JC LISA PALMIERI BILLIG ROMA
Religious leaders stress positive role of religions in creating a culture of peace
Some remarkable contributions from world religious leaders were heard at the UN General Assembly last week. Their statements served to remind international diplomatic representatives accredited at the UN of the moral, spiritual foundations and the common responsibilities of their work.
Two years ago, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution for the establishment of World Interfaith Harmony Week (1-7 February), thus paying tribute to the important contribution that interreligious dialogue can make to peace building.
On February 7, the President of the UNGA, H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser presided over a session organized by religious and other NGOs, entitled “Common Ground for the Common Good.” All the world’s major religions were represented.
Music, theater and art interspersed the speeches. Perhaps the most moving contribution was a performance under the direction of Mehr Mansuri of “The Children’s Theatre Company”, a group of very young youngsters of all colors and ethnic origins who presented “Peacemaker’s Quotes” and “One World” by Lory Lazarus.
The topics covered by speeches were “common ground”, “mediation of conflict”, “disaster prevention/response”, ”revitalization of the UN”, “sustainable development.” Fresh and harmonious perspectives were presented in a context of respect for diversity within a framework of unified purpose.
Speakers included various ambassadors, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See (the most Reverend Francis Assisi Chullikatt) and other internationally acclaimed representatives of the world’s major religions, of religious and interreligious NGOs, of UNESCO, the UN Alliance of Civilizations and several senior, international officers of “Religions for Peace”, the world’s largest multi-religious organization working in over 90 countries.
The RfP speakers – including present and past international co-presidents and high officials of the organization – represented six major global religions: Christianity (RfP Secretary General Dr. William Vendley); Islam (Prof. Dr. M. Din Syamsuddin, Chairman of the second largest Islamic organization in the world, Indonesia’s “Muhammadiyah”); Judaism (Rabbi David Rosen, the Jerusalem based International Director of Interreligious Affairs of AJC, the American Jewish Committee); Buddhism (the Venerable Chung Ohun Lee, founding Head Minister of Won Buddhism of Manahattan); Hinduism (Sri Radharamano Jayati); and an eminent Sikh leader (Bhai Saheb Mohinder Singh).
Despite acknowledged differences between the religious traditions, basic commonalities and unified visions were presented.
A repeated theme was the oneness and interdependence of the human race, unity in diversity. According to Buddhism, said Ven. Lee, “all religions and spirituality are based on a Common Source, all human beings and all forms of life are interconnected as One Extended Family…all things on the Earth are one… When you look at the person next to you, realize and understand that that person is you” (Buddhism ) The Sikh vision: “The whole of the human race is but one large family”; while Sri Radlharamano pointed out that “Hindus have never attempted to expand their borders militarily in the name of religion …Hinduism’s pride is that it celebrates diversity”; Dr. Din Syamsuddin recalled that Islam holds that “God made us into different nations and tribes so that we might come to enhance mutual understanding, mutual respect, and cooperation (the Quran, 49:13)”.
In the context of global unity, interreligious cooperation and partnerships between governments and religious communities with their separate but intercommunicating spheres, was generally seen as an antidote to the misuse of religion and its perversion into extremism and violence.
Secretary General Dr. William Vendley(Christianity) said “Today, no walls can be built high enough to protect ourselves from the needs of others…We are no safer than the most vulnerable among us.” He added that “religious bodies on the one hand and intergovernmental and governmental bodies on the other have different and quite distinct identities, mandates and capacities. Cooperation between them should respect these differences, even as it helps us all to build the peace for which our hearts hunger.”
Rabbi David Rosen (Jewish) stressed the need to give religious leaders roles in mediation for conflict resolutions. “Ignoring” religion, “as political leaders seeking a solution to conflicts have often done in the past” he said, ”encourages extremist elements to take center stage….If one does not want religion to be ‘part of the problem’, then one must empower the religiously responsible voices and ensure that ‘religion is part of the solution ‘ advancing a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect
He pointed to two significant examples of successful interreligious cooperation within Israel and between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
One is the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, the local constituent of Religions for peace, encompassing 70 interfaith organizations and institutions.
Second, “the Council of the Religious Institutions of the Holy Land” for the three Abrahamic faiths, facilitated by AJC among others and part of RfP’s regional council, is composed of the Ministry of Waqf/Religious Affairs of the Palestinian Authority and its sharia courts, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and the Patriarchates and Bishoprics of the Holy Land. Its three mandates are “to keep open avenues of communication between the Israeli and Palestinian institutional religious leadership, and to ‘trouble shoot’ where necessary; to collaborate in combatting all violence, incitement and disrespect against any one of the religions and their holy places;…to support efforts to bring about an end to the conflict….”
Actions include united stands against attacks on places of worship, and a current review of how Israeli and Palestinian textbooks portray the different religious communities, he said.
’’Most of us do not presume that religious leadership alone can bring a resolution to the conflict in our land. However we are convinced that the right engagement with such religious institutions and interfaith cooperation is critical…to overcome the wounds of the past, advancing collaboration and mutual respect between the communities that share the Holy Land….”
Last but not least, as the saying goes, we must include a plea for more active roles for women, launched by the only woman speaker in this group, the Rev. Chuch Ohen Lee.
“If we fully incorporate women’s gifts, utilizing half of the populations’ talents, we can transform the way we handle global affairs in solving the world’s problems. Women’s perspectives should be included in all levels of decision making including religion and interfaith dialogue” said the Buddhist leader.