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

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 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.