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

URI SEAP Regional Community Report

by Dr. Shakuntala M. Vaswani
URI SE Asia-Pacific Regional Coordinator


REGIONAL COORDINATOR VISITS CCs in Bohol & Cebu (Philippines ) & Svay Rieng (Cambodia)


The Regional Coordinator, Ms. Shakuntala Vaswani traveled to Cebu and Bohol in October to meet the members and participate in the activities of the three Cooperation Circles (CC) in the area.

In Cebu, she had fruitful conversations with Sr. Sandra Clemente, RSCJ and the members of the Kalinaw CC and gave an orientation on the URI to a group of youths from University of Cebu who were interested to form a CC.

Shakun also met another group of youths at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) which gathers young children regularly to tell stories and teach them music and dance and keep them usefully occupied. The youth and children who call themselves ”Kalipay” (Happiness) were keen to form a CC in the URI. Shakun also gave them a brief orientation on the URI and left materials on the URI. Sr Sandra will be nurturing these two groups.

The highlight of the Cebu visit was the interfaith prayers and sacred music at the huge gathering of over 1000 students at the University of Cebu, which Sr. Sandra of the Kalinaw CC organized with UC as part of the culminating activities of the Civic Welfare Training Service (CWTS) students. “Celebration of life” was a successful event which introduced the predominantly catholic student population to other different faith traditions. It was heartwarming to see the students enjoying the sacred music from other faith traditions and some even joined in the dancing.


The Bohol Goodwill Volunteers CC under the the leadership of Boni Quirog gathered at a seaside restaurant in Tagbilaran City , Bohol on October 21 to welcome Shakun. Over a sumptuous lunch the members shared their work and challenges with her. After an orientation on the URI, given by Shakun for the benefit of the new members, all the members unanimously agreed to revitalize the activites of the CC and continue to extend the URI vision on the island.

On the following day, October 22, Shakun met with The Trust, Understanding, Learning Among Youth (TULAY) CC who had gathered for a one-day seminar-workshop on environmental awareness at a beach house in Biking, Dauis, Bohol. Shakun was given a warm welcome and introduced to the group by the CC leader Ludwig Quirog.

The first part of the workshop was to get to know more about the URI, of which the CC became member recently. An orientation on the URI with video presentations was given by Shakun. The youth were much inspired and asked questions and volunteered to make a difference in their communities, in particular the environment.

After a lunch break Boni Quirog of the Bohol Goodwill volunteers CC conducted the second half of the program which was on environmental awareness. A video of the documentary film, “An Inconvenient Truth” by Albert Gore, Jr was shown to arouse awareness about the current predicament of our world. The group was captivated by it and engaged in discussions on what they can do to save threatened habitats in their local context. Some of these ideas will be taken up at future meetings of the group and some concrete action plans will be made.


Last December Shakuntala Vaswani made another successful trip to strengthen bonds with the Interfaith Youth Circle of Cambodia CC in Svay Rieng province, which is about 3 hours taxi drive from Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.

On arrival at Wat Prey Chlak pagoda in Svay Rieng , Shakun was graciously welcomed by Venerable Nhem Kimteng, the founder of Santi Sena which is a non-profit organization founded in 1994. They had a dialogue on the challenges of interfaith peace building in the region . Santi Sena programs focus on environmental conservation and empowerment, peace building and community development. Sam An Ros is the deputy Director of Santi Sena and also the leader of the CC.

The following day an orientation to the URI and was given to the staff at Santi Sena and prepartions were made for the workshop the following day. To overcome language barriers Shakun prepared noted for Sam An to translate for the workshop the following day. .

A full day workshop for youths was held in the Training Center at Santi Sena on December 6. There were 23 participants: Buddhists, and different denominations of Christians. Among them there were seven monks from different Wats in the province. The Muslim participants did not show up due to other commitments.

The workshop was conducted by Sam An with Ven. Nhem Kimteng as the resource speaker on the Role of Buddhism in peace education, Pastor Sok Sovandy on Christianity and myself on Hinduism. Ven Kimteng started with with a good introduction to the youths on seeing differences due to different perception of the same picture and how it can lead to conflicts.

This was followed by group discussions on difficulties and problems encountered in different faith communities in their province and the possible solutions.

The last part of the program was an orientation on the URI. The youths appreciated the URI work and would like to be part of the global family. They also volunteered to work with Sam An to translate the URI charter in Khmer.

The Youths' response was enthusiastic and heart warming. It was the first time they had such an encounter with youths of other faiths and were eager to learn more and work for better understanding and to build harmonious relationships and further the vision of URI in the region.

They will be coming together on monthly basis to continue interfaith dialogues for a better understanding and peace and harmony in their communities. Sam An the CC leader is very enthusiastic about the project.

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.