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

SEEING THE WORLD THROUGH WAITANGI: Reflections on Building Bridges

3rd Asia-Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue
Waitangi, New Zealand (May 29 - 31, 2007)


by Marites Guingona-Africa

The Peacemakers' Circle URI CC Philippines

I was privileged to be part of the Philippine delegation that was among the 150 delegates representing the diversity of religions and cultures in 15 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. We gathered together in Waitangi, New Zealand from May 29 to 31, 2007 to “Build Bridges” of interfaith understanding and cooperation in our parts of the world. Being the third in the region, the conference built on the commitments from the 1st Asia-Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue Conference in Yogyakarta , Indonesia in December 2004 and the 2nd Conference in Cebu , Philippines in March 2006.

At the conference, New Zealand Prime Minister, Rt. Hon Helen Clark, acknowledged the rich diversity in our region “where all the world’s major religions are represented,” and called on “responsible nations and people of good will to build bridges across the divides of our societies." Her call was echoed by the other nation leaders who expressed hope that despite our differences in culture and beliefs, we, in Asia and the Pacific, will be able to create “greater mutual understanding and respect for each other” and “deeper interfaith ties within the region towards building a culture of peace.” This is a “shared journey that demonstrates the diversity and openness of our societies,” it was said. The role of regional dialogue in connecting religious leaders and faiths across the region was deemed of great importance, and building bridges at all levels of society was called for.

The resulting Waitangi Declaration recommended that faith leaders and governments establish and facilitate faith and interfaith points of contact at the local and national levels; that there be further exchanges between people (e.g. youth, students, teachers, religious leaders, academics) of different faiths, within and between countries, and at the grassroots communal levels; and that faith groups and civil society develop partnerships with each other and with governments to work for social and economic justice, minority empowerment and reconciliation among conflicting groups within society.

The sense that something big and awe-inspiring is happening in our midst heightened my awareness of the significance of the URI. I spoke of the URI before the plenary during the first day of the conference as I responded to the talk of Dr. Zainal Abidin Bagir of Indonesia on the challenges and opportunities of Interfaith Action for Peace and Security.

This 3rd Asia-Pacific Regional Interfaith Conference in Waitangi had me experiencing, for the second time in my life, the sense of awe at seeing the world the way I envisioned the world to be, the realization of the kindom of God here on earth. The first time I had that experience was in 1999 at the URI Summit in Stanford University in California where two hundred people from diverse religions, spiritual expressions, and indigenous traditions gathered together in the spirit of mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation to articulate their hopes, dreams and aspirations for the world in the United Religions Initiative Charter! I feel blessed to have borne witness to two momentous occasions in history!

On the third and last day of the conference, we, the 150 delegates, came up with a plan of action focusing mainly on three areas of concern: Building bridges, Education (with emphasis on the strengthening of intra-faith dialogue); and the role of Media.

As I listened to the various articulations of our highest hopes, dreams and aspirations, and bore witness to the gentle workings of the human spirit in seeking wholeness for itself and oneness in our midst, I could not help but realize that, truly, we are at the threshold of something big and awe-inspiring happening in the world!

Back home, as I reflect on the Waitangi experience, I am filled with hope and joy knowing that there is a growing awareness in our midst of the need to cross the great divides in our parts of the world and to collaborate with one another. But I also realize that the best action plan that I could take in this direction is that of disarming the heart and speaking the language of the heart so that all of us may come together to that "safe space," that "sacred ground" of our common humanity, and together we can bring forth the triumph of our human spirit!

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.