue. As such, he thanked UPF for its peace initiatives in the Middle East region.
He referred to several Arab peace initiatives to create peace in the Middle East. There is the call for the creation of a Palestinian state and the Arab recognition of Israel through Israel’s withdrawal from settlements and return to its 1967 borders. In 2008, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called for an interfaith dialogue for the sake of creating a culture of peace and moderation. And there was King Abdullah II of Jordan’s peace initiative for the first week of February to be “Interfaith Harmony Week” that was adopted by the UN General Assembly last year.
Dr. Haussona said that he is a Muslim and was raised by devout Muslim parents, but that he was educated in a Jesuit school and has many Jewish friends. He stated that true Muslims are characterized by moderation, tolerance, and openness; they seek peace and accept different religions.
Dr. Haussona commented on the recent popular uprising in the Arab world. During the last few weeks, everybody observed the revolutions sweeping the Arab region and saw Arab peoples looking for change, greater freedom, and democracy. This is not any different from what has been occurring in other regions of the world, from what happened in East Europe and Latin America. The Arab world has been changing and developing for the better; but there remains a great need for better educational and economic opportunities.
The 18 days of demonstrations changed Egypt. Egyptians are proud that the revolution happened without bloodshed and how people made human chains to voluntarily protect national treasures in museums. Egyptians do not need another country to inform them about what changes need to be accomplished. The necessary changes must come within Egypt, but there is the need for economic assistance and help to rebuild the country, and a lot of prayer for bringing about a better society.
To conclude the Interfaith Luncheon Program, a "Water of Life” was conducted as a symbol of cooperation among all faith communities. Twelve people were asked to the stage to read words from the five major religions and from seven spiritual leaders. They poured water into a large vase just as all rivers flow from high to low and eventually into the oceans, and as the oceans provide a resource of life for all.
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