World Interfaith Harmony Week Uplifts UN General Assembly

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A TIO Report – Rev. Deborah Moldow Posted on Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 02:54PM

A rare event took place in the UN General Assembly on February 7, 2012: religious and secular leaders from around the world gathered to affirm “Common Ground for the Common Good,” marking the close of the second annual World Interfaith Harmony Week (February 1-7).

The program was hosted by the President of the General Assembly, H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser. In his opening remarks, which followed the blowing of a conch shell and a flute by Taino indigenous Roberto Mukaro Borrero, he said, “We recognize and celebrate the values that are shared across religious traditions. These common principles form a common ground that unites us in our rich diversity.”

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro then noted that, “Only by finding common cause in mutual respect for shared spiritual and moral values can we hope for harmony among nations and peoples.”

The diverse religious voices began with H.E. Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikatt, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, who said that the Pope and Church leaders had repeatedly called on all believers to reject religiously-motivated violence. Other religious voices were Acharya Shri Shrivatsa Goswami of India, Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh of the U.K., Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of New York, Ven. Dr. Chung Ohun Lee of the Republic of Korea, Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith of California, and Rabbi David Rosen, who spoke movingly of the need to engage religious groups in making peace in the Holy Land.

Monica Willard, President of the Committee of Religious NGOs at the United Nations, stated that the purpose of the event, which honored GA Resolution A/RES/65/5 establishing World Interfaith Harmony Week, was to fill the General Assembly with love. Statements were offered by Philippe Kridelka of UNESCO and Marc Scheuer of the UN Alliance of Civilizations. Dr. William F. Vendley, Secretary General of Religions for Peace, spoke to the theme of the day, explaining that “multi-religious partnerships can yield real fruit in conflict resolution, the fight against disease and poverty and concern for our earth.”

Distinguished speakers highlighted the role of faith communities in conflict mediation, disaster prevention and response, revitalization of the United Nations, and sustaibnable development.

The program was also rich with cultural presentations. Music by the New York City Symphony Chamber Ensemble included the lovely strains of a harp. The Children’s Theater Company delighted the 1200 gathered with a performance of peace quotes by exuberant young actors, followed by the song, “One World.”

The event culminated in ceremony where representatives of eleven of the world’s religions were each invited to water the same tree, to the haunting soprano saxophone of Paul Winter. The speakers came to the stage for the closing of the ceremony and the concluding remarks of the President of the General Assembly, who stated that, “the fruits of religious dialogue and understanding offer the hope of a new era of peace for all humanity.”

As a grand finale, 20 brass players of the Salvation Army New York Staff Band came down the aisles to play “Joyful, Joyful.” Indeed.