On May 6, 2016, the UN General Assembly held a High-level Conversation on Religions for Peace. Although I didn’t attend the event personally, the website of the Holy See Mission to the United Nations made clear to me that I had missed an interesting event. In particular, I was drawn to the statement by Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, during a panel discussion entitled Interfaith harmony: Promoting inter-religious dialogue and tolerance as well as a culture of peace.
In his statement, the Permanent Observer elaborates on six principle which Pope Francis has stressed frequently in order to achieve interfaith harmony and a culture of peace. I can only quote the principles here but encourage anyone who is interested in reading the entire statement, to click here.
“A total and unconditional rejection of violence in the name of religion.”
“Violence and terrorism must not be identified with any specific religion, race, nationality or culture.”
“Education in respect for the inviolable dignity of every human person and his or her inalienable rights.”
“The ceaseless pursuit of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, even more so in the midst of religious persecution, religious intolerance, interfaith tensions and societal strive.”In this part of his intervention, Archbishop Auza quotes Pope Francis who said to a delegation of the Royal Institute of Interfaith Studies of Amman, Jordan:
“Dialogue is going out of ourselves, with a word, to hear the word of the other. The two words meet, two thoughts meet. It is the first step of a journey. Following this meeting of the word, hearts meet and begin a dialogue of friendship, which ends with holding hands. Word, hearts, hands. It’s simple! A little child knows how to do it …”
“The eradication of the causes of violent extremism” such as social alienation and exclusion, poverty and chronic unemployment.
“A harmonious society is never a result of a once-and-for-all effort, but rather is consolidated through thousands of daily actions that are the building blocks of just and peaceful societies.”
Closing his statement with a reference to the visit by Pope Francis on 25 September 2016 to the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City, the Archbishop said:
“Now more than ever before, Pope Francis challenges us to turn places of hatred and conflict into places of healing and reconciliation, places of death and destruction into places of new life and new beginnings, leading to a society where a culture of peace and harmonious co-existence becomes a concrete way of life, the norm rather than an exception.”
Putting interreligious dialogue in action, our RSCJ sisters in Bandung, Indonesia, celebrated Interfaith Harmony Week 2016 in a creative way befitting any group of peacemakers and peacebuilders. Their report follows below.
Cecile Meijer, rscj
Interfaith Prayer for Peace
With our world in such turmoil, what can we do? What can people of all faiths – or no faith – do together? Talking often leads to disharmony. Let’s try something else. PRAY! We all do it. We all want peace. During the UN‟s World Interfaith Harmony Week, we RSCJ (Religieuses du Sacrė Cœur de Jesus) in Indonesia decided to invite people of any faith or none to pray for peace together. A simple idea that caught fire! The Religious Studies Department of UIN (Universitas Islam Negeri) heard about the simple plan and asked to co-sponsor it. Young people from a 15 year old interfaith network, JAKATARUB pitched in as staff and widened our reach and perspective.
At least 750 people trooped in during the day at half hour intervals beginning at 9 am. Participants maintained a prayerful atmosphere, even the many middle schoolers who had trekked over to our house by foot. The 30 minute program was simple; each person picked the name of a country to pray for, picked a card on which they wrote their action for peace, watched a video of victims of war while listening to hymns for peace from seven religions. Then followed some moments of silent prayer. They, then our „ambassadors‟ of peace, filed out quietly returning the card of their future action for peace. Each one left with a box of traditional snacks.
The combinations of pray-ers reflected Indonesia’s diversity. Old and young (mostly young) men and women, clerics and lay, seminarians and santris (persons who have studied or are studying in a Pesantren – Islamic boarding school), people with special needs and most with ordinary ones. University students from Muslim and Catholic Universities. Staff members from the Borromeus Hospital prayed simultaneously with special children from a Muslim school named Nur Abadi. The Catholic Bishop of Bandung arrived at the same time as high echelon men and women from UIN, several Hindu gentlemen, and Ursuline sister novices. This distinguished group prayed with a middle school delegation.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin in our own hearts!
RSCJ in Indonesia