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

HONORING MOVERS in the Southeast Asia & the Pacific

by Marites Africa & Shakun Vaswani

As we take the next steps forward in our journey towards building and strengthening URI in our region, some of us who have journeyed the longest--and have seen how URI in our region has grown through the years-wish to express our gratitude to all the wonderful people in the region who have helped give birth to URI in our part of the world.

We recognize MARIO "TOOTS" FUNGO (of World Peace Prayer Society- Phils. and Byakko Shinko Kai) and SR. LILIAN CURAMING,FMM (Franciscan Missionaries of Mary) who first brought the seed of URI to the Philippines. Toots Fungo had attended the Global Summit at Stanford University in 1997, and Sr. Lilian in 1998. They shared the good news about an upcoming new kind of interfaith organization with friends in Metro Manila.

MARITES GUINGONA-AFRICA was so inspired by the URI vision that she volunteered to bring together an interfaith group and spearheaded the "72 Hours Project," an unprecedented interfaith peace gathering in Metro Manila at the turn of the millennium. They were joined in this endeavor by a fellow visionary BRO. ELI ANDRADE and a quiet and passionate Hindu peace builder SHAKUNTALA VASWANI. This eventually led to the formation of the Peacemakers' Circle CC in Manila and the rest, as they say, is history. Here we also recognize the serene yet cohesive energy of ORLAN DE GUZMAN, JR., our Regional Information and Communications officer who served as the "center of gravity" of all activties of the region in the last three years.

We acknowledge all the "MOVERS" who have been drawn to the URI by their ideals and the largeness of their vision, who have subsequently inspired the creation of their own CCs (and other CCs), and who continue to provide URI leadership in one way or another in their respective locales. In their hearts, minds, and ways of being with one another they hold the life, vitality and hope of URI in our midst.

In the spirit of gratitude, joy, and love, we have humbly attempted to recognize and honor them--the MOVERS of URI in Southeast Asia-Pacific--by presenting each one of them to the URI global list serve (one person a week in the past few months) with a brief write-up on their invaluable contributions to the URI in our region. We hope you will be inspired, as we have been, by the beautiful and colorful tapestry of diversity and uniqueness that is being created by the efforts and contributions of each precious MOVER in our part of the world. We give you a glimpse of a few of these MOVERS here—the past and present Global Trustees of SEAP…

REV. GEORGE ARMSTRONG may well be the "Father of URI in Southeast Asia." He has always been inspiring in his passion for action even since the URI Summit at Stanford University in 1999 where his energy and enthusiasm was already evident.

A respected Anglican religious leader in New Zealand, Rev. George served as member of the Interim Global Council and his involvement in the early processes of building the foundations of the URI is a building block of URI in SEAP. When URI SEAP was separated from the rest of the URI Asia region sometime in 2002, his leadership became pivotal. He was elected as Member of URI's first democratically elected Global Council. As one of the founding fathers of URI in SEAP, he continues to serve as an inspiration to all of us here!

He is known to us simply as Boni. If George Armstrong is the "Father of URI in SEAP," Bonifacio amado M. Quirog, Jr. is the brother to us all. Fueled by Boni's passion and vision, Bohol Goodwill Volunteers CC-- a Founding Member of the URI-- shone like a jewel of good will in that quaint island in the Central Visayas region of the Philippines.

Despite the many responsibilities as Provincial Secretary in the local government of Bohol, Boni devoted time and energy to the challenging endeavor of encouraging interfaith participation and collaboration in the local gatherings. His critical mind and talent for planning and organizing people are the gifts that he brings to URI in SEAP.

From 2002 to 2005, Boni, together with George Armstrong and Shakun Vaswani, served as member of the first Global Council representing the region. His involvement in the URI so inspired his son Ludwig that soon, this passionate and intelligent young man decided to bring together his friends--youths of different religions in Bohol-- to share the spirit of the URI PPP there. In 2007, the TULAY ("bridge") CC came to be!

He stood out in the crowd, a stunning dusky figure in white traditional Balinese finery trimmed with gold. The Balinese headgear, destar, wrapped around his head accentuated the air of royalty about him, and his startling white smile was a picture perfect "Bali high" moment for URI pilgrims arriving Denpasar for the 1st URI Asia Regional Assembly in December 2001. Agus Indra Udayana, worthy kin and successor of the late Ibu Gedong Bagus Oka (whose legacy of URI leadership in Southeast Asia continues to inspire us), has been a moving force in the awe-inspiring Bali gathering.

Earlier in 2001, the Gandhi Puri Ashram CC was established in Denpasar by Ibu Oka with Indra as its Chairman. When Ibu Oka passed away in November 2002, Indra took on the responsibilities of running the ashram and engaged fully in promoting interfaith dialogue activities and organizing prayer gatherings. Soon, Indra was inspired to create another CC in Denpasar, the Ahimsa Satya Karuna CC. He then became a Trustee At-Large during the first Global Council.

Indra is a veritable "mover" in the region. He is highly connected politically and his influence in the inter-religious sphere has enabled him to contribute immensely to the endeavors for peace in Bali.

He is a leader among men and a healer of women. Dr. Amir farid bin dato isahak is a gracious Malaysian Muslim whose presence in URI SEAP is a source of inspiration, hope, and encouragement to this fledgling team of URI "movers" in these parts of the world. His talents are multifaceted, and his leadership in various fields of endeavor makes him a valuable asset to the URI. Not only a well-known and respected figure among leaders of all religions and leaders of government in Malaysia (he serves as Adviser to several Islamic organizations), Dr. Amir is also a senior medical consultant with over 25 years of practice. Although trained in Modern Medicine (practicing Obstetrics/Gynecology,Anti-Aging and Aesthetic Medicine), he is a firm believer and practitioner of Holistic Health, Alternative/Complementary Therapies, Integrative and Preventive Medicine, Nutritional and Spiritual Healing.

It was in 2005 when he was unanimously elected as a URI Global Trustee for 2005-08. In March 2007, he led the Interfaith Spiritual Fellowship (INSaF) CC--with the support of the Pure Life Society and the Malaysian Interfaith Network CC—in organizing the successful regional meeting in Kuala Lumpur where a huge gathering of religious leaders of Malaysia attended the interfaith forum that concluded the historic event. Today, Dr. Amir continues to serve the region as a leader with a healing heart. With him as continuing GC Trustee until 2012, may our passion for URI remain forever young!

She brims with vivacious energy and it is not easy to miss her in a crowd. SR. Sandra Gonzales Clemente, a Catholic nun of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Congregation (RSCJ), thrives in the hustle and bustle of her busy life as “formator” of hundreds of students of the University of Cebu. As the university’s Director of Community Extension Service and Development and National Service-Civic Welfare Training program, she has about 100 student volunteers and about 4000 students under her care every semester!

Sr. Sandra’s energy is constantly fueled by her engagement with young adults on a daily basis as she moves about the corridors and hallways of the university; and this energy she has a lot of to spare for her other passions—caring for the environment, and promoting interfaith awareness among the predominantly conservative Catholic populace of Cebu.

In 2002, Sr. Sandra and the Kalinaw (“Peace”) CC came to be and grew in vitality through the years. During the SEAP regional meeting in Manila in 2005, Sr. Sandra was elected as URI Trustee of the region. Her membership in different NGOs and her budding partnership with government in some of the university’s projects are giving her enough opportunities to promote URI in her part of the country. This includes leading the city in organizing and launching its first ever interfaith council earlier this year last June.

DR. RATNAM ALAGIAH was like a beam of light that suddenly appeared at the horizon from that place "down under" signaling the presence of life force in what was once a distant and unexplored territory in the URI SEAP region. Hearing so much about the URI from his brother, Sabapathy Alagiah (an active URI leader in Mozambique), he was inspired by him to join URI. Being a member of the faculty of Griffiths University-- specializing in teaching Theoretical and International Accounting-- he was able to inspire youths to become members of the Unity Peace and Multiculturalism CC in Gold Coast of Queensland where he initiated interfaith celebrations on the International Day of Peace with the multi-faith devotional group on the campus. He also encouraged his nephew, Nemat Sabapathy, to participate in the URI and soon the Peace Justice Harmony CC was created in Sydney.

As a Baha’i, Dr. Ratnam’s passion for interfaith dialogue and collaboration is fueled and was further ignited as he was elected as a URI Global Trustee in 2005. He recently moved from Queensland to Adelaide. He is now connected with the University of South Australia and there he plans to start another CC!

He is often mistaken for an American Indian, but when Musa Mohamad Sanguila plays the guitar and sings, Filipinos take pride in claiming him as their own. He is a remarkable Muslim whose long hair and colorful ethnic-inspired shirts accentuate his passion for building peace among his people in conflict ridden Mindanao.

Musa’s passion to serve his people is well recognized. He is a member of the Council of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC); Member of the Board and Vice-Chairperson of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society Organizations (CBCSO) and a member of the Local Monitoring Team (LMT) representing the Civil Society in the Monitoring Body for the ceasefire agreement between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

In 2001 Musa helped to found PAKIGDAIT, Inc. ("reaching out in the way of peace") which brings together Christian and Muslim leaders from five religious denominations, all of whom are united in their desire for peace. Under his leadership, Pakigdait became a URI CC in 2006. For Musa peacebuilding is a career and a way of life. Currently, he is an upcoming GC Trustee from our region.

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.