UNITED RELIGIONS INITIATIVE Southeast Asia & the Pacific Regional E-Newsletter


An inspirational message from REV. CANON CHARLES P. GIBBS (Executive Director, URI)
March 10, 2007 - URI MI Manila

Dear Friends,

Greetings of love and peace at the end of a long and extraordinarily full day from Manila!

I don’t have the energy to share everything I’d like, but I do want to offer a few highlights from the day.

First, URI is blessed with extraordinary leaders, and some of them are here for this workshop.

Today we heard from our host team from the Peacemakers Circle of the Phils. Their growth from a small & easily ignored grassroots group into a national resource working in partnership with many organizations, including the Office of the Presidential Advisor to the Peace Process, is inspiring & presents a compelling model of how URI’s grassroots work can develop into a significant force, making valued contributions on a national level & beyond.

Their pioneering work in Christian - Muslim dialogue is being extended into four communities in Metro Manila and may be a cornerstone of an imagined summer peace institute at the University of the Philippines.

In spite of their success, and requests for partnerships, funding remains elusive. Work that is clearly seen as being of tremendous value, with frequent requests that the Peacemakers Circle expand its efforts, is not deemed worthy of funding by many obvious funding sources. We spent sometime brainstorming possible funding sources, but finally were left standing in a prayer circle offering our intentions that this great and valuable work will attract the funding it needs to survive and thrive; and that its sacrificial leaders are rewarded in ways that allow them to survive and thrive.

We spent a considerable amount of time today on listening, beginning with a one question appreciative interview in pairs – people were asked to share the story of how they had come to understand the purpose of their life, and to share how their religion – through a teaching, a sacred text, a mentor – had inspired that understanding. The conversations were animated and led to comments like these:
- I felt like I’ve known my partner all my life.
- We were talking from different books and different languages, but we share the same understanding.
- If we emphasize dogma, we will be divided, but if we talk about service, we will be united.

We also spent some time exploring the importance of creativity in peacebuilding work. Herm Weaver offered the following guiding principles from a musical project he did as part of his doctoral work:
…to be guided by internal rather than external standard
…to be honest
…to be simple
…to make space for the listener to participate
…creating music that grew out of our hearts as much as our heads
…committed to a flexible timeframe
…committed to having fun

Our reflections on these points led the Uganda team to reflect that a key challenge they face these days is a conflict between an internal standard of restorative justice and the external practice represented by the International Criminal Court.

They proceeded to describe their own internal restorative justice system – matopput (drinking the bitter root). In this practice, each party acknowledges what they have done wrong and asks for forgiveness. Then, with hands behind their backs to show that they are through fighting, they drink together out of a calabash of an herbal drink as a sign that they will forgive and be forgiven, and will move forward positively.

The Acholi leaders now have hired lawyers to document the process of matopput so that it might become acceptable to the ICC and open a way past the current stalemate in their peace efforts.

We also heard from the Peacemakers Circle that commitment to staying true to their internal standards has made it a challenge to attract funding, since so many funders have a rigorous set of external standards that would draw them away from what they feel is the most essential work to be done and the best way to do that work.

And so we have worked our way through a Saturday filled with new insights, laughter and tears here in Manila; through a day that has made me more deeply aware of how precious is the unique community we are creating, of the extraordinary value and potential of our work, and of the deep challenges we face individually and together.

May we all be blessed in our work for peace, justice and healing.

(For more articles from the Exec. Dir. please click here: http://www.uri.org/Features/Features_Main/ )

URI Statement on the Crisis in the Middle East

(Approved by the Standing Committee on behalf of the Global Council of
the United Religions Initiative)

As trustees of the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative, we write to urge an immediate and complete ceasefire of violence that is currently happening in the Middle East, and a commitment by all parties, including the international community and the world's religions, to find the will to complete, implement and invest in a comprehensive peace agreement that will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

We write as leaders of the URI, a global interfaith organization active in 70 countries, through the work of 400 member Cooperation Circles. URI's purpose is to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings. We have many members in the Middle East, including Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians and Egyptians. The URI has consultative status at the UN through ECOSOC.

As leaders of an interfaith organization dedicated to resolving conflict without resorting to violence, we recognize and laud the heroic work of Palestinians, Israelis and peace advocates all over the world who are dedicated to rising above the violence and working for peace, justice and healing.

We believe that a new day is possible when a comprehensive, just peace will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

We call on all involved - Israelis and Palestinians, people of other nations, international bodies, religions, and grassroots groups working heroically for peace - to take the following steps to speed the dawning of that day:

* To stop the violence immediately.

* To supply immediate humanitarian aid to address urgent suffering and long-term aid to rebuild.

* To commit to negotiate, invest in and implement a comprehensive peace agreement that will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

* To invest in every means possible to weave a fabric of genuine, mutually honoring community among Palestinians and Israelis at the grassroots level.

* To invest less in armaments and more in social and economic infrastructure.

We commit to do all we are able, beginning with support for URI member Cooperation Circles in Israel and Palestine, and engaging our members around the world to help these steps be fulfilled.

And we commit to pray and meditate that violence will cease, peace prevail and a life of hope be restored to the long-suffering people of this region.

URI Global Youth CC Statement on the current situation in Gaza.

We, the members of the Global Youth Cooperation Circle of the United Religions Initiative, wish to express our concern at the current situation in Gaza. Conflict creates hardship and fear for people on both sides and takes its toll on civilians, both young and old, and the livelihood of communities and economies.

As a youth network we sympathise with our fellows, the young people who are caught up in the crisis, in both Gaza and in the Israeli communities that live in fear of rocket attacks. Young people are the future of any community and we feel that they should not have to live amidst a cycle of violence and hardship. In order for young people to make meaningful and healthy contributions to society, it is imperative that they grow and develop within a space of security and integrity.

We are also concerned about those who are vulnerable in these times, such as the elderly and the sick. They need access to medical resources and clean, safe environments. In times of crisis these people suffer the most because basic facilities are less accessible.

They also need to live without the fear created by constant attacks. This situation is robbing people on both sides of basic human rights that are theirs by international law.

We implore both sides to pursue the path of peace and reconciliation and reduce hostilities so that aid and supplies can reach the people of Gaza to alleviate their suffering and so the Israeli people can live without fear. It is our hope that both sides can cooperate in order to achieve a lasting peace and quality of life for all people. Our goal, as members of a global interfaith community, is to achieve this all over the world.