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Tokyo Forum on Peace in the Middle East through Harmony among Religions

Tokyo, Japan - “Towards peace in the Middle East through harmonizing and cooperation among religions” was a topic of the Feb. 21, 2014 assembly of Ambassadors of Peace in Tokyo, organized by the UPF Japan with some 50 Ambassadors for Peace and young people attending.

Commemorating the United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week which falls in the first week of February, the assembly was opened with words of prayer by a Buddhist monk and a Christian pastor.

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The participants listened to a report on the Middle East Peace Initiative program organized last December in Israel and Palestine from Mr. Yoshihiro Yamazaki, a senior researcher of the Institute for Peace Policies. Based on his years of experiences in the Middle East, he said that religions nurture human conscience and spirituality as well as strengthen ties among families and communities, while religious factors are apt to be involved in the conflicts of that region.

Shocked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the USA and the prospects of a so-called "clash of civilizations," quite a few American religious leaders responded to the proposal for a Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI) by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the UPF. Together with people of other walks of life, they marched through the Old City of Jerusalem, offering prayers for peace and organizing forums for discussion and study. There have been more than 40 such programs.

Mr. Yamazaki touched upon Syria's civil war, now considered to be the worst humanitarian disaster of this century. While even the UN faces serious predicaments in addressing the crisis, the UPF has initiated consultations with a view to applying the MEPI formula in the Syrian civil strife.

Thus, the UPF convened the first consultation last October in Jordan, followed by another in Israel with politicians and religious figures attending in December. When a major international conference on the Syrian crisis, namely 'Geneva 2,' was convened late January by the UN, USA and Russia, the UPF concurrently sponsored a conference at the UN headquarters in Geneva to discuss religious and spiritual aspects of the crisis.

Mr. Yamazaki explained: "It has become obvious that the conflicts in the world are no longer settled by the conventional political, economic or military powers, or 'hard power' alone. At the same time, the so-called 'soft powers' such as cultures and values which were effective in ending the Cold War are not functioning in the Syrian strife. Through the MEPI model, Rev. Moon advocated the merits of 'true love power' which can be adopted in international politics as well as human relations. Its significance and validity are being felt in facing the devastating crisis in Syria."

The December program was accompanied by a Religious Youth Service project in Israel and Palestine. One of its participants, Mrs. Tomiko Duggan, public affairs director for UPF in Washington DC, shared her experiences.

Initially advocated by Rev. Moon at the Assembly of World Religions in 1985, the Religious Youth Service program was developed to cultivate in youth the capacities and leadership abilities for peacebuilding through service activities that bring together people of diverse nationalities and religious affiliations based on the principle of living for the sake of others. The first program was carried out in the Philippines; it then expanded to Africa, Europe, Eurasia, Asia and the Americas, with 227 projects of varying scales carried out to date.

The recent project was joined by a total of 41 young people from 14 countries. They were engaged in service activities, heard briefings from both Jewish and Palestinian experts and visited some holy sites of the three monotheistic religions.

One of the four Japanese participants, Miss Kanae Horiuchi, reflected her experience: "[Through the MEPI experience] I could think about religious issues as my own, contemplating how religions may be harmonized." She expressed her wish to contribute to world peace by bridging racial and cultural gaps.

Mrs. Duggan gave a briefing on the program to officials of the US State Department at its request. She also reported about her experience at a Religious Youth Service project in Albania that included orphanage visits, tree plantings and school beautification work. In Washington DC, she conducted an Religious Youth Service program with the participation of some international students, who were briefed by government officials about global affairs and the need for interreligious cooperation.

Interfaith Harmony Week 2014 from Universal Peace Federation International

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