First World Interfaith Harmony Week Commemorated by UPF Chapters

“Spread the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill,” urged UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship.” This was his call to people of faith on the World Interfaith Harmony Week, established by a UN General Assembly Resolution in October 2010.

H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan advocated for this annual celebration of World Interfaith Harmony Week the first week of February every year, “based on love of God and love of one’s neighbor, or on love of the good and love of one’s neighbor, each according to their own religious traditions or convictions.”

The Universal Peace Federation organized observances in 23 nations in 2011, notably in an International Leadership Conference in Seoul, Korea. The opening plenary on February 7 began with interfaith prayers from the Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Confucian, Shinto, Buddhist, and Sikh traditions. Each of the religious representatives shared a reading from their scripture, lit a candle, and offered a prayer for peace, while colorful banners and decorations proclaimed the vision of the week of interfaith harmony.

Interfaith conferences addressed barriers to cooperation and explored common grounds for cooperation. A Buddhist leader in Indonesia spoke about the importance of listing to others as a foundation for harmonious relations and a Hindu leader described the spirit of peace with the words “heart, humility, humanity, and harmony.” The Secretary of the Central Board of Muhammadiyah emphasized that interfaith dialogue and cooperation must be reflected in both words and deeds. The conference in Bienne, Switzerland, was conducted in both French and German by pairs of lecturers from the different regions of the nation, followed by prayers for peace. Interfaith conferences in Munich and Stuttgart, Germany included speeches, readings, and prayers by representatives of various faiths.

Some observances of World Interfaith Harmony Week were part of ongoing work for interfaith harmony and reconciliation. During the civil war that followed disputed presidential elections in Cote d’Ivoire, Muslim and Christian leaders met in Yamoussoukro and Grand Bassam to build better understanding between their communities and make plans to work together for peace and reconciliation. Referring to the bitter post-election violence of two years earlier, a Buddhist leader in Nairobi, Kenya, called out for people to reach out to each other in forgiveness.In Bangkok, the World Interfaith Harmony Week event was one of a series of consultations with government officials and leaders of key religious groups about a proposed Thailand Interfaith Peace Council. The council was inaugurated in September that year.

Special efforts were made to involve youth during programs in India, Russia, and St. Lucia. After lighting a “lamp of peace” and reading from various scriptures, students at St. Stephen’s College of Delhi University in India worked together to clean a litter-filled park. In Moscow, an interfaith youth round-table discussion resulted in proposals to advance mutual understanding and interconfessional dialogue. Youth from four religious groups in St. Lucia planned the Interfaith Harmony Week observance, which engaged students in discussing thought-provoking questions. Participants in the program in Kiev, Ukraine, expressed interest in involving young people in future programs.

Practical ways of people of faith to work together to end world hunger were the focus of a program in Pesaro, Italy. Honoring government workers who have been promoting interfaith activity was the focus of a gathering in Daliet el Carmel, Israel. Participants in a round-table discussion in Chisinau, Moldova, planned ways to cooperate in public projects.

Speakers from various religions took part in forums in Bridgetown, Barbados; Montreal and Ottawa, Canada; Almaty, Kazakhstan; and Honiara, Solomon Islands. Prayers and readings by representatives of different faiths were the highlights of gatherings in Tokyo, Japan; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg, Russia; Nitra, Slovakia; and Washington, DC.

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