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UPF Celebrates World Interfaith Harmony Week in 23 Nations

With the motto of "Love of God and Love of the Neighbor" / "Love of the Good and Love of the Neighbor," UPF and its network of Ambassadors for Peace celebrated UN World Interfaith Harmony Week 2014. Programs took place at UN offices, UPF peace embassies and a variety of places of worship.

See below for an overview of activities. For detailed reports click here.

Overview of events

Buenos Aires, Argentina - “To Establish Peace in Syria, the Middle East and the World” was the theme of a program at the Peace Embassy. There was a unification of intentions and invocations by representatives of different religious traditions: Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic and Christian (Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical). They poured water onto an olive tree as a way to commit themselves “to life and peace” after offering prayers, meditations and chants. A variety of emotions were blended during the event. Love and fraternal affection prevailed in the greetings and embraces of the closing ceremony.

Sydney, Australia - Dr. Julian Droogan from the Macquarie University International Security Studies Program reported about his experiences at the Dec. 19-22, 2013 UPF conference in Jerusalem and his opinion about the role that religion can play in contributing to peace and stability. He said that religion has often been seen as part of the problem, and for this reason attempts at conflict resolution in places such as Palestine have been largely secular in approach. He believes that transnational interfaith organizations such as UPF can make an important and unique contribution to solving conflicts.

Vienna, Austria - The Vienna International Center (UN headquarters) hosted a conference on the theme of the “Role of Religions in Promoting a Culture of Peace.” Speakers included religious representatives, academics, journalists and leaders of NGOs. They addressed a variety of questions, including: Can academic studies contribute to religious dialogue? Do members of a religious group play key roles in society? A lot of research had been done in the background, which helped to create new religious identities. As alternative forms of religion have come into existence, a rethinking of the role of religion has started in general.

Dhaka, Bangladesh - The Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue of the Department of World Religions and Culture of the University of Dhaka organized an interreligious harmony rally on the university campus. The rally was inaugurated by the vice chancellor of the university. Speakers represented Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. This is the first Muslim university to have a Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, and it was founded based on the inspiration that a professor gained from Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s teachings.

São Paulo, Brazil – A program at the São Paulo Municipal Chamber included speakers from UPF, the interfaith Paulist Movement for Peace, Hinduism, Buddhism and two religions with African and indigenous origins. Each participant read a passage from their respective holy scriptures and then shared insights about the core values of a culture of peace. These messages helped the audience understand that the teachings of the different religions have most of the core values in common and thus could cooperate to build a better world.

Montreal, Canada – Ambassadors for Peace gathered to offer prayers and read from the sacred scriptures of different faiths. Representatives of the Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist and Unification traditions poured water into a common bowl symbolizing their commitment to a common cause. The evening concluded with reflections on the scriptures that were read.

Bogota, Colombia – Interfaith leaders made visits to various religious communities beginning with a program at the Brahma Kumaris headquarters that included meditations led by representatives of various religions. The schedule during the week included visits to a mosque, a Hindu temple, the Interfaith Dialogue Office of the Catholic Bishops Conference, and the Zen Buddhist Temple, with a closing event at the UPF Peace Embassy.

Prague, Czech Republic – Fifty people from different denominations came to an interreligious conference at the Community of Christians, which was organized by UPF-Czech Republic together with the Christian Community, the Association for Interreligious Dialogue and the Society of the Christians and Jews. Dr. Juraj Lajda, secretary general of UPF-Czech Republic, called for interfaith dialogue to be integrated into peacebuilding processes and described the proposal for an interfaith council at the UN.

Quito, Ecuador - Interfaith leaders gathered at the Peace Embassy to exchange views about ways to cooperate to establish a peaceful world based on the practices of each religion. Participants included religious leaders from the Catholic, Evangelical and Episcopal churches and from Hinduism.

Stuttgart, Germany - The UPF community center hosted a program that included music, an explanation of the vision behind the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week, and commentaries by representatives of various religions on the theme of “Love of God and love of your neighbor.” A Buddhist read the following prayer:

May all beings be happy,
May all beings be free from suffering,
May all beings cultivate true happiness,
May all beings practice equanimity and dwell in peace.

New Delhi, India - Dr. Karan Singh, President of the Indian Cultural Council for Cultural Relations and Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University, spoke to an overflow crowd at a program at the United Nations Information Centre in New Delhi. He encouraged everyone, and especially religious leaders, to have an “open mind and heart” towards other faith traditions and reminded people that throughout history “people have been tortured and massacred in the name of religion” because some religions tried to monopolize God. “Truth is one,” he continued, “but there are many paths to the divine.” Another speaker, UPF President Dr. Thomas G. Walsh, said that “people are rethinking the role that religion occupies in modern society both individually and in global geopolitics,” and referred to proposals for an interreligious council at the UN.

Medan, Indonesia - Thirty people from various walks of life, including educators, business and youth leaders, gathered at the UPF center to express their commitment to preserve interreligious harmony and cooperation in this multi-religious and multi-cultural nation. Youth delighted the audience with their rendition of Michael Jackson’s song “Heal the World” at UPF’s first World Interfaith Harmony Week program in this part of Indonesia. 

Kfar Kana, Israel - The Jerusalem Interfaith Forum for Peace, a project of UPF-Israel, held a forum t a church in the Galilee village of Kfar Kana. Twenty-five people, including religious leaders, academics and peace activists, gathered to discuss the topic: "Sensitivity to the suffering of others." Dr. Emil Shoufani, a Christian priest in Nazareth, reported about his project of organizing Jewish-Arab delegations to visit Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp where millions of Jews died. He quoted Jesus’ words: "You should love your neighbor as you love yourself" and said that it was very challenging, but “listening to the other side and trying to understand their feelings” was the key to the delegation’s success. Father Shoufani also emphasized the need to touch the core of "life or death" situations, since these are the places of deep fear and pain. The forum closed with reports about Muslim and Jewish parents who donated the organs of children who died in order to give new life to someone of the other faith.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Ambassadors for Peace, religious leaders and representatives of NGOs gathered at the Peace Embassy. After offering invocations, representatives of various religions took part in an interfaith water ceremony representing sharing the wisdom, knowledge and commitment of their respective religious and faith traditions. This was followed by two speeches, one about rebuilding the family and the other about respect and dialogue as necessary ingredients for interfaith harmony.

Auckland, New Zealand - UPF invited leaders of diverse faith communities to the Peace Embassy to share readings from their holy scriptures on the theme of interfaith harmony. Then Ambassadors for Peace invited UPF organizers and other Ambassadors for Peace to make a courtesy call to their places of worship. At each place, an Ambassador for Peace welcomed the delegation, introduced their spiritual leaders and elders, and gave an overview of their teaching and a brief history of their local activities. These visits to a mosque, Hindu temple, and Buddhist temple helped people understand each other more deeply.

Abuja, Nigeria – A special assembly at the Peace Embassy focused on innovative approaches to promoting interreligious harmony for the sake of national unity in Nigeria. Islamic and Christian educators and leaders discussed the recent religious conflicts in Nigeria and structures for promoting interreligious cooperation and harmony. Dr. Raphael Ogar Oko, secretary general of UPF-Nigeria, introduced UPF’s peace principles and the vision of one family under God. He proposed interreligious education in schools, a National Assembly Committee on Interreligious Affairs and a Federal Ministry for Interreligious Affairs. In addition, he described his vision for a National Interreligious Worship Center that all religious groups in the country can use. “Through such facilities, we can understand each other well and grow beyond a focus on what divides us,” he said. The event was covered by national news media.

Oslo, Norway – The central mosque hosted a program that began with a candlelight ceremony by religious leaders and included words of greetings by ambassadors and representatives of civil society. Leaders from many organizations and religions, including from Iraq, Iran and the Israeli embassy, participated in the event on the theme of peace in Syria and the Middle East. Eight religious leaders lit a candle for peace, followed by reading a short text from their own tradition. The religions represented included Buddhism, Shia and Sunni Islam, Catholic and Protestant Christianity, Sikhism, Hinduism and Sufi. The secretary general of Religions for Peace and the director of the Norwegian Peace Council spoke.

Manila, Philippines – A program at the Peace Embassy was opened with prayers from many traditions (African Traditional Religion, Native American, Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Jainism, Judaism, Islam, Shinto, Sikhism, Sufism and Zoroastrianism) read by Ambassadors for Peace and bishops of Christian groups in the Philippines.

Russia - Conferences, seminars, and visits to places of worship of various faiths took place in Moscow, Novosibirsk, St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.

London, UK – Youth UPF-UK organized a program at the House of Lords that included music and presentations on interfaith harmony from the perspectives of young adults of different faiths. A Muslim youth emphasized youth involvement in interfaith dialogue because young people socialize with others all over the world and can become vulnerable to extremism and prejudice. “Young people must work hard to cultivate the concept of peaceful coexistence…. We can achieve a lot in empowering young people and building interfaith harmony in our communities." A baroness urged the youth to persevere in working for interfaith harmony, speaking even to those who don't want to listen. Several people reported about the lasting impact of their experiences during the December UPF conference and Religious Youth Service project in Jerusalem.

United Nations Headquarters, New York – A World Interfaith Harmony Week celebration at the Trusteeship Council Chamber had the theme "A Vital Key for Peace and Development." UPF submitted photos of all of the UPF-related World Interfaith Harmony Week activities worldwide in 2012 and 2013, and they were shown to the audience during the meeting.

Washington DC, USA - Diplomats, civil society leaders and NGO representatives attended a program.

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