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


The United Religions Initiative (URI) held its second Global Assembly (GA08) on November 27th to December 5th, 2008 in Mayapur, West Bengal, India. The much-anticipated event brought together in one unprecedented grassroots global gathering some 200 global interfaith leaders and around 100 interfaith youth delegates representing diverse religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions from 44 countries.

With the theme 'Pilgrims of Peace: Many Paths, One Purpose' the assembly bore witness to members of Cooperation Circles from around the world meeting face to face, sharing with and learning from one another's successes in their respective interfaith grassroots work, and strengthening alliances within the URI network, as well as forging friendships with new contacts, to further worldwide interfaith cooperation and peacebuilding.

A perfect setting for such an event was the holy land of Sridham Mayapur --renowned spiritual center of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Along with the support of the Bhaktivedanta Institute in Kolkata, ISKCON played host to the global delegates with exceptional hospitality and warm accommodation.

The leaders and representatives of Cooperation Circles from the Southeast Asia & the Pacific Region who attended were: Dr. Shakuntala Vaswani (URI-SEAP Regional Coordinator - from Manila); Ms. Marites Guingona-Africa (Regional Council Chairperson & The Peacemakers’ Circle CC leader – from Manila); Dr. Amir Farid Isahak (Global Trustee, Interfaith Spiritual Felowship CC leader & Malaysian Interfaith Network CC representative – from Kuala Lumpur); Bro. Musa Sanguila (Global Trustee & Pakigdait CC leader – from Mindanao); Sr. Sandra Clemente, RSCJ (Kalinaw CC leader – from Cebu); Sis. Jessiee Kaur-Singh (Center of Melbourne Multifaith & Others Network CC leader – from Melbourne); Ms. Cora Ponteres (Bohol Goodwill Volunteers CC representative – from Bohol); and Ms. Padmini Solomon (leader of the up and coming Nur Damai CC).

Also part of the SEAP delegation who arrived a week earlier (November 25th – 29th, 2008) in Mayapur to attend the URI Young Leaders Program (YLP) were: Mr. Sam An Ros (Interfaith Youths of Cambodia CC leader – from Svey Rieng); Ms. Elyse Rider (COMMON CC youth member – from Melbourne); Mr. Orlan de Guzman, Jr. (URI-SEAP Regional Information & Communications Officer, Peacemakers’ Circle CC youth member, & Youth for Unity/Y4U member – from Manila); Mr. Ramesh Balgos (YLP logo design contest winner – from Manila); Ms. Sharon Vaswani (Y4U representative – from Manila); Mr. Agus Indra Udayana (Ashram Gandhi Puri CC leader – from Bali); Mr. Gede Suwantana (Ahimsa Satya Karuna CC representative – from Bali); Mr. Ketut Suwidiarta (Ashram Gandhi Puri CC youth member – from Bali); and Mr. Sidon Sok (Youth Council of Cambodia - soon to be a CC from Phnom Penh). (See related article on the Young Leaders Program here)

Aimed as “a vibrant gathering where people can deepen their experience of living into the URI Preamble, Purpose and Principles, address visions of collective actions, and celebrate the totality of URI”, the GA08 provided a rich program which consisted of an array of sacred practices, ceremonies across traditions, capacity-building workshops, thematic plenary sessions and community-building interactions, knowledge cafes & exhibit booths, local tours and community outreach, as well as affinity dialogues, global council and regional meetings.

Some of the highlights of the event was a beautiful and solemn ritual opening at the banks of the sacred Ganges River and solidarity procession around the pilgrimage campus. This was then followed by a ceremony for URI’s Celestial CC to honour and remember the respected URI leaders who have passed on—including ISKCON’s very own Dr. T. D. Singh who was the visionary behind the whole Mayapur assembly.

Colorful and spectacular performances were offered throughout the week as the delegates were treated to music, songs, dances, story-telling and poetry not only from the local Indian traditions but also from all over the world as talents and creative presentations were shared with one another through cultural showcase sessions.

The outgoing Global Trustees (2005-2008) were honoured while the new Global Council (GC) was inaugurated. From the SEAP region, Ms. Marites Africa, Dr. Amir Isahak and Mr. Musa Sanguila stood before the global assembly along with the other incoming Global Trustees and took oath as they declared their commitment for their term of service from 2008 to 2012. The officers of the new GC were also elected and inducted. Among them is SEAP’s very own Trustee, Ms. Marites Africa, who was elected as Co-Vice Chairperson. (Congratulations, Marites!)

The GA08 also featured the formal presentation of the Moral Imagination (MI) Peacebuilding Training Program to the URI community. The URI MI learning team and MI representative trainees from India, Philippines, Uganda, and Ethiopia shared about their work not just through speeches but also with songs and creative drama. Throughout the week they have also conducted seminar workshops on engaging the Moral Imagination for grassroots peacebuilding in their respective areas.

The presentation of the Bowes Award to the winners from each region was another highlight in the GA08. Upon receiving the award for the SEAP, Ms. Marites Africa (newly-elected Co-Vice Chairperson of the Global Council) of The Peacemakers’ Circle CC called up to the stage the rest of the delegates from the region-- to emphasize that the winning proposal was a project which is not just for their own CC but for the whole SEAP region
(see article on page __).

Indeed another golden mark was etched in the pages of history for URI as its second Global Assembly was a big success in Mayapur. Likewise, golden sparks of inspiration, learnings and wonderful memories of friendship and kinship, old and new-- crossing the boundaries of generations, cultures, and creed-- have been etched in the hearts, minds and souls of around 300 pilgrims of peace of diverse faiths from around the world journeying through many paths but together sharing the same one purpose.

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.