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UPF Commemorates UN Interfaith Harmony Week in Washington, DC

United States-2018-02-08-UPF Commemorates UN Interfaith Harmony Week in Washington, DC

Washington, DC—The Universal Peace Federation-USA’s Washington, DC, Office held its annual World Interfaith Harmony Week program on February 8, 2018, with cosponsor Cece Cole, president of Silke Endress magazine.

World Interfaith Harmony Week was first proposed at the UN General Assembly on September 23, 2010, by His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan, based on the pioneering work of the “Common Word” Initiative, encouraging faith leaders to engage in dialogue based on two common fundamental religious commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. It is commonly observed in the first week of February.

The Beech Room at the Washington Times offered a tasty lunch before Master of Ceremonies Zagery Oliver greeted the guests: “If we cooperate with one another beyond religion and focus on the one God we all share, we can come together in productive work.”

Rev. Janelle Johnson, vice chairman of the Human Rights Commission for Prince Georges County, Maryland, offered a prayer to begin the program. She also read a message from Ms. Coles, who was unable to attend, in which she said, “When I think of interfaith, I see a world where we all can be enlightened by sharing the various faiths and belief systems, and we can embrace humanity in this tremendous age of globalization. People of faith can join forces to bring about peace as well as preserve our individual religion and cultural identities.”

Mrs. Tomiko Duggan, director of the UPF-USA Washington office, spoke on the current state of international unrest: “We are all aware of the devastating and fearful terrorist attacks in our global community. We saw millions of men and women moved to the streets in protest against terrorism and other issues, to express their commitment to respecting human life. In these critical times I believe it is very important to hold gatherings like this.”

She highlighted the work of UPF’s founders, Dr. Sun Myung Moon and Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, who proposed a Religious Peace Council to be established within the system of the United Nations in 2000. “Nothing replaces understanding,” she added. “We need to know what really are the different religions and what they believe.” She encouraged the participants to support these kinds of initiatives and promote a greater understanding between religions.

The first speaker on the program was Rev. Joseph P. Deck, III, who directs the Institute of Radical Reconciliation at Reid Temple AME Church in Glenn Dale, Maryland. His program ministers to over 750 men guiding them in their life of faith. He used the story of the Good Samaritan to encapsulate ecumenism. A person who many thought unworthy was the only one moved to take care of a man fallen by the roadside. He even dipped into his own pocket to pay for the man’s care and lodging while other “worthy” religious people passed him by and did nothing. He quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. saying that Mahatma Gandhi as “the most Christian man he ever met.”

Reverend Deck also told of the woman who wanted Christ to heal her daughter, Jesus told her he didn’t come for her, but she persisted, saying, “Even dogs eat the crumbs off the table.” He told the group, “We all need to be persistent. We need to persist to come together beyond religions, crossing the threshold of division.”

Imam Qari Safiullah Shirzadi, an Islamic teacher from Afghanistan, helps new immigrants at the Mustapha Center in Maryland. He said that the Quran speaks of peace in many places, including in Chapter 13, where God states He will not bring change to a person’s or family’s life or even a community’s life, “until you fix yourself.”  He continued by saying that around the world people are losing their family members due to war and struggle. “God Almighty, created and sent us to do as He said,” he offered. “The best things for us to create peace are to do as God instructs us, not for any personal credit, position or advantage. He ended with prayerful words, “Lord, you are peace, make us live in peace.”

The next speaker was Rabbi Matthew Goldberg. He sang a song from Psalm 133, which he considers a Messianic psalm. “Judaism doesn’t try to convert you, that’s your business, but Judaism teaches that God says to listen!” he said. “How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in peace,” he quoted from another Psalm in the Bible, “regardless of religion,” he added. His presentation focused on song, teaching the participants how music enriches the religious and interfaith experience.

Leader of the Washington Buddhist Vihara Meditation Center, Bhante Mandawala Pannawahsa, said, “There is inner peace and outer peace; all is a problem of the ego. Inferiority and superiority is a complex problem; equality is free of judgement Hatred is only appeased by love, not by hatred being returned.” He added, “Help this country to develop, not just survive.”

He guided the audience in a simple meditation: “I’m breathing in, I’m breathing out. I am in the here and now, I know I am.” He reminded everyone that all spiritual teachers are familiar with meditation, including Jesus and Mohammad. He quoted the Islamic poet, Rumi, saying, “You are not a drop in the ocean; you are an entire ocean in one drop.” And from a Buddhist viewpoint, “There are no barriers between us, with other religions. Peace with me is peace with others.”

Dr. Edwin Hostetter, a professor of interfaith studies at George Washington University, spoke next. He highlighted three interfaith endeavors:

  • The Global United Religions Initiative. “It is UN-ish,” he said, “with sovereign nations appointing representatives.” It represents regions with cooperation circles, with at least three different religions participating. The initiative works in many areas that include the arts, community building, education, environment, health, interfaith concerns, media, and peace building, and more.
  • At the county level. Montgomery County has an interfaith network. The Faith Community Advisory Council works to deepen understanding, support and assist social justice, and reduce racism and bigotry. It has supported the public-school system with guidelines to support diversity.
  • At the local level. The Guru Goband Singh Foundation in Rockville, Maryland, run by the Sikh community, invites people to share in their “minds journeying to God.” He encouraged the group to “invite others to your unique programs,” to foster cooperation and understanding.

Tom McDevitt, chairman of the Washington Times and UPF-USA, is the newly appointed president of UPF International as well. He told the audience, “God has created a time for humans to work together. People of all faiths, all beliefs, need to come together now. We are a universal race.”

He then gave an overview of the work of UPF. He displayed a copy of the unique book, World Scripture, created to show the commonality among the world’s religions. Mr. McDevitt then introduced Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon’s recent efforts in creating the Interreligious Association for Peace and Development and the 2018 African Summit in Senegal. He especially noted her moving prayer for liberation at Goree Island, the last doorway from Africa for over two million slaves. He concluded that we should all acknowledge the pain and suffering of others and on that foundation we can move forward together toward building a peaceful world.

Ambassador for Peace appointments were given to Reverend Deck and Bhante Mandawala Pannawahsa by Mr. McDevitt and Susan Fefferman. This was followed by a toast to peace. A group photo made everyone laugh as they shifted to squeeze each participant together into the historical image.

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