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

Updates from Manila: PEACE DAY 2008


The Peacemakers’ Circle Foundation, Inc. (PCFI) and the United Religions Initiative Southeast Asia & the Pacific (URI-SEAP) Regional Office joined forces with the Sowing Peace for Mindanao network* in organizing a back-to-back peace event in Quezon City, Metro Manila on Saturday September 20, 2008, eve of the UN International Day of Peace.

Just before sunset a motley crowd of more than a hundred people lined the sidewalk along Katipunan Avenue-- in front of Miriam College-- to make a stand for peace and call for the cessation of violence in Mindanao. They were students, teachers, artists, lay and religious, members of the interfaith community, NGOs, and employees who took time from their busy schedule to gather together in order to make their voices heard. In solidarity, they wore white, and brought flowers, musical instruments and food to share.

Interfaith prayers were said amid the din of the careening traffic. But the energy around the circle was high. A fellowship Iftar (breaking of the fast) was offered in solidarity with the Muslims with everyone sharing the potluck food.

Torches were lit for the peace walk that followed with all marching to the beat of the drums, ringing of chimes and gongs and voices raised in a chorus of chanting - “Stop the war in Mindanao! Give peace a chance!” The traffic on the street kept going but it was heartwarming that many cars stopped and blew their horns in support.

Around 7:00 o’clock in the evening the crowd proceeded to the Environmental Studies Institute inside the Miriam College campus for the FAITHS IN HARMONY, SYMPHONIES OF PEACE, an interfaith concert. Hosted by Ms. Marites Africa of PCFI, the musical celebration offered an array of creative peace presentations – meditation, chanting, songs, dances and prayers-- from the various spiritual groups and partner organizations.
The program was opened by Dr. Shakun Vaswani (URI SEAP regional coordinator) who welcomed everyone to the familiar hall that gets to be annually decorated with the colors of diversity through the flags of various faith symbols and the UN flags of the different countries in the world. Meditation & silencing was led by Mr. John Dowling of Brahma Kumaris. This was followed by an opening dance of peace & blessing offered by the KaliPiMu Innerdance group with musical accompaniment provided by SangHabi, Inc.

An inspirational peace song was rendered by Ms. Mirma Tica of Pax Christi – Miriam College, while chanting and peace prayers were heard from Mrs. Tomomi Shima and members of Shinji Shumei Kai (Japanese spiritual organization) ; Babaji Surinder Singh Ragi of Guru Nanak Mission (Sikh); and Mahraj Prem Shanker Pandey of the Hindu Temple-Manila.

The Self-Realization Fellowship (Paramahansa Yogananda-founded group) presented a song and engaged everyone in a healing action prayer.

Other body movement arts were demonstrated by Step Universe – International (Indonesian energy exercise); the Byakko Shinko Kai –Phils. (with their Divinity-In body prayer); and T’ai Chi master Mr. Ed Sevilla.

A loose-group of interfaith performers called Higher Chakra, led by Ramesh Balgos, offered a musical poetry reading number.
Some of the more modern numbers include a Samba dance from PCFI’s Ms. Judy Banu and partner; and peace songs from an all-female rock group, Velvet band —led by Ms. Tet Gallardo, who represented the Unitarian Universalist Community – Manila.

But definitely the crowd’s favorite was the most joyful and entertaining presentation from the cute and adorable pre-school pupils of the Creative Space Center for Integrative Learning for Children who performed a song and dance number entitled: “Mapayapang Mundo” (peaceful world).

Mr. Mario “Toots” Fungo of the World Peace Prayer Society-Phils. read the United Nations’ official message for IDP ’08 and led the peace prayer for each country by distributing flag-cards of the different nations.

During the program, an intensified campaign for A Million Signatures for Yes! We Unite in Sowing Peace for Mindanao was launched.

The evening was capped off with the ever-lively music and chanting by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON/Hare Krishna) that led to community jamming as everyone pushed their seats to the side and, hand-in-hand, formed a big dance circle across the hall.

It was a wonderful sight to behold as people from different faiths and cultures sang, chanted and danced together in joyful harmony and celebration as we continue to demonstrate solidarity in sowing peace in the country and the whole world!

See more photos here

*The Sowing Peace for Mindanao network

Since the first outbreak of violence that followed the aborted signing (last August 5, 2008) of the Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), over 500,000 innocent civilians, mostly women and children, in over 66 municipalities in 11 provinces across Central Mindanao continue to suffer displacement from their homes and are living in difficult conditions in evacuation centers or makeshift evacuation sites in their areas. Homes, schools, mosques and chapels in those areas have been burned during the fighting between the renegade factions of the MILF and the government troops.

Concerned peace advocates in the country called for the cessation of violence and the resumption of the peace talks, but their calls largely remained unheeded. In Metro Manila, those of us who have been engaged in peacebuilding work realized that we needed to join forces if we were to hope for some gains in our efforts. In this spirit, we--representatives of various NGOs--got together and called our collective endeavors SOWING PEACE FOR MINDANAO (SPM).

Among the organizations represented in SPM were: The Peacemakers' Circle Foundation, Inc. (URI CC), Binhi ng Kapayapaan, Inc., Center for Peace Education of Miriam College, Balay Rehabilitation Center, Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute, Anak Mindanao (AMIN), Pinay..Kilos (PINK), Moro Human Rights Center, and Interfaith Center for a Culture of Non-Violence (ICCN). Together they engaged in various forms of collaborative action in partnership with and support of the Mindanao Solidarity Network and Mindanao Peoples' Caucus (through the help of Atty. Mary Ann Arnado).

For more info, please check out: www.sowingpeace.multiply.com

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.