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World Interfaith Harmony Week Observed in Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., United States - Representatives of five world religions attended a program honoring World Interfaith Harmony Week which was organized by UPF International and The Washington Times Foundation.

The luncheon meeting, which took place on February 19, 2015, in the Beech Room of The Washington Times building, was attended by 63 guests.

Mrs. Tomiko Duggan, director of public affairs, UPF International, welcomed the guests and thanked Mr. Thomas McDevitt, chairman of The Washington Times, for supporting this important program. She then introduced a short video about UPF.

Emcee Mrs. Susan Fefferman invited the five religious leaders representing Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam to participate in the Water of Life ceremony by pouring glasses of water into a common bowl, symbolically uniting the faiths of humankind into one common body in the hope for peace and happiness.

Rabbi Herzl Kranz was the first speaker. The rabbi established the first Orthodox Jewish congregation in suburban Washington, D.C., in 1967 and has been its rabbi for the past 46 years. He is an advocate for social justice and human rights issues and founded the Center for Economic and Social Justice.

Rabbi Kranz called UPF Founder Dr. Sun Myung Moon a remarkable man because he pursued peace. Aaron, the brother of Moses, was a similar figure because he pursued peace, Rabbi Kranz said. Through several stories Rabbi Kranz made the point: “If you want to know how religious a person is, see how he behaves toward his fellow man.”

He continued with another story, in which a great sage teaches how to love and respect others: “First, your affection toward others should be real, not feigned or fake. Two, always treat others with respect. Three, always seek the best for your fellow man. Four, join in their pain; show sincere feelings. Five, greet others with friendliness and warmth. Six, give others the benefit of the doubt; don’t impugn the other’s motivation. Seven, assist others physically, even in matters that aren’t very difficult. Eight, be ready to assist others with loans or moderate gifts, and nine, which I consider the most important, do not consider yourself better than others.”

The next speaker was Minister Amar Nath Gupta, a former diplomat and head priest of the Hindu Capital Temple, the largest Hindu temple in the capital area. He always begins his public talks by blowing a conch shell representing peace. Minister Gupta educates funeral homes about Hindu practices, and helps them keep the ashes of the deceased until their family can return to India to spread the ashes in the Ganges River. Minister Gupta has testified to the good works of Dr. and Mrs. Moon. He personally experienced healing of cancer at a Korean spiritual retreat associated with the UPF founders. He said that all people should be healthy by loving their neighbors and by practicing the yogic postures and breathing. He said he respects and honors all other religions and quoted from his sacred text several times.

Western Buddhist nun Gen Kelsang Varahi, a resident teacher at Vajrayogini Buddhist Center in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C., has been a close disciple of Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who gave her the title “Gen” in 2000, indicating that she is a senior teacher of the Kadampa school of Tibetan Buddhism. She quoted from Shanti Dava, a famous Indian saint, “May I become the protector of the protector-less.” This means “let me be responsible.”

Gen Kelsang Varahi said that the term “protector-less” includes not only the vulnerable and the victims but also the harmer, whose mind is controlled by negativity and hatred. Through the eyes of compassion we can see that the harmer is suffering just like the victim and we must try to help him too. Shanti Dava said, “May I be the light,” the inner light, thus developing wisdom to help others. We need compassion and wisdom working together to create peace; inner peace is essential to external peace, she concluded.

Pastor Ernest Patton, an advisor to UPF in the Washington, D.C., area, represented Christianity. He spoke about forgiving one’s enemy and mentioned how Dr. Moon went to North Korea at personal risk and embraced Chairman Kim Il Sung, who had held him captive in a death camp during the Korean War. Dr. Moon reconciled with his enemy as a brother, healing the rift within.

Dr. Zainab Chaudry is the Maryland outreach manager for the Council on American Islamic Relations and a board member of Interfaith Action for Human Rights. She is also a member of Salaam Shalom, an interfaith dialogue group for Muslim and Jewish women. She spoke about how difficult it is to not feel fearful toward Muslims with the violent images in the media. She said if she weren’t a Muslim herself, she would be fearful too. "We all have a responsibility to set the record straight on what religions really teach," she said.

Sixty percent of Americans have never had a conversation with a Muslim, Dr. Chaudry said. Their information about Muslims comes solely from the media, not from personal knowledge. “We all have a responsibility to bridge the divide and bring us all together,” she added. She left a career as a pharmacist to support interfaith efforts.

Islam” means “submit to God,” and “salaam” means “peace,” Dr. Chaudry said. Anyone who submits to God is a Muslim, she said. The God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam is the same, she added.

The next part of the program consisted of presentations by two members of the diplomatic corps: Ambassador Michael Moussa-Adamo from Gabon and Ambassador Winston Thompson from Fiji.

Ambassador Moussa-Adamo gave three points on how to work together for peace. First: to agree to disagree, meaning our differences should never cause us to hurt one another. Second, “we must sit down and reason together, break bread together and share about our families … our shared humanity.” And third, all people must dare to dream about peace and shared happiness. He cited the famous “Christmas truce” between German and British soldiers during World War I.

He added that investment in education is essential, especially for girls. “When women are educated, everyone benefits and peace follows.” He concluded with a quote from Sam Kutesa from Uganda, the current president of the UN General Assembly, given in observance of World Interfaith Harmony Week: “As intolerance, bigotry and hatred fuel conflicts, violence and extremism around the world, we need to strengthen our efforts to foster respect and understanding between cultures, religions, and ethnic groups. Every time we choose dialogue and reconciliation over confrontation, we take a step forward on our collective path to lasting peace.”

Ambassador Winston Thompson gave a short history of the struggle of Fiji to become a strong, democratic nation where different religions are respected by all. A former British colony, Fiji gained its independence in 1970. Starting in 1879 indentured Indians were brought into Fiji to work on plantations. Most of the Indians stayed, and the result was a divided nation with Indians and native Fijians struggling for supremacy. No blood was ever spilled, but only through the religious leaders coming together to discover how to heal the nation, a tri-religious group was produced which helped to create respect and understanding. Today Christians, Hindus and Muslims live and work together, making Fiji the “happiest country on earth.”

Ambassador Thompson and his wife, Queenie, have attended many UPF programs and both have been appointed Ambassadors for Peace. They will be leaving Washington in a few months, and they were happy to present certificates to four new Ambassadors for Peace: Ambassador Moussa-Adamo, Gen Kelsang Varahi, Dr. Zainab Chaudry, and Ven. Maung Shein from a Burmese monastery in Richmond, Virginia. Many photographs followed and a toast for peace concluded the program.

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