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Interfaith Harmony Week Commemorated in Washington DC

Washington, DC, USA - Commemorating World Interfaith Harmony Week, UPF-DC held a dinner for distinguished speakers at The Washington Times Beech Room on February 16 entitled: “Common Ground for the Common Good.” Nearly 100 guests from the diplomatic, NGO, religious, and civic communities listened in rapt attention to four distinguished speakers. Mrs. Tomiko Duggan, Director of the UPF Office of Embassy Relations, introduced the video of current UPF programs and then thanked Mr. Larry Moffitt, Vice-President of The Washington Times Foundation, for being the MC for the evening. He then invited Mr. Thomas McDevitt, president of The Washington Times, to greet the audience.

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Mr. McDevitt commended the work of UPF to bring peace to this world. He said that The Washington Times will turn 30 years old this May. It began at the height of the Cold War and at that time was the only alternative voice to the Washington Post. It is more than just a newspaper, he said, and its meeting rooms offer a space for the “marketplace of ideas” to develop. It is uniquely driven by the vision of its founder, Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon, “whose exceptional teachings will take at least a century to fully appreciate.” He envisions a free and self-governing, moral media to protect and preserve our God-given human rights and lead the fight against moral decline, ultimately becoming the conscience of society. The company is based on five core values: (1) faith – respecting all faiths; (2) family – healthy families are the bedrock of society; (3) freedom – freedom of speech, conscience, and of course religion – all accompanied by responsibility; (4), service – to customers and the nation but also promoting service to others; and (5), engagement – in all forms of media: print, web, video, radio, and television. He concluded by inviting the audience to visit, a new website that gathers content from across a broad field.

The Ven. Dr. Thanat Inthisan, from the Wat Thai Temple (Theraveda Buddhist) of Washington, DC, is a well-traveled teacher of meditation. He shared the teachings of the Buddha about the way to peace being not only through prayer and ritual but also as a result of people’s harmony with their fellow human beings and the environment. “Peace cannot exist without tolerance,” he said. The Buddha also taught that “no enemy can harm one as much as one’s own thoughts of craving and jealousy.” He pointed out that Buddhism never harmed another religion in its efforts to spread its teachings. Conversion, to a Buddhist, is to convert from evil to good by treating everyone and everything with the utmost kindness. “And if you cannot do any good for another, at least do no harm.” Buddhism respects all religions as long as they promote the well being of all creatures. Conversion to a moral life is the goal. “The greatest miracle is to convert a bad person to being a good one,” he concluded.

Rev. Mark Farr, an Episcopal priest originally from Wimbledon, England, has more than 25 years’ experience in political and public service in the United States and the United Kingdom and is president of the consulting group Public Engagement Strategies. He began by expressing his admiration for the work of The Washington Times. He offered three challenges for interfaith work. First, if we want to find common ground that is not superficial, we need to go beyond our own and other’s slogans. Second, if we focus on the bigger picture, our differences become smaller. “Can you get beyond the one you know, to get to something bigger?” Third, the dividing line is not between faiths but it is between those who are religiously tolerant while holding onto their own faith and those who are not tolerant of other faiths.  If the tolerant group gets larger, then the world will become better. “If you found the answer, you missed it,” he said. “The most important thing is curiosity, exploration into one’s own faith and others. If you have questions, you’re doing OK. Be on that journey and never come to an end,” he advised.

Mr. John Pinna, Director of Government and International Relations for the American Islamic Congress, has spent 14 years working in government relations; he focuses on advocacy, education, and engagement. He shared his realization that his own faith is not homogeneous, but diverse. He said he first sought to look within his own religious community and learn about its divergent views and beliefs to gain tools for looking out to interfaith dialogue. He is a Shi’a Ismaili. His family came from northern Afghanistan. Many people don’t think he is a Muslim, with the Pinna surname, which actually means “fin of a fish,” or a feather. He stated that he is “a New Yorker and an Afghan-American Muslim.” He continues to visit numerous mosques and other religious gatherings in an effort to understand each group as an advocate for American Muslims. He said that by looking inward and discovering how to dialogue with Muslims from different philosophical, ethnic, and national groups and by establishing relationships through understanding and trust, his efforts at interfaith dialogue have gained real legitimacy. “We have a responsibility to engage our own communities,” he said. From this he could gain insight into how to reach out to non-Muslims and find common ground. He challenged the group to “continuously broaden your view of your own community… find out what are the sexy issues in your own faith,” he urged. He believes this will promote genuine interfaith dialogue.

Dr. Joseph Montville, Senior Associate of Merrimack College’s Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations, is a retired US State Department Foreign Service Officer who coined the term “Track Two Diplomacy,” which is useful in today’s struggling international relations. Track two is where governments use non-political individuals to represent them in dialogue. He also founded and directs an organization called “The Abrahamic Reunion,” which grew out of his foreign service assignments.

He said that as he looked at the program for the evening he realized that there was no Jewish representation, so although he is a Roman Catholic, he decided that he would take the role of “Jew” for the evening. He quoted several texts of the Hebrew Prophets to show their orientation toward the ‘Golden Rule,’ which was embraced fully by Jesus and the Prophet of Islam, Mohammed. He noted that Jesus and most Hebrew Prophets are praised in the Qur’an. He added that through his study of the three religions he found that the Hebrew Prophets were the primary teachers of this idea to all three religions. He read from a book by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Heal a Fractured World. Rabbi Sacks uses Isaiah to make the point: Learn to do good, seek justice, aid the oppressed, uphold the rights of the orphan, and defend the cause of the widow.” The question for society is how to live with adequate economic profit for life while taking care of the ‘least among us?’ He answers that question with three Hebrew words: tzedaka which is charity and justice together because it is God that owns things. Thus, “those with more should give to those who have less.” In this way the Israelites were to create a society that dignified life and worth for all. Chesed is a word meaning kindness and love of others, where the society and the individual pledges to help others. The third term is darchei shalom, “the ways of peace” which takes the love and kindness to others to a universal application: “For the sake of peace, the poor of the heathens should not be prevented from gleaning the fields as the poor of Israel do” (Babylonian Talmud) ….”sick visited, dead buried as the dead of Israel are buried.”

He stated that, “Regardless of your religious or faith tradition you will recognize these fundamental orientations toward the value of the other – the other in the image of God - the basic dignity of every creature. God did not create any human being to be hated.” He added that in Islam the Qur’an goes further in extending protection to all of God’s creation including plants and animals.

He concluded with a description of his new position within the new School of Conflict Resolution and Analysis at George Mason University in Virginia. He is the Director of a project called “Healing of Historical Memory.” It takes our shared ethical and moral values back to the harsh realities that we all have inherited: a world fraught with conflict and violence. He said that “unacknowledged hurts and unmourned losses and a sense that some portion of the population is less valued in the eyes of God need to be dealt with so that the society can be emotionally and psychologically healthy.” As a political psychologist he sees a convergence of the diplomatic world and the psychological world. He continued, “While we embrace these values, a lot of hard work needs to be done. We need to examine our own country where we have hurt others, hurt our own, and hurt others outside of our country. To acknowledge the hurt we inflicted on others and ask forgiveness and show contrition is essential to a healthy world.” He concluded with the idea behind his project, that healing the historical memory is an attempt to do the hard work of coming to terms with the history of fear, anger, and resentments of tribes and nations interacting with each other and causing hurt or being hurt. “There is a need to reestablish guidelines in the way nations relate to each other, like the Hebrew Prophets tried to teach us. I guess this is what brought us together in this gathering,” he concluded.

A beautiful song entitled “My Dream” was sung by staff members Nanae Goto, Otmar Weinmann, and Miwako Lindsey.

The Water of Life Ceremony symbolized the waters of life flowing from streams to the wide ocean where all become one. Nine participants representing the world’s religions each read a quote from their religious founder and poured out their water, mixing it into a common bowl representing the unity and harmony of religions in the true spirit of interfaith.

The final phase of the program was the Ambassador for Peace appointment. This appointment recognizes those individuals whose lives exemplify the ideal of living for the sake of others and who dedicate themselves to practice and promote universal moral values. It is not an award but an appointment to encourage even greater works with the support of the Ambassador for Peace global network. Ven. Dr. Thanat Inthisan and Dr. Joseph Montville were both appointed Ambassadors for Peace.

The audience included the ambassadors from Trinidad and Tobago, Albania, Suriname, Rwanda, Uzbekistan, Montenegro, and Ghana, the wife of the Gambian ambassador, and other diplomats from 14 embassies. Mrs. Tomiko Duggan, Director of the UPF-DC office, thanked everyone for coming and bid them a safe journey home.

Reported by Susan Fefferman

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