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Interfaith Cooperation for Peace in Taiwan

Taipei, Taiwan - In connection with the “World Interfaith Harmony Week,” the first week of February, UPF-Taiwan held a seminar entitled “Interfaith Cooperation for Peace: Theory and Practice” on January 22.

We invited four speakers: a Christian scholar, Dr. Liang, Jane Weijen, Religious Studies Project Assistant Professor at Cheng-Kung University; a Buddhist scholar, Dr. Yo, Hsiang-Chou, Associate Professor at Fo-Guang University, Executive Board member of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, and Executive Council member of the World Fellowship of Buddhists; Mr. Her, Rey-Sheng, Spokesperson and Director of the Human Development Department of the Tzu Chi Foundation; and Mr. Hsiao, Chia-Chen, Secretary general of the Taiwan Conference on Religion and Peace.

The seminar began with inviting the Vice President of UPF-Taiwan Mr. Chen, TuWo-Huan to deliver a short introductory speech. The moderator for this seminar was Dr. Chou, Tan-Hei, President of the Professors World Peace Academy in the Republic of China.

The first speaker, Dr. Liang, gave her presentation on interreligious issues based on a Christian perspective. She mentioned that religion is the core of all values, and the characterization of the pursuit of truth. It is inevitable that conflicts will be encountered among people of different faiths; the struggles between Christianity and Islam have lasted for thousands of years, and historically Buddhism also experienced a long period of war. However, in the 20th century especially after the 9/11 incident, people started to change and pay more attention to the concept of coexistence among people of many faiths. Dr. Liang concluded that issues such as war and peace, freedom and equality, ecology, environment, economy, religion, women's rights, maternal and fetal rights, child welfare, and human rights can be solved from the perspective of interreligious cooperation.

Dr. Yo, Hsiang-Chou gave a very a clear explanation about eight effective modes for interreligious cooperation. These include mystical experiences, love and social charity, human rights regarding observances of holy days and labor rights issue, promoting virtue and a global ethic, social justice, ecology, aesthetics and arts, and ultimate concern for human life. Thus, both speakers elaborated theories of interfaith cooperation from Christian and Buddhist perspectives.

Going beyond theories of interfaith cooperation, Mr. Her, Rey-Sheng described successful practices in his presentation on the efforts of Tzu Chi volunteers in Mainland China, Indonesia, Philippines, North Korea, Jordan, South Africa, and elsewhere. They have become known worldwide for their rapid mobilization of volunteers to disaster areas, where they offer relief to victims, help the poor, distribute supplies and food, build apartments for resettlement, and clean up the environment. Although most of Tzu Chi volunteers are Buddhists, they offer support to everyone regardless of differences in religion. Their work includes building churches and mosques so people in disaster areas have a place of worship. Many who receive help become Tzu Chi volunteers without changing their own religious background. They inherit their charitable spirit and continue to help others. With such altruistic action, Tzu Chi has created a model of interreligious cooperation that upholds the common spirit and value within all religions.

Taiwan has no interreligious conflict, and people of all religions peacefully relate with one another. This might be due to the nature of oriental religions, which are based on ethics and philosophy instead of theology. However, sometimes a lack of understanding leads to rumors that cause serious misunderstandings.

Mr. Hsiao, Chia-Chen shared about the founder of the Taiwan Conference on Religion and Peace, Father Poulet Mathis, a Catholic priest who visited the major religions in Taiwan and invited religious leaders to come together to form this association. It started with the four major religions and gradually increased to include 13 religions. They offer "Religion and Peace Living Camps," which include religious, cultural, educational, and social activities that promote interreligious understanding and cooperation. These have been held almost every year, and different religions or religious institutions have taken turns organizing them: Catholicism, Buddhism, Tientism, Huafan Buddhist University, Fu Jen Catholic University, IKuan-Tao, and Unification Church. This program has been well received by youth from different faiths, since they can learn about and understand different religions through a three-day overnight camp program with a different theme each year. He hopes that more religions can become involved in organizing these activities for the sake of putting the religious philosophy of love and peace into substantial practice.

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