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

A Christian Encounters Krishna: REFLECTIONS on a Janmashtami experience

In this section we feature a reflection from Bro. Valentin Shukuru* a Catholic seminarian from Congo, Africa.

In African traditions, the greatest misery, misfortune a man or a woman can experience is dying without children. This is the reason why barrenness or sterility is considered as a curse. There are 3 major events that mark life in African society namely, birth, marriage, and death. These 3 moments shape and animate the entire life of Africans, and to each due emphasize is reserved. As for Africans, in any culture on earth, the birth of a child is always an occasion for rejoicing precisely because it is believed that the newborn brings with him blessings and fortune for the entire community; he opens new horizons full of hope. This becomes meaningful specially when this child is associated with some supernatural powers or believed to have a divine origin or entrusted with a special mission for the rest human race and for their own welfare. In this line, Christians would celebrate at Christmas the birth of Jesus Christ, Muslims during Rabee Al-Awwal would remember the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, and Hindus would celebrate Sri Krishna Janmashtami, etc.

In particular, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)-- a spiritual expression of Hinduism-- celebrated the “birthday” of Lord Krishna last September 4th in Makati, Metro Manila. It was a celebration at which I was invited to participate as a member of The Peacemakers’ Circle. With my Catholic-Christian background I asked myself what sense could such a celebration have for me precisely because I know only a few things-- if not nothing-- about the Hindu religion. It is true that during my studies in philosophy I learned a bit about Hinduism but I did not go deep enough into further details as far as this faith tradition is concerned. Thus the invitation to join the Sri Krishna Janmashtami was truly providential for me.

I was positively impressed by the celebration through which people expressed their devotion to Krishna. If there is one thing worth mentioning that struck me it is their veneration and respect paid to Lord Krishna through chanting (“Hare Krishna”), lighting of candles, and offering of flower petals and money in front of the altar where the statue of the deity stood. I recalled to my mind what we Christians do at Christmas in front of the Crib.

Quite striking to me also was the bowing down of their "priests" and the reverence they showed by removing their footwear upon entering the “shrine” up until the end of the celebration. (I remember here the incident that happened to me that day when I first arrived at the Sri Madhava Center. Not knowing the tradition, I entered the place while still wearing my shoes until someone, kindly and politely asked me to take them off!). Going barefoot, was my first sacred experience as I was welcomed into the atmosphere of silence and peace, and the sacredness of the space.

One of the most meaningful highlights of the ceremony was the anointing of Krishna’s big statue with milk, honey, sugar, and yogurt; then its bathing by the “priests”. After sprinkling ourselves with blessed water, we were also invited to perform the same gesture of bathing the small Krishna statue. It was indeed a uniquely exciting experience for me! To top it all, the evening was concluded with a delightful gastronomic experience of vegetarian food which everyone happily savored and enjoyed.

This celebration gave me the opportunity to recall what Paul Valery, a French sociologist, once said: "Let us enrich each other from our cultural differences." Yes, I experienced the richness of our cultural and religious diversity at the Sri Madhava Center. Sad to say, however, it is the tendency of religious men and women of today's society to focus more on the differences in beliefs rather than the shared values. After all, life shows that it is not impossible to build a society of peace and harmony out of these differences.

Mahatma Gandhi once said: "Although what was narrated in the Gospels about Jesus was a fragment of the writer’s imagination, the sermon on the Mount would still be true for me [because the Gita, the Christian Bible, and the Holy Qur'an all teach the same, namely love of God as well as love of the neighbor and enemy]." Here lay for me all the meaning of Sri Krishna Janmashtami celebration as a Congolese proverb put it eloquently:
" What unites us (humans) is greater than what divides us."

Thank you for your invitation.
Valentin Shukuru B., SX

*Valentin is a seminarian from the Xaverian Missionaries. He has been in the Philippines for more than a year already and has been a regular participant of the Peacemakers’ Tuesday Inner Work Circle Send feedback and comments on this article to valbisschuk@yahoo.co.fr.

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.