United for a Culture of Peace

From left: Cecile Meijer, rscj and Katinka Vanderbauwhede, carrying the flag of the Netherlands and Belgium, respectively. Photo by Janet Egyhazi.

Who does not want peace? Peace at home and in the world? Advancing global peace and security is one of the main goals of the United Nations, and interreligious dialogue has increasingly been recognized as a critical tool to reach such peace. In a historic resolution of 20 October 2010, the General Assembly proclaimed the first week of February of each year as World Interfaith Harmony Week, recognizing that “the moral imperatives of all religions, convictions and beliefs call for peace, tolerance and mutual understanding.”

The theme of this year’s celebration of World Interfaith Harmony Week was United for a Culture of Peace through Interfaith Harmony and took place in the General Assembly Hall on Thursday February 14, 2013. Around 1,400 persons attended the celebration. Among them were 24 students and faculty members from three Sacred Heart Schools. Enjoy the following reflections which capture so aptly what this day at the UN meant for some of our Sacred Heart participants.

NGO Office, March 2013

How appropriate that the conference was being held on Valentine’s Day, which celebrates love and togetherness. We experienced the conference from the floor of the General Assembly, the same place where delegates of the United Nations negotiate and discuss how to bring together the 193 countries of the world. The most memorable moment of the conference for me was the prayer service, when different religions, from Jainism to Christianity, from Buddhism to Islam, all prayed for peace and unity for the world.

                                                                                                                                CeCe, student in Bryn Mawr

I absolutely loved going to the UN conference, and I was so honored to be a part of it. In terms of the speeches, I enjoyed especially the one given by Ambassador T. Hamid Al-Bayati from Iraq who spoke about growing up in a multi-faith household, and also the speech by Ms. Kiran Bali, the Indian lady who talked about women's roles in interfaith anti-violence initiatives. In the last speech Dr. Patrick Ho spoke about the importance of proper social conduct: treating others with respect, care, and compassion. His speech has also stayed with me.

The international peace prayers were lovely. I liked especially the one given by the Muslim Imam. His peace prayer, while specific to his culture, seemed so universal in its theme of global peace and happiness. He spoke of how "every baby comes into the world crying in the same language" (paraphrased), and I think that this describes perfectly the universality of all human emotions and experience. I think this idea, that as humans we all go through the same emotions, was a central theme of the entire conference: We are fundamentally similar and should thus accept each other and the various religions of the world.

The flag ceremony was one of the most touching ceremonies I have ever experienced. It made the act of praying for peace and interfaith understanding very literal, tangible, and also interactive. An entire hall full of distinguished people shouted "May peace be in Afghanistan! May peace be in Albania!" all the way through the alphabet. I loved it! And, it was doubly special as our teacher Ms.Vanderbauwhede took part in it, representing Belgium! The rest of my classmates and I were so proud to see our teacher representing her country. The experience has broadened my view of the world.

Lily, student in New York City

During the flag ceremony I originally thought it would be crazy to pray for peace in each and every country but the ceremony was beautiful. All of us prayed together, "May peace be in ..."

The experience was an eye-opening one. Our world today is so used to violence, war and bloodshed that this movement for peace between all countries was enlightening. The day was more rewarding than I ever imagined, and I felt honored to be a part of the movement for peace and unity between religions and cultures worldwide.

Christine, student in Bryn Mawr

After listening to all of the passionate and admirable speakers, one notion really stuck with me: when attempting to grasp the most resounding characteristic of all of the followers of the amazing variety of faiths, one thing comes to mind - hope. I believe that religion is a medium through which people exercise their common need to be hopeful - hopeful of a better day for themselves, for their communities, and for the world at large; hopeful for good health and prosperity; hopeful for peace. One of the speakers, Ms. Kiran Bali, uttered a very powerful call: “Diversity does not have to divide. We must nurture the flame of unity.” We are united in our hope for a more peaceful tomorrow. If religion is meant to bring us peace then there should be peaceful dialogue to solve international and interfaith issues, which is exactly the purpose of the UN’s Interfaith Harmony Conference. The speakers emphasized that it doesn’t matter if a religion has the greatest number of followers in a region; there is no justifiable reason to denounce any other faith or to provoke conflict in the name of religion. The one resource that is globally abundant is hope, and that must be respected. No one person is more entitled to be hopeful than the next - this is the common ground we must all cherish and treasure. In fact, we have a responsibility to one another to ensure that peoples’ hopefulness, regardless of their faith and religious affiliation, does not go unanswered. Let us all fill this world with love as God, no matter what name you use as a reference, intended it. To quote Sai Baba, “There is only one religion: the religion of love.” 

Kanishka, student in New York City

What a treat to be part of this conference and be in communion with so many faiths and religions! When I was listening to the very inspiring speakers, I thought: "the vast majority of the population would love to be here because we are all striving to be at peace with others! But who hears us? How could we be more vocal? More heard? As usual the violent minorities are the ones to whom the media are paying attention. How can we change this? Was this event on television? Reported in the news? In newspapers? We need to change the view of the media so that they show more about what is good, peaceful, full of hope in our world. Not only violence.

The Symphony of Peace prayers was very powerful, with its mix of cultural outfits, of languages, of cultures.  I felt as if I was a part of one big Heart beating in the world!

Anne Hoppenot, teacher in Princeton