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World Interfaith Harmony Week Observed in Buenos Aires


Buenos Aires, Argentina - Once again, peace was affirmed in words and ratified with gestures in the special celebration of World Interfaith Harmony Week on the theme “To Establish Peace in Syria, the Middle East and the World” on Feb. 6, 2014 at the Embassy for Peace in Buenos Aires. There was a unification of intentions and invocations by representatives of different religious traditions: Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic and Christian (Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical), who watered an olive tree as a way to commit themselves “to life and peace” after offering prayer, meditations or chants.

Different feelings were blended during the event. It was painful to listen to some testimonies of the ugly and sad reality that happens in some places of the called “Holy Land.” In Syria there are more than 130,000 people dead, around 300,000 orphans, and 6,000 displaced people who lack food and access to water and health care. But love and fraternal affection prevailed in the greetings and embraces of the closing ceremony.

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Hope and commitment

“They are not just words, they are a hope (…) Latin America is an example (of coexistence), which (we hope) the world looks at as a hope,” said Mr. David Smith, director of the United Nations Information Centre of Argentina and Uruguay, when talking about the crisis suffered in different parts of the world; he noted the importance of interreligious dialogue in the resolution of conflicts. He was the first one to pour water onto a little tree placed at the center of the stage, a significant symbol of peace in the different confessions. After that, representatives from some of the sponsoring organizations spoke. Mr. Horacio Daboul, president of the Arab Cultural and Social League Association and director of other institutions, mentioned his commitment as a descendant of Syrians. He also talked about the challenge of holding an event at the beginning of the year, which shows us that there are many people who yearn for peace and are willing to set aside their comfort, egocentrism and prejudices. At the end, he invited the audience to join the campaign of humanitarian help for the people of the country torn by conflicts.

“Where there is peace, there is development,” expressed Mr. Juan Sarrafian, president of the Argentinean Federation of Collectives. “We are allowed to do what we want to do,” highlighted the president of a type of “mini UN of organizations from civil society” in our country, by cherishing the hospitality which was given to every group of immigrants that arrived to our nation. “In the communication realm, we must expect the most constructive input,” said Ms. Soledad Mayansky, coordinator of the Equilibrium Global Projects, since “today it is from the media where the negative stigma is fed to some social groups and to those who have different religions. We have to promote interreligious harmony so the spirit of social and citizen commitment prevails and fosters dialogue and tolerance,” she emphasized. “Dialogue among the religions is an additional and complementary ingredient of intercultural dialogue and a culture of peace,” affirmed the young woman of the organization that promotes multilateralism.

Mrs. Rosetta Conti, president of the Women’s Federation for World Peace-Argentina, highlighted the important role of women in maintaining peace. “We are always next to the one who suffers,” she said, remembering her participation in one of the many Middle East Peace Initiative pilgrimages. Mr. Martín Aldama of the Permanent Forum of Education, Science and Culture for Peace (FOPAZ) emphasized the need for the values of “strength, wisdom and patience,” particularly among the descendants of the “father of faith,” Abraham.

Other organizations that sponsored and supported the event were: the UNESCO Faculty of Education for Peace and International Understanding, the Educational Foundation for Peace, the Civil Association of Participative and Pacific Processes, the AMIA Jewish community center, the Association of Educators from Latin America and the Caribbean (AELAC) – Buenos Aires, the Argentinean Foundation to the Nations “Camino a la Verdad,” the “América Madre” international cultural institute, the Committee of Occupational Information, Social Economy and Decent Jobs, the Advisory Council of the Civil Society, the Rotary Club from Parque de los Patricios, the Program “Y volverán a ser árboles,” Home San José – International Peace Messengers, the Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Tourism and Services of Parque de los Patricios, and Dolores’ Municipality through its cultural delegate, the young poet Mario Cáceres.

A culture of brotherhood

Swami Pareshananda of the Ramakrishna Order in Argentina opened the program with an interfaith prayer. An extract of the autobiography of UPF founder Dr. Sun Myung Moon concerning true love, principles and the essence of the different spiritual traditions was read aloud. Master Zhi Han, founder of the Bodhiyana Foundation in Argentina, led the audience in a meditation to create positive energy, followed by Masters In Tse and Hui Xin.

The next speaker was Monsignor Crisóstomo Juan Gassali, the highest authority of the Argentinean branch of the Syrian Orthodox Church from Antioch, where Christianity began in the apostolic era, when Antioch was the capital of Syria. “Before saints, we have to be humans,” said Monsignor Gassali when pointing out the sad reality that Syria has been suffering for three years. After that, he prayed the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, the language of Jesus’ land. Father Mejitar of the Church San Gregorio El Iluminador, also from an Orthodox Christian tradition (Armenian Apostolic), mentioned the “wildness which has no limits” in the Middle East and offered a seventh-century prayer for the sake of peace in the region, in particular the Syrian civil war and the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Rabbi Arieh Sztokman, who has a broad interreligious ministry and works in different Jewish communities, among them the Adolfo Hirsch Old People’s Home in San Miguel in Buenos Aires Province, recounted the “apple anecdote” whose message is “We are equals on the inside.” Members of his community took part in the ceremony of watering the olive tree, and also the Sheikh Abdel Nabi Al Hafnawy of the Islamic Center of Argentina, who highlighted peace as “the base of everything” in his brief message representing their faith. Father Jordi, a priest of the San Antonio de Padua Sanctuary from the Cumbre Mundial de los Milagros’ Church, recited the Lord’s Prayer and emphasized brotherhood in overcoming conflict.

There was a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the Syrian civil war and other conflicts, as well as for the many firefighters who died in the Feb. 5 fire and collapse of a warehouse in the Barracas section of Buenos Aires. All the audience stood up to express their condolences to the relatives of the firefighters as well as their gratitude for such selfless acts.

The final part of the event was noteworthy for the greetings and fraternal embraces among the religious people and all the representatives, while the audience was invited to join the campaign of humanitarian help for Syria.

Translation: Ricardo Gómez

NOTE: UPF has convened or contributed to a number of civil-society forums on the crisis in Syria:

Vienna, Austria: All-Sides Consultation for a Political Solution to the Syrian Conflict, Mar. 8-9, 2014
Buenos Aires, Argentina: To Establish Peace in Syria, the Middle East and the World, Feb. 6, 2014
Geneva, Switzerland: Track 2 Consultation: Toward Peace and Reconciliation in Syria, Executive report of the consultation Jan. 25, 2014
Washington DC, USA: Women's Role in Syria's Transition and Reconciliation, Jan. 15, 2014
Vatican City: Pontifical Academy of Sciences Convenes  Consultation on Syria, Jan. 13, 2014
Jerusalem, Israel: The Crisis in Syria and Its Regional Impact, Oct. 16, 2013
Washington DC, USA: Peace Zones as Avenues for Stability in South Sudan, Syria, Colombia and Korea, Oct. 15, 2013
Amman, Jordan: Prospects for Dialogue and Reconciliation in Syria, Oct. 13, 2013
Vienna, Austria: Syrian Christians in Austria Torn Between Hope and Despair, Apr. 16, 2013
Jerusalem, Israel: The Impact of Syria and Egypt on Israel's Security Measures, Feb. 14, 2013
Washington DC, USA: The Tragedy and Hope for Syria, Sept. 26, 2012

See also: Interfaith Declaration on Peace in Syria, Oct. 13, 2013

Interfaith Harmony Week 2014 from Universal Peace Federation International

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