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

URISEAP 4th Regional Meeting in Cebu City, Philippines (June 5-9, 2008)

Cebu City-- the jewel city of Philippines—played host to the 4th annual Regional Meeting of the URI Cooperation Circle (CC) leaders/ representatives and trustees of the Southeast Asia-Pacific region, held on June 5 – 9, 2008. This year’s theme was: “Strengthening Leadership in the SEAP Region.”

Hosted by the Cebu-based Kalinaw CC under the leadership of Sr. Sandra Clemente, RSCJ (outgoing Regional Trustee), the regional meeting was attended by: Ms. Marites Guingona-Africa (incoming Global Council Trustee & leader of The Peacemakers’ Circle - Manila); Dr. Amir Farid Isahak (GC Trustee, leader of INSaF/URI KLCC & also representing the Malaysian Interfaith Network CC); Mr. Musa Sanguila (incoming GC Trustee & leader of Pakigdait CC - Mindanao); Ms. Jessiee Kaur-Singh (leader of COMMON CC - Australia); Mr. Boni Quirog (leader of Bohol Goodwill Volunteers’ CC - Bohol); Ms. Marjorie Angalot (representative of TULAY CC-Bohol); Mr. Lee Collano (representative of Muslim-Christian Peacemakers’ CC - Manila); Dr. Shakuntala Vaswani (URI SEAP Regional Coordinator - Manila); and Mr. Orlan de Guzman, Jr. (URISEAP Regional Information and Communications Officer).

Day 1 – On June 5, 2008 (Thursday) the delegates started to arrive and were checked-in at the Hotel Fortuna – a clean, simple hotel found in the heart of the city, and was conveniently accessible to the different places to be visited.

In the afternoon the first official activity in the program was a courtesy call to the president of the University of Cebu (UC) where Sr. Sandra holds office at the Extension Programs and Civic Welfare Training Service department. Despite his busy schedule, managing four campuses with about 40,000 students, the university owner and president, Atty. Augusto W. Go graciously met the delegates at Sr. Sandra’s office. Having been very supportive of URI projects initiated by Sr. Sandra and Kalinaw CC, the delegates expressed their gratitude and appreciation to the warm and friendly Atty. Go—who also generously lent the university vehicle for use by the delegates for the duration of the regional meeting.

In the evening, the delegates met the members of the Kalinaw CC in a vegetarian welcome dinner held at the Body, Mind & Wellbeing studio (owned by one of the members, Mr. EBJ, who is a yoga teacher from the Ananda Marga Society). Afterwards, the group enjoyed a musical evening (from mantras, to Cebuano love songs, from Elvis Presley to patriotic tunes) and were engaged in “innerdancing” – a free flow, unstructured body movement healing art.

Day 2 (June 6- Friday) – In one of the conference rooms of the hotel, the regional meeting was officially opened with sacred silence, offering of symbols from each CC, and inspirational reading led by Mr. Boni. This was followed by messages and reflections from each delegate and a formal welcome by Sr. Sandra.

The message of URI executive director Rev. Charles Gibbs for the delegates was then read by Shakun, and this was followed by the reading of the Preamble, Purpose and Principles. Presiding over the meeting as outgoing chairperson, Sr. Sandra gave an overview of the goals and guidelines for the meeting and facilitated the modifications on the program schedule as suggested in order to maximize the short and valuable time together.

Setting aside the meeting for the remainder of the morning, the delegates then took a walk from the hotel to the City Hall to pay a courtesy call to the city mayor, Hon. Mayor Tomas Osmeña, who warmly welcomed the delegates and shared his vision for interfaith cooperation in Cebu city .

Resuming in the afternoon, the delegates reviewed and approved the minutes of the previous meeting (3rd regional meeting in KL, Malaysia). This was followed by a slide show report on updates in the SEAP region presented by the regional information & communications officer (Orlan). The CC representative then took turns to share their CC’s successes and challenges in the recent months.

After the report on 2008 work plan & budget by the regional coordinator (Shakun), the group proceeded with the first part of the workshop on Strengthening URI in the SEAP region facilitated by Marites. The day was capped off with a Japanese dinner hosted by the Shinji Shumei Kai – Japanese spiritual organization.

Day 3 (June 7th – Saturday) – The session started with a viewing of the URI introductory video and Rio Assembly-- before continuing with Marites’ workshop wherein the group tackled the realities facing the region as well as the dreams envisioned, and the proposals/plans for moving forward.

One significant ways forward achieved was the formalization of the regional council composed of the representatives of all active CCs in the region. It was decided that the three incoming trustees lead this regional council and, as per tradition, the three shall choose among themselves who will sit as chairperson for each year. Ms. Marites Africa was appointed the first official chairperson for the URI SEAP Regional Council, both Dr. Amir Isahak & Mr. Musa Sanguila will be vice chairpersons.

Marites then presided over the rest of the meeting and facilitated further discussions on: the next regional meeting in March 2009 in Mindanao; Multifaith week celebrations encouraged as part of International Day of Peace celebrations by each CC; planning for the regional budget; the regional council’s strategic plans of action; plans for the Global Assembly 2008; and the Bowes Award.

The day was concluded with a sumptuous vegetarian dinner and spiritual music hosted by the talented Araneta family -- who are devotees of the Chaitanya Mission.

Day 4 (June 8, Sunday) – Enjoying a relatively free schedule in the morning, some delegates visited a Butterfly Farm and the Sikh Gurudwara, while others went shopping. But the highlight of the day was the launching of the Interfaith Sector of Cebu City in the afternoon at the historic Fort San Pedro of Cebu. In the presence of the city mayor, representatives from the Catholic Archbishop of Cebu, United Council of Churches in the Phils., Office on Muslim Affairs, the other distinguished guests and the local interfaith community-- the delegates were honoured to participate in the momentous occasion which was envisioned to inspire the active role of interfaith cooperation in the next 10 years of the city.

The four-day regional meeting was concluded with meditation, reflections and prayers at the Brahma Kumaris Center which also hosted the dinner. Here the Kalinaw CC proudly announced the formal launching of two youth CCs applying for registration in the URI!

A most fruitful, awe-inspiring and promising gathering Cebu has indeed gifted the URI in the SEAP region, and we congratulate and thank Sr. Sandra Clemente & the Kalinaw CC for the indefatigable commitment and uplifting energy they have poured in to have made it all possible. May URI continue to shine brightly upon this jewel city as it envisions to host the next URI Global Assembly in 2011!

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.