UNITED RELIGIONS INITIATIVE Southeast Asia & the Pacific Regional E-Newsletter
Vol. II No. 3 (Jul - Aug - Sept 2007)

Sr.Sandra G. Clemente, RSCJ

Shakuntala M. Vaswani

URI SEAsia-Pacific Regional Office & The Peacemakers' Circle

Rev. Charles P. Gibbs
Dr. Shakun Vaswani
Ms. Marites Africa
Ms. Belinda Espiritu
Swami Guhabhaktananda
Mr. Ludwig Bon Quirog
Mr. Orlan de Guzman, Jr
Mr. Abel Moya
Ms. Jessiee Kaur-Singh
Ms. Sharon Vaswani

Celebrating UN International Day of Peace through Sacred Songs and Dances

As the conference hall started to be filled with the flags of the different religious symbols and display banners from different faiths, the presentation area also started to be filled with musical instruments. On one side a drum set, electric guitars and amplifiers were positioned; on the other side gongs, drums and bamboos were laid on the floor. Little by little, group by group, people started to fill the chairs. As the early arrivals took their seats, videos on the United Religions Initiative (URI) were shown.

More and more colors filled the hall. They were colors of diversity. Dressed in street clothes, school uniforms, habits, hijabs, orange and white robes, kimonos, ethnic beads, batik, turbans and what not— they were representatives, members, peace advocates, religious and lay, teachers, and a big number of youths and students coming from different faith groups, schools, NGO’s, and spiritual organizations who came to join the URI Southeast Asia-Pacific Regional Office, The Peacemakers’ Circle Foundation, Inc. (PCFI) and the interfaith community in celebrating the International Day of Peace 2007 with “SACRED SONGS OF PEACE” on September 21, 2007 at the Miriam College Environmental Studies Institute in Quezon City, Metro Manila... (to read full article click here: http://uriseapnewsletter.blogspot.com/2008/01/peacemakers-circle-cc-in-manila.html)


by Sr. Sandra G. Clemente, RSCJ - URI SE Asia-Pacific Regional Trustee

Dearly beloved co-workers of the URI,

All over the world, we celebrate September 21 as the International Day of Peace— a day when everyone supposedly promotes and becomes more aware of PEACE. But what have we seen in the weeks after that date this year?

- Buddhist monks from Burma were gunned down, hundreds died while protesting in the streets…
- Pakistan government declared a state of emergency
- In other parts of the world, bombings, and killings here and there occurred everyday as if it is just an ordinary happening.

After watching news on TV, reading the daily newspaper, and witnessing all these violence happening all over the world, one reaches a point of saturation-- a feeling of numbness. Sometimes we loose touch, we loose our drive to respond or protest, or to just even care about the situation. We just go on with our daily routines, as if nothing has happened.

Just looking at this phenomenon, I am very alarmed, especially for our youth who had been exposed to the situations today - whether seeing the events in the world or themselves experiencing violence as a part of life within the very confines of their homes. One could wonder if there’s still HOPE for the next generation. Will it still be possible to live in a peaceful and wonderful world tomorrow?

While the bleakness of the future may seem evident, a shift in perspective may reveal the other side of reality-- that there are more and more people all over the world, both young and old, who are striving to promote PEACE!

I do believe and have seen this reality all over the world – starting with our URI CC’s which slowly and quietly work for PEACE in the grassroots level.

Here in our region in the Southeast Asia and the Pacific, promising initiatives and projects of CCs enkindle the flame of Hope for Peace. Stories from Australia and from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao Islands of the Philippines resound celebrations of peacebuilding work through interfaith gatherings.

Locally, in my part of the region—Cebu-- the mayor has consulted with the different sectors of society to envision plans for the city. This involved the faith-based organizations who are coming together as a promising force in realizing interfaith cooperation and peace work in the city. Meanwhile, three youth groups are being nurtured as potential youth CCs in the region.

As reiterated in during our Global face to face meeting in Belgium-- the VISION for our region for the next 2008 and beyond is set for the youth. The light of hope shimmers in them as we look forward to strengthening and preparing them for new leadership in the global URI.

As we strive to keep the VISION of Peace burning, we draw inspiration from the seeds of hope who will be carrying on the torch and keep it aflame to shine through the very seemingly dark corners of our lives, communities, nations and the world!

Now, isn’t that a very good reason to celebrate Peace? Yes it is! And it’s all the more a very good reason to celebrate peace not only on September 21-- but everyday of our lives! Let each day be a day of PEACE!
With loving Greetings,
Sr. Sandra G. Clemente, RSCJ

Towards Interfaith Solidarity and a Better Society (REFLECTIONS from a three-week sojourn in Turkey)

by Ms. Belinda Espiritu (Protestant Christian)*

Turkey is a country where culture, civilization, nature, and history blend to create a fabulous and mystical aura. Its natural environment is delicately interwoven with a history that includes Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman times. As a country where many places are biblical and sacred, Turkey is also considered a holy land. It is generously endowed with divine gifts of all sorts of scenic wonders and is a unique bridge between Eastern and Western civilizations.

My three-week sojourn in this beautiful land with my husband in February of this year had a two-fold purpose: to go on a spiritual journey and to pursue our respective academic interests, that is, to engage in intercultural communication and the study of Turkish culture and communication behavior and to delve into Islamic spirituality and philosophy.

From Islamophobia to Islamophilia

At a time when Islamophobia is being played up by the media, a look at how beautifully Islam is practiced in Turkey can turn over Islamophobia into “Islamophilia”, a word I coin to refer to a deep appreciation of and even love for the Islamic religion, which can be experienced not only by Muslim converts but also by Christians and others who embrace other religions or philosophies in life.

Some insights towards inter-religious solidarity and a better society

The insights I gained from this trip has implications for other societies particularly the Philippine society. These insights have been enriched by the ideas from Sufi Wisdom, a magazine which propagates Islamic spirituality, and by the ideas of a Filipino Christian humanitarian activist named Howard Dee.

In our society, we need to bring back an appreciation of silence and contemplation in our lives.

Our society which is heavily influenced by the secularizing forces from the West has become filled with noises from the media and from those we create that we failed to listen to “the sound of water drops or rain drops” or “gaze at a nature’s work of art” to appreciate life’s mysteries, or to contemplate the Divine Creator of these things. A Sufi master in Turkey wrote about this poignantly: “For those who can hear, there are many different songs that emanate from a delicate flower, a singing nightingale, and a flowing river. Nights tell countless stories. For those who are aware, how many morning breezes are there those arrive with the winds?” (Topbas Efendi, Fall 2005, p. 21).

We have neglected a sense of restraint and sobriety in our society. We need to bring back and cultivate a sense of modesty, moderation, gentle manners, and a sense of discipline in our daily conduct.

Modesty, chastity, and refinement of manners are fostered and valued by the Turkish people. In our very free society, we need to put a sense of restraint and discipline in the way we dress up, the way we talk, the way we behave towards one another particularly with the opposite sex, the way we behave towards our surroundings and country as a whole. Our spontaneity as a people needs to be balanced by a sense of restraint and refinement. Refinement of manners entails living more seriously and intensely our spirituality as a people – which is both Christian and Muslim. Living more seriously our spirituality as a people will result into a greater respect and love for God and one another; more gentleness in our speaking and acting; more modesty in our comportment; and more refined behavior in dealing with one another. These will further lead to the elimination of discord, division, bickering, graft and corruption, and insensitivity to the plight of the poor around us.

We need to emphasize Muslim-Christian unity at a time when some malevolent forces try to foment conflict between these two main religions in the world.

At a time when Islamophobia is being played up by the media, the essential nature of Islam which is that of a religion of love and mercy needs to be shown to the world. Instead of pitting one against the other, Christians and Muslims need to affirm their unity despite their differences in beliefs and practices.

My trip to Turkey was made possible through the kindness of some very good and pious Muslims who treated us with great kindness, generosity, and hospitality. My immersion in Turkey enabled me to eat with many Muslim sisters, talk and share with them about different things, express love and affection for them through hugging and kissing, and even pray with them. These made me feel a sense of oneness with all Muslim brothers and sisters not just in Turkey but all over the world. By sharing this experience, I hope that we can better appreciate the need to see humanity as “one community, one body, one brotherhood” (Sezai, Jan./Feb. 2007, p. 13).

We need to foster sensitivity to the needs of the poor and the oppressed, and to work for social justice – even to the point of institutionalizing zakat or charity to the poor.
One painful truth in today’s world is the exploitation of the powerful against the helpless which have reached dangerous proportions. Sufi Islam in Turkey benevolently promoted the establishment of soup kitchens for the hungry and the giving of charity to the poor and the needy. In the Philippines where Christianity is the predominant religion, the Catholic and Protestant Churches together with the business sector must assist government to reform itself, “to bring about good and humane governance, to render public service beyond self, to provide our poor a preferential advantage with dignity, to enforce the law fairly and fearlessly, and to cleanse itself of all that is unjust and corrupt” (Dee, 2003, p. 13). There is an urgent need to “save our poor from their degradation, return to them their dignity and for their children a future….” (Dee, 2003, p. 13).

These insights and recollections from my three-week sojourn in Turkey, I hope, can provide inspiration for us to go on our goal of fostering inter-religious solidarity at the local and international levels and of building a more just, a more refined, and a more spiritual Philippine society.

*Belinda F. Espiritu is an assistant professor of English, Literature, and Humanities at the University of the Philippines Cebu College and is a Protestant Christian. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Communication at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. Send feedback and comments on this article to espiritubelinda@yahoo.com

MEDITATION: InterSPECT (Interfaith Perspectives)

This section features central themes and subject matters viewed from the perspective of the different religions and faith traditions.

Meditation is a discipline or practice of the mind and/or body that enables an individual to alter his consciousness or achieve a higher state of consciousness. It describes a quiet, alert, powerfully concentrated state in the person.
Meditation has been around for thousands of years. Evidence of the practice can be found throughout history in many different religions and many different places in the world.

Although Eastern religions embraced ritual meditation long ago, meditation itself does not have to be a religious or spiritual activity. In the past three decades, the practice has gained new popularity in the West for its physical, psychological and spiritual benefits. In our stressful, fast-paced society, an increasing number of people have found a need to adopt meditation into their lives.

The desired purpose of each meditation technique is to channel our awareness into a more positive direction by totally transforming one's state of mind. It is principally employed toward obtaining self-improvement and spiritual growth.


Meditation in Hinduism is dhyana or contemplation , a concentration on a spiritual idea.

The entire process of meditation usually entails the three stages of concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and enlightenment or absorption (samadhi). The individual preparing to meditate usually starts off by harnessing his awareness, such as focussing his mind onto a certain object. Once attention gets engaged, concentration turns into meditation or dhyana. And through continuous meditation, the meditator merges with the object of concentration, which might either be the present moment or the Divine Entity.

The true purpose of meditation is to know our true nature, the bedrock of our personality, by removing the accretions that cover it.

There are several types of meditation in Hinduism. These include (but are not limited to):

Vedanta a form of Jnana Yoga.

Raja Yoga as outlined by Patanjali, which describes eight "limbs" of spiritual practices, half of which might be classified as meditation. Underlying them is the assumption that a yogi should still the fluctuations of his or her mind: Yoga cittavrrti nirodha.

Surat shabd yoga or "sound and light meditation"

Japa Yoga in which a mantra is repeated aloud or silently

Bhakti yoga the yoga of love and devotion, in which the seeker is focused on an object of devotion, e.g. Krishna

Hatha Yoga in which postures and meditations are aimed at raising the spiritual energy, known as Kundalini , which rises through energy centers known as chakras.


Meditation has always been central to Buddhism. The historical Buddha himself was said to have achieved enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree. Most forms of Buddhism distinguish between two classes of meditation practices, shamantha and vipassana both of which are necessary for attaining enlightenment. The former consists of practices aimed at developing the ability to focus the attention single-pointedly; the latter includes practices aimed at developing insight and wisdom through seeing the true nature of reality. The differentiation between the two types of meditation practices is not always clear cut, which is made obvious when studying practices such as Anapanasati which could be said to start off as a shamatha practice but that goes through a number of stages and ends up as a vipassana practice.

Theravada Buddhism emphasizes the meditative development of mindfulness (sati, see for example the Satipatthana Sutra) and concentration (samadhi, see kammatthana), as part of the Noble Eigthfold Path, in the pursuit of Nibbana (Nirvana). Traditional popular meditation subjects include the breath (anapana) and loving-kindness (metta).


Christian traditions have various practices which might be identified as forms of "meditation." Many of these are monastic practices. Some types of prayer, such as the rosary and Adoration (focusing on the eucharist) in Catholicism or the hesychasm in Eastern Orthodoxy, may be compared to the form of Eastern meditation that focuses on an individual object.

Christian meditation is considered a form of prayer. Some Christian prayers are made primarily by using the intellect, through the contemplation of the divine mysteries. However, Christian prayer or meditation through the heart, as described in the Philkalia is a practice towards Theosis, which involves acquiring an inner stillness and ignoring the physical senses.

According to the Old Testament book of Joshua, a form of meditation is to meditate on scriptures. This is one of the reasons why bible verse memory is a practice among many evangelical Christians. "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it, then you will be prosperous and successful." (Joshua 1:8)

The use of the word meditation in the western Christian tradition has referred generally to a more active practice of reflection on some particular theme such as "meditation on the sufferings of Christ”.


Meditation in Islam is the core of Muslim mystical traditions (in particular Sufism). Meditative quiescence is believed to have a quality of healing and creativity. Prophet Muhammad, whose deeds devout Muslims follow, spent long periods in meditation and contemplation. It was during one such period of meditation that he began to receive revelations of the Qur’an.

There are two concepts or schools of meditation in Islam:

Tafakkur and Tadabbur, literally meaning reflection upon the universe.

Muslims feel this is a form of intellectual development which emanates from a higher level, i.e. from God. This intellectual process through the receiving of divine Inspiration awakens and liberates the human mind, permitting man’s inner personality to develop and grow so that he may lead his life on a spiritual plane far above the mundane level. This is consistent with the global teachings of Islam, which views life as a test of our practice of submission to Allah, the one God.

The second form of meditation is the Sufi meditation, it is largely based on mystical exercises. However, this method is controversial among Muslim scholars. One group of Ulama, Al-Ghazzali, for instance, have accepted it, another group of Ulama, Ibn Taymiya, for instance, have rejected it as a bid’ah (religious innovation).

Sufism relies on a practice similar to Buddhist meditation, known as Muragaba or Tamarkoz which is taught in the Oveyssi-Shahmaghsoudi Sufi order. Tamarkoz is a Persian term that means ‘concentration,’ referring to the “concentration of abilities”. Consequently, the term concentration is synonymous to close attention, convergent, collection, compaction, and consolidation.

Muslims meditate during the second stage of Hajj at "Mount Mercy", from noon to sunset.


There is evidence that Judaism has had meditative practices that go back thousands of years. For instance, in the Torah, the patriarch Isaac is described as going lasuach in the field—a term understood by all commentators as some type of meditative practice (Genesis 24:63).

Similarly, there are indications throughout the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible) that meditation was central to the prophets. In the Old Testament, there are two Hebrew words for meditation: hāgâ which means to sigh or murmur, but also to meditate, and sîḥâ , which means to muse, or rehearse in one's mind.

In modern Jewish practice, one of the best known meditative practices is called hitbodedut (or hisbodedus is explained in Kabbalah and Hassidic philosophy). The word hisbodedut, which derives from the Hebrew word "boded", (a state of being alone) and said to be related to the sfirah of Binah (lit. book of understanding), means "the process of making oneself understand a concept well through analytical study".

Kabbalah is inherently a meditative field of study. Kabbalistic meditative practices construct a supernatural realm which the soul navigates through in order to achieve certain ends. One of the most well known types of meditation is Merkabah, from the root /R-K-B/ meaning "chariot"(of God).
(adapted from Wikipedia.org)

Peace Among Religions: A HINDU Perspective (LISTENING TO THE OTHER)

By Swami Guhabhaktananda*

Listening is the essence of true dialogue. It is about silencing our minds so that we can hear what is in the heart of the “other.” This space is for essays and articles from friends and supporters of the Circle. We invite you to engage in the spirit of dialogue by “listening” to what is being said with openness, respect and understanding.

Peace is a divine attribute; it is a quality of the soul. It fills the pure heart and runs away from selfish people. It is freedom from disturbance, anxiety, agitation, riot or violence. The natural state of a man and his birthright is Peace.

Hindu wisdom, which inspires humans to live the ideals of compassion and nonviolence, is captured in one word, ahimsa. Very simply, ahimsa is abstaining from causing harm or injury. It is gentleness and non-injury, whether physical, mental or emotional, it goes much deeper to prohibit even subtle abuse and simple hurt.

Non-violence has long been central to the religious traditions of India. Religion in India has consistently upheld the sanctity of life whether human, animal or elemental. There developed early in India an unparalleled concern for harmony among different life forms, and this led to a common ethos based on non-injuriousness and a minimal consumption of natural resources, in other words to compassion and simplicity.

One of the most ancient Hindu scriptures, the Bhagavad Gita, is often mistaken as Divine sanction for violence. The Mahabrata (of which the Gita is a part) itself says,Ahimsa is the highest dharma. It is the highest purification. It is also the highest truth from which all dharma proceeds.” What is Dharma? Hinduism describes dharma as the natural universal laws whose observance enables humans to be content and happy, and to save himself from degradation and suffering. Dharma is the moral law combined with spiritual discipline that guides one’s life.

Swami Sivananda Saraswati Maharaj says, “To be free from violence is the duty of every man. No thought of revenge, hatred or ill will should arise in our minds. Injuring others gives rise to hatred.”

From the Hindu perspective, to cultivate and achieve peace among religions is to first understand the role of religion. Religion is the relationship between the three fundamental principles – God, World and the Individual. Religion is not a denial of life but it is fullness of life. It consists of doing well to others, in the practical love, mercy, truthfulness and purity in all walks of life. We believe the fundamentals or essentials of all religions are the same. They are as old as the human race. There never has been, there never shall be, any real invention of discovery in the sphere of religion. Real religion is ONE. It is the religion of service, sacrifice and renunciation of wrong notion. It is the religion of goodness, kindness and tolerance.

The message of Hinduism to the modern world is the fundamental oneness of humanity; the spiritual unity of mankind through divine fellowship; universal love and brotherhood of man; the immanence of God; and religious tolerance; which makes for the universality of Hinduism. Truth and Love is neither Hindu nor Islamic, nor Buddhist nor Christian! Truth is ONE, homogenous, eternal substance. This is the UNIVERSAL RELIGION.

Every religion has an outer form or shell, and an inner essence or core. The outer shell consists of rites, rituals, ceremonies, beliefs, myths and doctrines. These vary from one religion to another. But there is an inner core common to all religions: the universal teachings of morality and charity, of a disciplined and pure mind full of love, compassion, good will and tolerance.

It is this common denominator that religious leaders ought to emphasize, and that religious adherents ought to practice. If proper importance is given to the essence of all religions and greater tolerance is shown for their superficial aspects, conflict can be eradicated.

An extraction from Atharva Veda:

“I ordain for you concord of heart, unanimity of and freedom from hatred in dealings with each other. Love one another in all ways.”

“Let your bodies and mind work together in harmony for the achievement of the common ideal (general welfare). It is for this that God the Protector of the Universe, has brought you together in life.”

Hinduism is neither asceticism nor illusionism, neither polytheism nor pantheism. It is a synthesis of all types of religious experiences. It is whole and complete view of life, characterized by wide toleration, deep humanity and free from fanaticism. Living a dharmic life adjusting to externals and non-essentials is the key in fostering peace among religions.

Many preach religion, but no one gives up desires and Himsa. Many preach, but no one practices love and forgiveness. Many preach, but no one recognizes the brotherhood of man. Many preach, but no one realizes the Divinity in all. Preaching has become the livelihood of men, while practice has become their object of scorn. Teach by being and learn by doing. Be Good and Do Good is the essence of all religions.

What is needed is proper understanding of the fundamental teachings of all religions and apply it in one’s daily life. Therefore, let everyone practice his/her own religion and realize among fellow human beings the real purpose of all religions.

Hari Om Tat Sat!

*Swami Guhabhaktananda is the President of Divine Life Society in Malaysia. He presented this article during the Peace Among Religions interfaith conference organized by InSaF URI KLCC on March 18, 2007 held at the Singghasana Hotel in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

EMBRACING DIVERSITY with Mr. Ludwig Bon Quirog, Christian from Bohol, Phils

This is an interview section with practitioners of interfaith dialogue. In this issue, we feature Mr. Ludwig Bon Quirog, a non-denominational Christian from Bohol Island, Philippines. He is the youth leader of one the newest cooperation circles in the region, the TULAY CC

TCC: What is your faith tradition?

Ludwig: I am Christian but i have no denomination. I am generally a believer and a follower of Christ Jesus and his teachings.

TCC: What are your experiences in interfaith dialogue?

Ludwig: I've had quite a few experiences in the context of interfaith dialogue. My first official one was when I attended a VPAR (Visions of Peace Among Religions) workshop with Tita Marites Africa and Dr. Shakun Vaswani as our speakers; and then our subsequent youth interfaith meetings (up to such time when we were able to form the TULAY-CC and several times after). But then again, when I was very young, my dad would introduce me to some of his friends who were of different faith traditions. Most of whom were foreign and some (although not all) were missionaries. They would talk to us about their faiths and I would be sitting down with all ears while my mom & dad exchanged words with him/her. What I particularly liked about those conversations was the fact that they never tried to convert us; they told us about them so we'd be aware and so we'd understand not because they wanted us to transfer or anything. This happened around five times with different people and I was around each time not because they told me so but because I was curious and I wanted to be a part of what was going on.

TCC: What are teachings from your faith or some or your personal insights that inspire you to engage in interfaith dialogue?

Ludwig: My faith teaches me that there is one absolute being above all, everything comes from this being, and we all believe in this being with all love in our hearts. It is just that the different religions we have are our own ways of communicating with this absolute being. So that, whatever we may refer to this being as and whatever name we give this being, they are all the same and refer to this being we Christians call The God, our Parent. True Christianity teaches nothing fundamental and that every single individual is to be respected for who she/he is.

TCC: How has the practice of interfaith dialogue enriched you?

Ludwig: The practice of interfaith dialogue has enriched me in a way that hope for a peaceful (though imperfect) world has actually been lit back in my mind. It has helped me understand others; it has also been the key to helping me understand others in their perspective and helping them understand my faith.

TCC: What message would you like to convey to the readers about interfaith dialogue?

Ludwig: I see the interfaith dialogue of the URI as the very thing that would fix the severely broken bridge that connects all humanity and all beings with each other. It is, to me, the key to worldly brotherhood and sisterhood that would put an end to religiously-motivated violence and unnecessary havoc. With small groups (CCs) all over the world, changes may not be speedy but they are guaranteed to last. All we need is an open mind and an open heart.

PEACEMAKERS’ CIRCLE CC in Manila celebrates UN IDP 2007 with SACRED SONGS OF PEACE (CC Report - Manila)

The Peacemakers' Circle CC and the URI Southeast Asia-Pacific Regional Coordinating Office, together with the local interfaith community in Manila, celebrated the International Day of Peace 2007 with “SACRED SONGS OF PEACE: An Interfaith Musical Celebration” on September 21, 2007 at the Miriam College Environmental Studies Institute in Quezon City, Metro Manila.

Nearly 200 people attended the evening’s musical celebration which wove a symphony of prayers, meditation, chanting, songs and dances from various spiritual traditions. Following the Welcome Remarks by URI SEAsia-Pacific regional coordinator & PCFI OIC, Dr. Shakun Vaswani; meditation & silencing was led by Mr. John Dowling of Brahma Kumaris. This was followed by a song number from a special celebrity guest: model/actress-singer/environmentalist Ms. Chinchin Gutierrez (who recently launched an album of interfaith songs). Writer/dancer/artist-teacher Ms. Maria Abulencia, with the cultural workshop group, Hibla, rendered a spontaneous peace dance ritual. Imam Akmad Wahab of Filipino Muslim Youth Council for Peace & Development offered a Qur’anic chanting prayer and an Islamic song, while the Anada Marga Yoga Society presented a mantra song. This was followed by lively bhajan chanting and dancing by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON/Hare Krishna). Baba Surinder Singh Ragi of Guru Nanak Mission (Sikh) offered a short prayer-chant.

Another lively presentation was rendered by the Salesian Youth Movement of Don Bosco School (Catholic) who brought their whole band with full equipment. A dance number invoking Lord Ganesha, the deity of wisdom and remover of obstacles was then presented by the Hindu girls in their tradition classical dance costumes, while equally colorful in their kimonos and Japanese outfit were members of Shinji Shumei Kai who also offered chanting and a dance.

Another special group that performed was the Kulay-Wala band --composed of youths from the grassroots community of Brgy. Camarin—representing the GenPeace Youth Network. This was followed by an innovative step dance performed by youths from the Baha’i Faith national center, and a song number from Mr. Bob Guerrero of the Unitarian Universalist community of Manila. Finally, the Byakko Shinko Kai performed the Divinity-In (movement prayer/mudra), preceding the concluding ceremonies.

The evening was capped with the reading of the UN secretary general’s official message on IDP 2007 and the World Peace Prayer ceremony. This was led by WPPS representative, Mr. Toots Fungo, who distributed to each one in the hall during the ceremony the flag-cards representing the different world nations for which everyone prayed for peace to prevail.

Through Shakun as URI SEAP regional coordinator and PCFI executive director Ms. Marites Africa (who hosted the whole program), the organizers heartfully thank all the participants, performers, volunteers and supporters, and all those who attended the event-- especially representatives from the JPICC-AMRSP (UN-IDP secretariat), Xaverian Missionaries, Miriam Center for Peace Education, Young Moro Professionals Network, Christian Peacemakers Team, Canossa School - Sta. Rosa, Roots of Learning School, PeaceTeach, Pax Christi. Thank you all for the beautiful and powerful stand for unity and peace!

PAKIGDAIT CC and CSO spearhead International Day of Peace in Iligan City (CC Report - Mindanao)

Iligan City. Mindanao, Philippines

Pakigdait, Inc. an interfaith grassroot peacebuilding civil society organization based in Iligan City and Lanao del Norte has gathered a number of significant personalities from the civil society, international volunteers organizations, and the press to celebrate International Peace Day.

The event marks the joint call for global peace by invited persons from various organizations that include: VSO Volunteers Charles Evans Muga (Kenya), Nicole Van Zurk (Netherlands), Zainab Waliullah (UK), Rogier Klaver (Netherlands), and Yvonne van Groenendaal (Netherlands); including from the Phillipine-based non-government organizations, such as: Regina Salvador-Antequisa, Executive Director of ECOWEB and secretary-general of CSOLNPPD, Jane G. Bernardo, chairperson of the Civil Society Organizations Forum for Peace (CSOFP), Musa M. Sanguila, Director, Pakigdait Inc., and Carino V. Antequisa, Country Accompanier of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD-UK).

According to Musa Sanguila, this is the first time that the civil society through Pakigdait would celebrate International Peace Day that has already been celebrated worldwide for a number of years. “We are glad that in this part of Mindanao, we made the first step towards remembering that peace belongs not only to Mindanao but to the entire world.”

Pakigdait Programme Manager Abel Jose A Moya said that the celebration marks a “breakthrough in the consciousness of Mindanaoans to place in awareness the need to widen the horizons of peace, since we are not the only ones working for peace but people of different races from various parts of the globe.”


Healing Love, Healing Land

The Centre Of Melbourne Multi-faith and Others Network (COMMON) celebrated the UN International Day of Peace 2007 with unity in diversity and interfaith understanding as they organized the Multifaith Week from September 21st– 27th, 2007 in Melbourne.

Launching the week-long event on the 21st September, Peace Day, was the Multifaith Healing Conference dubbed: HEALING LOVE, HEALING LAND. The day opened with a calming and welcoming traditional Aboriginal Smoking Ceremony. The Procession of 40 people circled a fire and “received the smoke” whilst the enchanting sounds of the didgeridoo, played by Uncle Reg Blow transcended the everyday setting.

The tree planting ceremony marked the birth of a new connection with the Maya Aboriginal Healing Center, as Erryln Nundle (Aboriginal center coordinator) blessed the tree saying, “our spirit and our strength will be instilled in the tree when it grows and your strengths and your spirits will grow in it too.” A sense of community evolved as we continued with prayers from each of the faiths.

The panel of speakers from different faiths shared their personal wisdom and how this helped them move towards a culture of peace and a healthy relationship with others, and the land.

Eva Wakim (Jewish panel member) expressed how her cultural backgournd made her “feel closer to people and not separate” and blew into the ‘Shofar’ explaining the significance of the shape. The Muslim speaker mentioned how balance and knowing that everyone is part of God is at the heart of the Qur’an, that there is a purpose to this life. Each speaker spoke with great eloquence and with wisdom beyond “mind” knowledge.

Christian speaker, Chris James had everyone in shock and hysterics as he juggled with a knife and apples, symbolizing his journey through evangelism and self righteousness… to an understanding of unity of the human race and presenting “love” to all who m he meets.

Questions followed and a deep discussion with the audience and panel looked at how we can begin to connect though all the difficulties of the modern era – concluding that we must trust the guidance of the divine, listen and look out for the signs.

The afternoon was spent in workshop small groups discussing how we can create deep connections with one another, and those who are in need around us. The day ended with Dya Singh performing some spiritually uplifting music on the harmonium and tabla.

Envisioning Peace Among Religions in Manila College Campuses (CC Newsbriefs)


The Bulwagang Balagtas (Balagtas Hall) of the Ninoy Aquino Learning Resource Center at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) in Sta. Mesa, Manila can comfortably accommodate a crowd of around 600-800. But on August 22, 2007 the venue played host to over a thousand college students who attended the Visions of Peace Among Religions (VPAR) Seminar-Forum conducted by The Peacemakers’ Circle Foundation, Inc, (PCFI), organized by the National Service Training Program - Civic Welfare Training Service (NSTP-CWTS) Office of PUP.

Gathering a team of interfaith resource speakers, The Peacemakers’ Circle offered a program for the whole afternoon which consisted of interfaith prayers; introduction to the work of PCFI and the United Religions Initiative (URI); orientation to interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding; and presentations on Peace from the different faith perspectives. There was also a film viewing of URI’s DVD clip on Religiously Motivated Violence, and the 40-minute documentary, “In the Light of the Crescent Moon” which featured PCFI’s work on Muslim-Christian relationship-building in grassroots Metro Manila. An open forum followed the presentations.

The team, headed by its co-founder and VP/OIC Dr. Shakun Vaswani (who also shared on Hinduism), composed of Mr. Sam Salter (who represented Buddhism) from the Universal Wisdom Foundation; Mr. Alireza Kunting (on Islam); Ms. Tomomi Oida-Shima (on Shumei); and assisting staff, Mr. Orlan de Guzman, Jr. (who shared on Christianity).

By far the largest crowd addressed to by the PCFI team, it was a great privilege for the speakers as well as a welcome challenge to share in a limited time to as many young people their messages of hope, peace and oneness amidst these critical times. Special thanks to Prof. Avelina Bucao and the staff of PUP NSTP-CWTS for organizing the event!


On September 19, 2007 The Peacemakers’ Circle gathered a team of speakers from the major faiths to present a Visions of Peace Among Religions (VPAR) seminar at the Miriam College in Quezon City, Metro Manila. This was organized by the Miriam Center for Peace Education (MCPE) as part of a Peace Education Program for 25 educators and peace advocates from all over Southeast Asia, namely: Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Philippines.

The Peacemakers' team composed of Ms. Marites Africa (Christian), Mr. Mon Rivera (Buddhist), Dr. Jo Kashim (Muslim), and Dr. Shakun Vaswani (Hindu)-- (see photo where they are joined by Dr. Loreta Castro of MCPE). Each of the speakers gave power point presentations on the theme, “Shared Values of the Major Religions in Southeast: Foundations for Peacebuilding,” followed by an open forum.

Peacemakers' CC workshop & Interfaith Youth Encounter for Asian Youths (CC Report)

The Salesian Youth Movement (SYM) - of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians – Philippines played host to the C.I.A.O. (Conference Interispettoriale Asia Orientale / Inter-Provincial Conference of East Asia) first Asian Youth Camp participated by around 400 youths representing 14 countries from East Asia on August 10 to 14, 2007. Among the various simultaneous activities organized by SYM for their delegates were the Dialogue for building relationship workshop and the interfaith youth encounter conducted by The Peacemakers’ Circle and the Y4U (Youth for Unity) Interfaith Youth Circle.

On the second day of their camp (August 11—Saturday) The Peacemakers’ Circle, represented by Ms. Marites Africa and Orlan de Guzman, Jr., conducted the half-day workshop on Dialogue for Relationship-Building for 60 participants (among the 400 delegates), held at the Don Bosco College Campus in Canlubang, Laguna. In line with the overall theme of the camp– “Life: A Treasure Received, to be Given to the Full,” – the workshop engaged the participants in experiential activities and exercises to help them deepen their basic understanding of relationship-building and conflict management through dialogue and heart listening.

The next day the same batch of participants were engaged in an Interfaith Youth Encounter facilitated by core members of the Peacemakers’ Y4U Interfaith Youth Circle (see related article below).

Building Peace Atop a Hill! (NEWSBRIEF from Manila)

(A youth facilitator’s reflection)
by Sharon Danisha M. Vaswani

On August 12, 2007, more than 60 delegates from 14 countries in Asia set off for the Mornese Center of Spirituality in Pansol, Calamba, Laguna, looking forward with anticipation to the Interfaith Youth Encounter. The workshop aimed to share the experience of interfaith dialogue to foster stronger bonds among the youths amidst diversity of beliefs and cultures, and ultimately working together to build a peaceful and harmonious world.

Atop a magnanimous hill, the workshop was blessed with wonderful bright sunny weather which created a very picturesque site indeed. We, the facilitators from various faith traditions began the day by welcoming everyone with a gesture of welcome from each of our faith traditions. Each participant was also given a bindi (dot on the forehead in between the eyebrows) for them to begin with a Hindu tradition, in experiencing the diversity of cultures around them. The dynamic ice breaker got the participants and facilitators acquainted with one another, sharing their experiences, hopes and dreams alike.

Of course, it was not just all fun and games. The representatives from each faith tradition presented on the fundamental teachings so as to enlighten the participants by sharing the basic tenets of their respective faith, its uniqueness, and its contribution to the world. Among the faiths represented were Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Baha’i and Wicca. There was also a mini-exhibit/faith corner displaying symbols, pictures, and additional information where the delegates journeyed to and it was helpful in understanding and appreciating the different religions. Next, the Peacemakers’ Circle shared their lecture on the Visions of Peace Among Religions, centering on the similarities of each religion and how we could build an authentic world in accord with one another.

These talks were followed by a time of discussion where the groups then came up with a slogan which summarized their learnings and realizations of the day. By combining their wits and grit, they presented in a very creative manner the task at hand.

The day closed with a concluding ritual wherein each one wrote their personal prayer for peace and after the prayers were led from the different faith traditions, placed them together so as to signify weaving a peaceful world. We then all prayed to God, the Source of Peace so as to forge relations of peace in the world today.

Many new friendships across faith traditions, cultures, and also countries were forged. Precious and essential lessons were also learnt. Our fervent hope is that like these priceless memories of interaction and genuine love, we too will soar to greater heights and spread the culture of peace in the world, the peace that was meant to be.

URI Regional Community

Newsbriefs from Dr. Shakuntala M. Vaswani, URI SE Asia-Pacific Regional Coordinator

URI Receives ECOSOC Status with the United Nations
(URI Hub report—Monday, 29 October 2007)

URI has recently received official notice that the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations has granted URI Special Consultative Status. This will raise the visibility and status of URI in the world and will open the doors for the voices of URI to be heard.

The role of ECOSOC NGO will allow URI more full participation than our former status as an NGO with the UN Department of Public Information. We will be able to contribute to the agendas, programs, and goals of the United Nations by having additional representatives, attending hearings that are being held on topics of interest to the global URI community, and presenting relevant input both through oral participation and written documentation. Our ECOSOC status is one more stepping stone for URI's global activity to promote peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings.

Global Council TRUSTEE SELECTION 2007-2008

The process in which Cooperation Circles (CCs) around the Globe choose URI’s 2008-2011 Global Council will take place starting September 2007 until the elections in march 2008.The process will culminate during the Global Assembly in Mayapur, India, November 30—December 5,2008.

The purpose of the Global Council is to support URI members in making real the vision and values of URI’s Preamble, Purpose and Principles. The central spirit of the Global Council is one of Service informed by deep listening to the hopes and aspirations of the whole URI community.

There are three stages of the selection process:
1) Nomination of the Candidates (September-October 2007)
2) Election of Trustees (November 2007-March 2008)
3) Installation of the New Global Council at the Global Assembly I Mayapur (December 2008)

All CCs are encouraged to engage in URI’s third Trustee election

An inspirational message from the URI Executive Director

A Reflection from the URI Executive Director,

Dear Friends,

Greetings of love and peace.

In slightly more than a month, on September 21, URI Cooperation Circles around the world will join millions of others in observing the UN’s International Day of Peace. This yearly observance creates a powerful moment of solidarity among peacebuilding people all over the Earth. And creates a moment when we see an expression of URI’s growing capacity for shared global action.

If you are already planning an IDP observance, I urge you to think about new people you can reach out to and include. If you do not have an observance planned, I urge you to plan one. It can be as simple as having every member of your CC commit to a minute or an hour of prayerful, meditative focus on peace, beginning in your own hearts and extending out to encompass the whole Earth community.

I urge you to observe the IDP and to share your observance with URI’s global community. This will make your CC stronger. It will make URI’s global community stronger. And it will contribute in ways we can perhaps only sense to a global movement away from violence and division toward peace, justice and healing.
In case you need a little inspiration to motivate you to join in this important moment, I’d like to give you a taste of some of the heroic work for peace going on in URI’s community.Earlier this month, Marites Africa, Herm Weaver and Libby Hoffman visited the Interfaith Peacebuilding Initiatives CC in Ethiopia and the Acholi Religious Leaders CC in Uganda. Both CCs have leadership teams participating in URI’s two-year Moral Imagination Peacebuilding Pilot Project.
Herm expressed the primary purpose of these site visits through four guidelines that emerged from a deep conversation during our MI workshop this past March in Manila, Philippines:

1. Be with each other.
2. Hear/understand the questions and challenges.
3. Till the soil – “The ox is slow but the Earth is patient.”
4. Brainstorm.

Marites, whose team hosted the Manila workshop, expressed their mission this way:

We decided that, in keeping with the spirit of the Moral Imagination, we would switch to the “listening mode” and take in as much of the experiences of the people on the ground as we possibly could. I sensed that the best way that I could do that was to empty my mind of expectations and “be fully present in the moment.”

Marites, Libby and Herm each crafted a report about what they experienced by being fully present in the moment. We are exploring the best way to make these reports fully available for those who might be interested.

For now, I’d like to say that in Ethiopia they experienced an inspired and inspiring team of twelve young leaders who presented an impressive model of shared leadership in their work to sow the seeds of peace among young people of different faiths to build community and prevent future conflicts. In the words of URI’s Purpose, they are creating cultures of peace, justice and healing.

In Uganda, they experienced a group of religious leaders who have labored for years in the midst of a twenty-year civil war that seems to be drawing to a close on one front and opening in a new way on another. A hoped for peace treaty would bring the fighting between the Lords Resistance Army and the Ugandan Armed Forces to an end, and would open a new front as a society that has been war ravaged for two decades attempts to heal and rebuild itself, dealing with an intimidating array of issues including reintegrating child soldiers and dealing with issues of land ownership.

I pray for every success for the work of the young leaders in IPI that will prevent the violence that has wracked northern Uganda and other places in the world from consuming Ethiopia. And I pray for the courageous leaders of the Acholi region that their efforts, in partnership with many others, will lead to the signing of a peace treaty and the beginning of the challenging struggle of creating cultures of peace, justice and healing on the ruins of civil war.

Stay tuned for more news from Ethiopia and Uganda. Whatever else you do, I ask you to hold the IPI and the Acholi Religious Leaders in your prayers and meditation on the International Day of Peace. They are part of the URI family building a better world. Be fully present to them and to the deep stirring for peace in your heart, in your community and in the world.

Thank you for your leadership.


VIRTUES (Qur’anic verses taken from www.meccacentric.com)

“Here is a plain statement to men, a guidance and instruction to those who fear God. So lose not heart, nor fall into despair: For ye must gain mastery if ye are true in Faith.” (16:96)

“Hold fast, all together, by the Rope which God (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude God’s favor on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren.” (3:103)

“Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, - there are indeed Signs for men of understanding, - Men who celebrate the praises of God, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the (wonders of) creation in the heavens and the earth, (with the thought): “Our Lord! not for naught hast Thou created (all) this! Glory to Thee!” (3:190-191)

“Commit no excess: for God loveth not those given to excess.” (5:87)

“And the servants of (God) Most Gracious are those who… when they spend, are not extravagant and not niggardly, but hold a just (balance) between those (extremes)”. (25:63-67)

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.