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

EMBRACING DIVERSITY with Dr. Judy Banu (Catholic from the Philippines)

This is an interview section with practitioners of interfaith dialogue. In this issue, we feature Dr. Judy T. Banu, DVM, RN, a Folk-Catholic from Manila, Philippines. She is a former board member of The Peacemakers’ Circle CC.

TCC: What is your faith tradition?

Judy: I was raised in a traditional Catholic family. Going to other churches was considered taboo. But later on, questions kept cropping up. These questions weren’t easy to answer so the SEARCH for answers began. I got involved in different spiritual groups and tried visiting other churchewhen friends invited me. However, I did this without having to convert to another faith.

Later on, I became an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher and met and made lasting friendships with people of different faiths and nationalities. The journey brought me back to my own faith.

Now, I have a deeper appreciation and understanding of Catholicism as I realized that while no single dogma is perfect, it could be a guide to perfection. What matters most is what is in a person’s heart and the effort he/she exerts to achieve perfection.

TCC: What are your experiences in interfaith dialogue?

Judy: Even before becoming a member of The Peacemakers’ Circle I believe I was already involved in interfaith dialogue. This would happen during my English class when my students would ask me about my religion. Instead of avoiding the question I would try to answer them in an informative and sensitive way, taking care not to offend anyone and controlling my emotions whenever I receive offensive comments from anyone.

It was also during my life as a full-time English teacher when I met the members of Shinji Shumei Kai (a Japanese spiritual organization). It was a Shumei friend, Yoshiyuki, who brought me to The Peacemakers’ Circle Interfaith Dialogue Center. At the first encounter I immediately liked what I saw and I resonated instantly with its activities. It was then that I found a name for what I have been doing all along—“interfaith dialogue”.

At one point, we had a Jordanian and a Moslem who lived with my family for two years. Mealtime was a leisurely experience then as we usually share the richness of our faith traditions without disagreement or debate and always in the spirit of learning and understanding.

TCC: How has interfaith dialogue enriched you?

Judy: Interfaith dialogue has not only enlarged my world, but it also extended my family. Furthermore, It has helped me answer many, if not all, of the questions that has bothered me about my own faith. It has made me a more accepting and more understanding person. It has made me a better listener and has taught me restraint and sensitivity. I would not be what I am today without the love and support of my interfaith family.

TCC: What teachings from your faith enabled you to appreciate interfaith dialogue?

Judy: I would quote my favorite passages from the Christian scriptures: “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brother-- that you do unto me.”

Another one is: “There will come a time when man will no longer worship in the temple but in spirit.”

TCC: What personal message would you like to share to the readers?

Judy: It is natural to fear what we do not know. But our weapon against ignorance is knowledge. We acquire knowledge through learning. And we learn by keeping an open mind and heart. Others may think that the wars will not end, and that peace can never be achieved.

But I say that understanding ourselves and being at peace with ourselves and our God would eventually help us understand and make peace with others.

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.