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Asia Pacific Religious Leaders Discuss Peacebuilding, Interfaith Cooperation at ILC2020

Asia Pacific—The Interreligious Association for Peace and Development (IAPD) hosted Session Four of the ILC2020—Asia Pacific, which was held on September 11, 2020, under the theme, “The 75th Anniversary of the UN: The Role of Religious Leaders.” Ten distinguished speakers shared their perspectives on their roles to promote peacebuilding and interfaith cooperation across both national borders and religious traditions.

Acharya Dr. Shrivatsa Goswami, head priest of the Sri Radharamana Temple, India, and chairman of the IAPD-Asia Pacific, gave the welcome remarks. He said that the biggest challenge faced by this global pandemic is the fear that comes along with it. He underscored that COVID-19 has taught us that in human affairs, divisions and isolation do not work, and that this is all the more reason humanity should unite.  He said that the world is one human family and as family members we need to talk rather than fight with each other, and emphasized more cooperation between government and civil society. He said that this joint effort must be interreligious in nature as advocated by the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, co-founder of UPF.

Rev. Hyun-young Lee, president of the Korea Religious Association, chairman of the IAPD-Asia and senior vice-chairman of the Korean Clergy Leadership Conference (KCLC), also gave the welcome remarks. He quoted Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, co-founder of UPF, who said that, regulations and barriers at a time like this makes us unable to create hope for the future. He said that Dr. Moon has underscored that this time of crisis should be thought of as a time to build up strength and spirituality for the future. Rev. Lee emphasized that religious believers need to strengthen their spirituality and march into the future by teaching the world about the principle of living for the sake of others, as taught by the late Rev. Moon. He said that the great law of human development lies not in the survival of the fittest through competition, but rather in altruism.

Dr. Tong Yun Kai, president of the Hong Kong Confucian Academy, China, who dedicated his life to promoting the teachings of Confucianism, shared his insights on its relevance in solving the current crisis. He said that benevolence, faithfulness, compassion and harmony can be fundamental to building a harmonious world, as one of the biggest challenges today is the diminishing moral consciousness and the chaotic behavior of humanity. He said benevolence and kind-heartedness should be our primary motive for our actions and conduct. This is the practice of putting ourselves in the place of others. He said that this is the key to better citizenry; economic stability; a better government with no corruption; a better moral standard in business, economics, finance; and all other areas. He ended by saying that if every group applies the rule of seeking consensus while accepting differences, we can live together in harmony.

Prof. Dr. Nasaruddin Umar is the grand imam of Istiqlal Grand Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia; a renowned Muslim scholar; and founder of the Indonesian interfaith organization Masyarakat Dialog antar Umat Beragama (Community for Interfaith Dialogue). He pointed out several factors during this time of the pandemic that indicate religiosity is rising and that there is a misconception of religious rhetoric. This demonstrates the urgent need of religious and spiritual leaders to appropriately inform people of the new policies by translating messages about these policies in such a way that it can be understood by the people, while also correcting people’s understanding of religious rhetoric and logic in dealing with the pandemic. Therefore, it is vital that they master the language and expressions of their own religion with great understanding to be able to translate the messages into language that can help people transition to the “new normal.”

Prof. Umar concluded by saying that authorities, at any level, must work together with religious and spiritual leaders to be able to guarantee the success of any new policy.

Rt. Rev Yoshinobu Miyake, chair of the board of the International Shinto Studies Association, Japan, and director general of the Kansai U.N. Association, started his speech by looking at the 75-year history of the United Nations since its founding in 1945. He analyzed the theme of the conference, interdependence, mutual prosperity and universal values, from three perspectives: international-political, economic-social and religious-cultural. His analysis concluded that interdependence and mutual prosperity cannot exist without human-to-human ties, and that the UN could not have been established and sustained without nation-to-nation ties. “Therefore,” he said, “religious leaders must proactively speak about interdependence, mutual prosperity and universal values, regardless of their nationality or religion, in order to show people opportunity and hope in times of global crisis.”  He added that for those whose universal values, such as human rights and freedoms, are hindered by the state, they must commit to addressing that situation even more thoroughly.

Ven. Ho Myung, general secretary of the Taego Buddhist Order, Korea, began his speech by remembering the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon as a religious leader whose life should be the role model for all religious leaders around the world. Ven. Myung said that human beings have the capacity for selflessness and can be awakened to the true truth of religion only when they practice it. He said that it is saddening that a lot of conflicts around the world are caused by religion when the role of religion is to help people overcome their selfishness and widen their narrow perception. He stressed that religious believers need to be the first to understand other religions and set an example by uniting as one. They need to teach people how to resolve conflicts and show them the value of codependence. “When we believe in each other and work together” can we overcome this pandemic crisis.

He concluded by saying that for the efforts of the UN to foster world peace to be successful, the spiritual wisdom and support of religious believers are absolutely necessary. He called on the religious believers of Asia to be the first to work together in solidarity and make it possible for religion to play a role of helping to lead the UN.

Pastor Stephen Kim, co-chair of the Korean Clergy Leadership Conference, Korea, also commended the great works of Dr. Moon’s life which have contributed to religious life and peace. Pastor Kim said that the essence of our religious life is to reach out to the world to give hope and strength, and bring peace back into our lives, even during the pandemic. He stressed that although our natural human instincts might want us to go back to where we were before COVID-19, we can’t go back to the past. In this pandemic, religious leaders must give new hope to mankind, set an example of peace and take on the challenge to face a new world. He said that prayers, courage and religious peace is needed now more than ever before.

Rev. Jenny Chalmers, vicar of St. Andrew’s Taupō and vicar general of the Diocese of Waiapu, New Zealand, said that the spiritual cannot be divorced from the physical. Our spirituality will depend on whether we develop it or let it lie dormant. She spoke about past terrorist acts and killings that resulted from religious wars and extremism. She said that if COVID-19 and the recent Christchurch mosque shootings have taught us anything, “it [is] that we are interrelated, that we depend on each other for everything, even life itself.”

She concluded by underscoring the importance of the role of religious leaders to practice what they preach and that it is time for the UN to recognize and acknowledge the importance of the spiritual in our world. 

Samdech Khy Sovanratana, acting president of Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University, Cambodia, emphasized the important role of religious leaders in guiding people regardless of their religious background or race. They know the heart of their followers and people, and their followers regard them as second parents. Samdech Sovanratana also said that since religious leaders play a central role in gathering their followers to help any objective or goal they have to be equipped with the wisdom of and expertise in their religion and other religions, and speak benevolently to avoid religious conflict and discrimination. He said that through UPF’s programs religious leaders can have more opportunities to work together towards this.

Dr. Tageldin Hamad is the vice president of UPF International and international coordinator of the IAPD, director of UPF’s Office of UN and International Relations, and the chairman of the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (WANGO). He underlined the importance of the culture of living for the sake of others, and said that interreligious dialogue works if we see each other as partners and collaborators, not as competitors; therefore, the IAPD is needed now more than ever before. “While nations are racing to find a vaccine, we need to help them find love, which is the ultimate vaccine,” Dr. Hamad said. “By connecting and working together, can we overcome COVID-19. The wisdom of religions is needed in all multilateral institutions,” he remarked as he commended the initiatives of Dr. and Mrs. Moon, co-founders of UPF.

Mrs. Ursula McLackland, secretary general of UPF-Asia Pacific, was the moderator of the session.

To go back to the executive summary for the Asia Pacific ILC, click here.

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