The Words of the Thompson Family

Youth Seminar On World Religions

Renee Pearson Thompson, Amy Shuckers Bowers, David Tebo, Karen Judd Smith, Betsy Colford, Margaret Mead, and Jim Flynn
September 1980

The Youth Seminar on World Religions 1982, a "spiritual pilgrimage" to the historic and religious sites of six major world religions, began June 30.

On July 1 the 140 students and professors from 31 countries representing all the world religions gathered in New York City to attend the seminar's first religious ceremony -- the wedding of 2,075 Unification Church couples by Rev. Sun Myung Moon at Madison Square Garden.

For the following seven weeks the participants studied and observed rituals of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism in their respective historical settings, (Jerusalem, Israel; Cairo, Egypt; Rome, Italy; Bombay and Varanassi, India; Kathmandu, Nepal; Canton, and Peking, China; Kyoto and Nara, Japan; Seoul and Kyongju, South Korea.)

Staffed by Seminary graduate students it was sponsored by the New ERA ('New Ecumenical Research Association), an international community of scholars whose purpose is to encourage a vision of the family of religions and to relate this vision to the transformation of society.

The purpose of this project is to give young adults who are interested in understanding the religions of the world an opportunity to gain a broader experience and to grow spiritually.

Because of the diminishing religious and traditional values of young men and women the world over, it is the objective of the seminar that participants may discover and appreciate the different facets of world religions and have opportunity for religious dialogue with the help of accompanying scholars from different religions.

In order to promote religious harmony and tolerance in our religious pluralistic world, Rev. Moon has personally helped develop the idea of this seminar and envisions it as a way to help young people expand their own religious horizons throughout their lives.

The Youth Seminar on World Religions will continue on an annual basis in hope of being able to accelerate understanding among the various religious cultures and races of the world for the... betterment of all mankind and in the love of God.

Amy Shuckers Bowers

The experience itself was a curious mix of excitement and frustration, joy and shock, vision and fear, and deep love and respect. I think together we went through hell, and in a special sense touched heaven.

The first event was quite unexpected. It was the Unification Church Holy Blessing on July 1st. They boarded buses at six o'clock a.m. in Barrytown, sat in Madison Square Garden seats high in the balcony, and peered excitedly at the long rows of blue suits and white dresses to find members of the staff whom they had just met only days before.

The first week at Barrytown was certainly innovative. Presentations were made by representatives of various religions about their faith, an Indian student shared her special talents in Hindi classical dance and special guests from area Indian tribes shared their life, faith and philosophy, then led the group in their tribal dance.

Our travel schedule was interesting. Imagine getting 150 people in and out of customs and security in nine countries and thirteen airports, twenty-four times during the course of seven weeks. Not only that, but one country was at war, another was communist, and a third suffered from an airline strike the day of our departure.

Many people experienced a great deal of "culture shock" as Hindus discovered Israel, Buddhists and Jews tasted Rome, Christians met India, and Muslims faced Japan and Korea.

Everywhere we went people were amazed at such a diverse group. One Nepalese Buddhist monk shared the reaction he had been given by his associates. In short, they said the trip could never be successful. It would never be completed as the Christians and Jews would fight, and the Muslims would fight the Hindus and Buddhists. When we arrived in his country he inspired several groups of 200 to 500 people as he explained the vision and miracle of such a venture in glowing terms.

Our community meetings, held in each country, were events where sometimes inspirations were shared, but more often were the places where all the paranoia about the sponsoring organization was aired. One prime example was the meeting in Nepal just before our departure for Communist China. A few of our more vocal participants revealed the rumor that the Red China government didn't know anything about the Unification Church funding of New ERA, and if this was discovered we would all be jailed or at least deprived of any religious books in our possession. While some hastened to share their fears, others ridiculed the notion and ardently defended the Unification Church and the integrity of New ERA. Incidentally, our China trip was smooth.

This first pioneer tour set the foundation for an annual event. There were many problems and complaints, much sickness and exhaustion, but like the Israelites who followed Moses through the desert, everyone made it to contribute to a new vision for the future.

Renee Pearson Thompson

In all honesty, a review of the Youth Seminar on World Religions 1982, will take many months, if not years, to assimilate. It can be understood that any gift from heaven has a price of responsibility to be paid. I feel a tremendous responsibility to understand God's viewpoint of our trip. I would like to share some experiences about three countries which inspired me the most: Israel, China and Korea.

Jerusalem was very much alive spiritually. It is the seat of three major world religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. From our hotel my roommate, Rahel Selassie (great granddaughter of Haile Selassie) and I were stimulated to hear the city alive with singing and chanting. A visit to the Wailing Wall was inspiring as the Jews seemed serious and reverent about praying. In a Mosque nearby, the Arabs were just as serious about crying out in prayer to Allah.

In Jerusalem, we touched the ground where Jesus was born, where he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and visited the cathedral built over the place where he died on the cross. I wondered how many of the tourists who traveled there could really taste the tears of Jesus. Personally, I was to taste those same tears again upon visiting Yad Vashem, which exhibits photographs and historical documents of the Holocaust. In a speech by a Nazi leader I read, "This thing is a splendid page in our history which we will never write and which never shall be written." However, I could not stop but think that Jesus' tears must have fallen upon this tragic page of human history.

All throughout the journey, I anticipated deeply our trip to China. Feeling Father's spirit and heart to liberate all of God's children, I have to admit that the Chinese people captured my heart.

In Canton, while walking through a national park, I had occasion to speak in length with our Chinese guide named Fang. She told me that China is not intent upon making the world communist, but that it now wants to develop economically. I found myself asking, "Is this the party-line response she is told to give me?"

Ever since I joined the movement, I always dreamed about singing songs to the communists in Russia or China, and in Peking my dream came true. One night, Mel Haft and a few seminarians and myself walked back to our hotel by passing through Peking Square. Here is where Mao's mausoleum is located. Mel and I were approached by a young Chinese boy who asked us to read from his English book.

We proceeded to enact a skit in English, and before we knew it, 20 young Chinese boys surrounded us. They were quite amused at our dramatic interaction. They asked us many questions, and I was sure that not many could understand our English. However, we were inspired to sing them a song, and we sang "You Are My Sunshine." They applauded with delight. Just as we were breaking up, three Red Guards approached us to see what was going on. I was so glad that we had taken the risk to show them God's love. I don't think they will forget it.

The major lesson many of us learned was to respect the individuality and uniqueness of each person's freedom to love God in the way they choose. I learned to stretch my heart and love those who did not agree with me or my lifestyle. In this giving, and forgiving, I think we found beauty in one another.

David Tebo

Spending so much time with professors and students confronted me with my inability to articulate logically, clearly, acceptable. Our church is faced with problems but many are caused by misunderstanding and misinterpretation. I saw how much we must learn to articulate and communicate with clarity.

With the diverse religions, races and cultures represented, the group could fit the description "microcosm of the world." Thirty different countries were represented. The problems we had to deal with ranged from alcoholic abuse to sexual relationships to mistrust, fear, paranoia and plain old selfishness. It was clear that what we were dealing with in a small way were the same problems that exist at the world-wide level. Watching or being involved in a large group meeting was like watching a process of world-wide restoration.

It seems as if the staff members could be like those Unification Church members in the world who try and deal with problems, unify people, and mediate differences. While contemplating the role of the unifier, both at the small group level and the world-wide level, I felt like God answered many of my questions.

I knew I could not win the theological arguments or play the intellectual games with many of the participants, but it became my deepest desire to allow God to work through me, speak through me, be a unifier through me for the group, an example that people could respect.

This may sound rather mystical but I found that if I risked my "self," made myself vulnerable, put myself into uncomfortable situations (i.e., trying to get to know people who were wary of the Unification Church) then God would produce unexpected results, deep conversations and new friendships. This happened so many times that I could not deny divine intervention. Many times I was judged by my spiritual standard and ability to give God's love which I felt was my whole purpose and mission as a unifier.

The two great attributes of Buddha, according to one professor, were wisdom and compassion. His compassion was based on his ability to see potential -- the Buddha nature -- in each person, no matter how covered with ugliness. Many times on the trip I would lose the ability to see that original nature in each person. I know that in order for us to see and uncover the original nature in others we must be in the process of un# covering our own.

My United States perspective was broadened considerably on this trip to a world-wide perspective. My responsibility for the world took on a much greater dimension and complexity. `Rubbing shoulders' and conversing with different people gave me new ways of looking at the Unification Church.

The enormous task of world-wide restoration was brought home to me. We talk often of God's suffering heart. New realms of that suffering were revealed to me as I saw the terrible condition that His other children live in. Many questions arose in my mind about how developed countries can help under-developed countries without usurping their values, traditions and culture. How would a world- wide community function? And how could America best share her blessings? I knew that if I was serious about taking responsibility for the world I must be much more serious in preparing myself.

I was very proud to be a Moonie on this trip. Although there were many criticisms of our church, I could see clearly the greatness of the training Father is attempting to give us. Our attitude of self-sacrifice, service and humility is directly opposite the attitude of the world. Our ability to work with people, cooperate, harmonize and love was usually far beyond others on trip. From an external viewpoint we probably did not look like such great people, but from an internal viewpoint I could see that what Father has said is true: we are great people.

Karen Judd Smith

The Youth Seminar was sponsored by New ERA, and the leaders on the tour were New ERA professors. Two Unification Theological Seminary graduates were the tour coordinators, and nine third-year seminary students constituted the staff. These Unificationists were somewhat like a backbone for the seminar leadership. The New ERA professors formed the senior leadership, while the graduate students, plus others recommended by New ERA professors, made up the body of junior leaders.

In the course of our pilgrimage to the holy places of these world religions, we generated a bond of heart that was able to embrace in some way even the most disgruntled of the participants.

Friendships developed that transcended religious, cultural, and racial boundaries. When we all met at Seoul airport for the last time, I did not say goodbye. Instead, my heart became determined that this just be the very beginning of relationships, friendships and new learning in years to come.

Often during the summer, instances arose whereby the character and heart of participants were cameoed. These experiences were to me like finding a precious jewel. I could see and feel God's hope alive in these people. In time, many of these people will be in positions to influence others spiritually, academically and socially. Gratefully, I feel this seminar has deepened and intensified their sensitivity to Heaven and their search for truth. Because of this they will be more qualified as leaders.

Betsy Colford

The first major event of our tour was a trip to New York City on July 1 to witness the Blessing. The diverse cultural groups reacted differently to the great event. The Americans, influenced by years of negative publicity directed against our movement, took the role of detached observers and were impressed that Rev. Moon could have found so many faithful followers willing to accept his choice of marriage partners for them. For the Indians, Nepalese, Japanese, Thai and Korean participants, for whom arranged marriages are still the norm, the ceremony was deeply significant as participants from these countries were moved by their intuitive understanding of our True Parents' concern for their children.

As our group slowly wended its way around the world, the relationships became more and more harmonious. Since one of our avowed goals was to break down the barriers of prejudice, we started on an individual level and assigned roommates of the most diverse backgrounds. On my team, for example, we paired a Moslem and a Jew, black and white, and Korean and Japanese. By the end of the trip they had all become good friends and the Korean and Japanese even referred to themselves as brothers.

In Jerusalem, in the Garden of Gethsemane, our guide, a learned and dedicated American Jew who had emigrated to Israel, was trying to explain the reason for Jesus' death. After he mused about the fact that Jesus had been misunderstood during his lifetime, a shy Indian girl remarked that the same was true of Rev. Moon who was trying to do the same things as Jesus be who was also persecuted in spite of his pure motivation.

Also in Jerusalem, the Egyptian Moslem in our group kept the tradition of fasting from sunup to sundown during the month of Ramadan and prayed even in the early morning hours. He was an avid exponent of his religion and, although there was to be no proselytizing on our trip, he delighted in engaging many of s in theological debate. By the end of our journey, however, he had come to understand the validity of all religions. From him, this statement represented a major change in his theological thinking.

Finally, because of the interracial and intercultural friendships that they had made, many participants were able to testify about their unique experience of the trip to their friends. In Korea, a Buddhist graduate student in our group invited me to his Buddhist university to meet his colleagues. He testified to them about the vision of our True Parents and their concern of establishing world peace through respect and understanding of different religious ethics and rituals. He expressed his deep gratitude to our movement for having provided him with this trip. I would hope that, as other participants reflect on the impact that this pilgrimage has made on their own world view, they will be able to appreciate the vision of our True Parents.

Margaret Mead

It was difficult for some of the participants to believe there was no "hidden agenda" because free trips are not given very often; how could it be given for nothing? Sometimes I found it hard to believe myself, especially when I heard complaints. It taught me the vision and unconditional love that Father has for people. I felt that Father was willing to give so much because God needs these young people in the future. I had to have tremendous faith that this experience would prepare them for the future. They saw and experienced many things which changed their lives.

At our community meeting in Bombay one participant wanted to know if anyone else was experiencing the same as she was; through seeing all these different religions and their idiosyncrasies she suddenly became aware that her own faith was filled with many odd beliefs and practices; it was no longer possible to deny the validity of other religions. Another participant expressed his distastes at the idols but realized that his mother always prayed to a statue of Mary

We learned to love and appreciate people from many different nationalities and religions through this we can have great hope for the future.

Jim Flynn

As in any large group, there were all kinds of people among the participants. There were some who were always positive and appreciative, and some who were rarely positive and seldom seemed satisfied. Sometimes things went very well and the group seemed united and happy. At other times the group was like the Israelites in the desert -- complaining and wondering why they had ever left home.

But an amazing dynamic occurred on the trip. Father had said that he wants to revive religious faith, and also to promote greater understanding among religions. This happened in an incredible way in this seminar. First of all, the participants were representatives of the various religions. Being in that position forced some to find a positive reaffirmation of their own faith. For example, as we studied Judaism in Israel, the Jewish participants (some of whom were not so connected to their faith) seemed to find new pride and value in their own religion as they explained it to others. In this and other instances, the seminar really helped to renew or bolster the faith of the participants in their own tradition.

I would like to conclude with one experience that I felt particularly significant. One goal of the program was to try to meet religious leaders to connect them with Father's vision for world religions.

Among the participants were two Buddhist monks from Nepal. When we visited their country, they prepared a wonderful reception for us. One day an elder Buddhist lama came to our hotel to find out about the Youth Seminar. I was very impressed with the character of this lama; he was very humble, and his spirit was so embracing. It was easy to see that this was a holy man, and he holds a very influential position in the Buddhist community for all of Nepal.

He had heard about the Youth Seminar and wanted to know more. The lama questioned a few of the staff members about the purpose of the seminar, who initiated it, and about the Unification Church. He was so impressed by the vision behind the Youth Seminar, and he clearly understood the value of such an undertaking. Based on this alone the lama said that he is sure that Rev. Moon is a great spiritual leader, and the lama really wants to work on this type of program in the future.

No name given

First of all in a very practical level I could see that the immediate return for the money was minimal. This seminar was not for the purpose of obtaining the perfect PR (Public Relations) packet; nor was this seminar for the purpose of obtaining 140 new members from a fancy 53-day workshop. Also, although many participants of the seminar had very deep internal experiences, I felt that many really missed so much opportunity to grow spiritually. Anyway, this seminar had much greater purpose than only being for this year, or for only being for these participants.

This seminar was for the future. And not the distant future, but a future that is made more and more immediate by the continuation and expansion of such projects.

Constantly it struck me how much Father trusts our members; that he trusts them to keep working and sacrificing in order that Father can offer the world these long-range projects which will show themselves to have been so essential for the Providence. So many times this struck me: how much Father trusts the members that they can sacrifice while Father gives their results to others; how much Father trusts people in general, that Father continues to give and give, trusting that more and more people will appreciate, will respond, will come to know him and know God; and finally how much Father trusts God.

The maybe most important point of the Youth Seminar on World Religions really didn't dawn on me until arriving in Korea. Even more important than making a foundation for the unity of all religions, and even more important than providing a means for dialogue among the religious people of the world to find a new religiously based value-system to confront communist materialism, and more important than anything was the fact that the seminar was first and simply an offering from Father to God.

Ms. Gorindarashna

To all our dear leaders, we are grateful. There have been moments, I know, advertently or inadvertently, we have driven them to the breaking point, but they have been very patient with us. We understood them sometimes; they understood us sometimes, but we do know that they always worked in our interest. While we enjoyed; they toiled. They missed sleep, they missed food. I know it was all for us. We participants have had our share of tensions and apprehensions. We were tired sometimes. We were worried stiff sometimes. We were ill sometimes. Sometimes we thought of going back. Sometimes we could have been sent back. But yet we have all come out, energized, unscathed, successful, and we do know that our misapprehensions were just trifles and we needn't to have bothered about them at all.

For the last two months, we have learned so much. First of all, so many of our prejudices are not there anymore. We know things which we thought we knew earlier; we knew them all wrong. We began to move with the people, to understand and to accept them, though they don't seem to be like us.

We have enjoyed being with each other, and what we have learned most is to respect each other's feelings.

And with deepest gratitude and respect we want to send our "thank you" to Reverend Moon for making this dream come true. 

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