Unification News for January 2003

Interreligious and International Federation For World Peace Conference: An Exploration of the Significance of God for a World in Crises

by Nadine Andre

On December 26-29, 2002 the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace sponsored its concluding conference for the year called, "God and World Peace: An Exploration of the Significance of God for a World in Crises, " in Washington D.C. The co-sponsors for the event were the United Press International Foundation and the Washington Times Foundation.

The Conference was attended by 319 participants representing 79 nations, although with the attendance of day guests there were 400 guests at the main events.

It has clearly been the consensus of many participants, the conference organizers and friends and partners of IIFWP, that the God and Peace Conference had a resonance, focus and energy that was unique from other Conference experiences. Perhaps it was the placing of God as the center of all experience whether in business, education, science, religion and the arts or the culmination of a year which can be a time for reflection and a call to action for the new-year’s plans. Perhaps it was the Founder’s three-hour address on the first day of the Opening Plenary that set the stage with the keen recognition that the transformation of our world begins with the transformation of ourselves, our families and our tribes. Perhaps it was all of the above and maybe even something more mystical, the spirit of God who was happy to be brought into the center of the proceedings.

The majority of the participants arrived on Thursday, December 26th Many came from the far corners of the earth, so while the Opening Banquet was to be kept minimal as to be sensitive to the participants and their long day of traveling, everyone had a lot of energy and seemed primed for the event. Dr. Thomas Walsh, Secretary General of IIFWP, the ever-gracious face of the organization, welcomed the participants, speakers and friends of IIFWP.

The opening invocation ceremony set the stage for an atmosphere of hope, reconciliation, and harmony and a knowing that a world of peace would begin as each participant looked upon their fellow participant as a brothers or sister. The opening invocation arranged by Rev. John Gehring and Rev. Carol Pobanz, included opening words, benedictions and prayers from representatives of the different religions including Native Americans.

Hon. Hamilton Green, former President of Guyana and current Mayor of Georgetown, and Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi from the House of Wisdom in Michigan gave the opening remarks. Rev. Dr. Chung Hwan Kwak, Chairman of IIFWP and currently appointed Chairman and President of United Press International, gave the Keynote Address. Rev. Kwak has a gift that enables him to set a mood at the onset of a conference that opens people’s hearts and minds. While a conference often relies on speeches, talks, give and take between participants and so forth, it is many times the connection of the heart to the mind that makes the bridge for these experiences to become vital. Rev. Kwak opens the way for this to happen.

The evening concluded with a Performance that brought together music and sacred poems and chants in a collage that featured, "The Creation," a poem written at the turn of the century by African American poet, Mr. James Weldon Johnson and performed by Ms. Davetta Morgan. A slide show of sacred images provided a backdrop for Native American chanting and a song called, "True Love Will Find a Way," written by Mr. David Eaton and sung by the performer, Laleh. Although short and succinct, the IIFWP programs have successfully been incorporating entertainment that aims to illustrate and embody the cultural experiences that are themes embedded in the conference.

Day One

The Opening Plenary of the first day began at 9am and included a stellar and diverse line-up. The room was packed and unfortunately there were not enough headphones for translation because of the overwhelming turnout. Dr. Neil Salonen, President of the University of Bridgeport was the Moderator and explained the Founders vision in creating IIFWP, which is a relatively young organization established in 1999 to break down the barriers between nations and religions. He said that in a recent article in the journal of Foreign Affairs, it was seen that moral appeals seem to have little weight in today’s environment and that hopefully this trend will change.

The first speaker, Hon. Stanislav Shushkevich, the former President of Belarus began by saying that the world was in crises. "The activity of dialogue particularly interreligious dialogue can save the world . . . constructive and creative dialogue based on taking responsibility." He said that in 1991 he signed his name to the document that eventually dissolved the Soviet Union and how important the act of dialogue was and continues to be.

Hon. Rodrigo Carazo, former President of Costa Rica began by thanking the conference organizers and Founder for the courage to convene this type of conference. "The hallmark of the new millennium is the spiritual development in all fields, particularly the humanities and the arts. Peace, is made and not found. Peace is a way of life, world of love and world of God."

The next speaker, Hon. Dorothy Motubatse, Member of Parliament in South Africa was quite a presence on the panel and throughout the following days. Always wearing beautiful, colorful dresses from her native homeland, she thanked Rev. and Mrs. Moon as "True Parents" for their vision and example and for convening this conference to reflect on the year’s activities and to plan for the future. She said, "Spirituality is important in any theory of development. The African Union contains 53 member states and is committed to creating peace on the continent. How did South Africa have a peaceful transition? The transitions that happened in South Africa could only have happened upon the foundation of the peaceful traditions left by the African clergy and tribal chiefs. Since 1912 this tradition could be traced. While the clergy honored God, the Chiefs were led by their ancestors and tribes."

Ms. Motubatse quoted scripture by saying, "God, you are the only truth, let all nations bow and kneel before you and be saved." She continued, "While there was a period that Christianity was used to oppress the nation, people did lose hope in Christ. This is when communism had arrived and began to take a stronghold. In 1994 with the collapse of Communism, people once again saw the centrality of spiritual belief. Building a nation is like building a house. The UN Millennium Goals and resolutions made during the World Summit of Sustainable Development that was held in Johannesburg this past September will not succeed if we do not include God."

Mr. Jim Tovey, Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives spoke next. He apologized for keeping his cellphone on as his wife was expecting a baby at any moment. He wanted to attend this very important conference nonetheless, and brought greetings from President Bush.

He said that the defining moment for him in his life was when he met Mother Theresa and her movement. For a while, he lived as a full time volunteer in a home that she sponsored in Washington D.C. for AIDS patients. Mr. Tovey, then posed the question as to why President Bush created his faith-based initiative and said, "It is this governments belief that every man, woman and child has a God given dignity and this must be maintained." He remembered that when Mother Theresa was asked what was the worst disease, she did not answer by saying AIDS or leprosy but rather loneliness–feeling unwanted and unloved.

"President Bush wants to unleash compassion and faith-based organizations have the ability to do this. We cannot fear faith. Governments cannot love the way that people can." "Freedom of religion," he said, "was not meant to sanitize the public square of all religious influences. Faith-based organizations can bring about the renewal of America. When Mother Theresa was asked after 50 years of service in Calcutta was she successful, she answered, ‘God does not call me to be successful, God calls me to be faithful.’ This is what she saw as the motivation for her work."

Hon. Danny Davis, U.S. Congressman [D-Illinois], spoke next. He began by congratulating this gathering during the Holy Season. "It is a time to pause and reflect on the things that matter most, family is what endures. Finery, fortune, success will all go, but family and God are what endures." He said that the efforts to keep God out of public life are not possible because God is the foundation for all existence. God precedes religion and politics and includes love and justice. He affirmed the IIFWP Founder as the "Champion of Family Values," and acknowledged the potency of the World Peace Blessing Movement and exhorted all to be "True Parents," to our children. He spoke about the criticism of Rev. Moon in this way, "You are not criticized unless you are doing something. We must all turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones!"

This was the momentum that led-up to the Founders Speech. You can read the speech at the following link. Rev. Moon was very happy, robust and powerful that day and reminded everyone of his age, 84 in Western years, so he said that he would speak to the participants as his sons and daughters since no one there was older than him. He began by outlining his vision and why he has undertaken the work that has defined his life. While the text conveys his message, after every paragraph he would speak off the text so the presentation was heartfelt, potent and moved the crowd in a most profound and unusual way.

He concluded by saying, "We will arrive in an age in which God and humankind live as one in the original ideal world, the world of the heart. We will arrive in an age where we realize that living for the sake of others holds greater eternal value than living for ourselves. The blind age of self-centered life will pass away, as we build an other–centered world of interdependence, mutual prosperity and universally shared values."

Rev. Dr. Moon spoke for over three hours, which set back the conference schedule for the day. This led to the cancellation of the afternoon’s panel, however, what this did was afford the participants a greater time to meet, network, share and created a productive, evocative and inspirational foundation for the remainder of the conference.

Lunch Program

After the extended break, the program resumed. Mr. James Flynn, President of the American Family Coalition introduced the lunchtime speaker, the anticipated Senator Richard Lugar [R-Indiana], Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Lugar is a respected member of the Senate and is well informed on international issues. He began by saying that the United States rediscovered the world following September 11th. What was also illuminated by September 11th was the fact that many parts of the US government did not talk to one another and that greater communication was key. He said, "Legislators today need the wisdom of Solomon. They must be sensitive to many voices, hearing them all loud and clear." He continued, "Human beings are all children of God and life is meant to be lived beyond toil and strife and dog eat dog, which has often been reflected in governments’ policies towards each other and within nations’ treatment of their own peoples."

The conference at this point resumed its schedule and featured Panel Sessions. Each Panel Session met two times during the course of the conference and consisted of speakers’ presentations, respondents’ remarks and a question and answer period.

A new addition to the Panel Sessions was the panel on Arts and Culture. IIFWP acknowledges the importance and influence of the arts and culture on civilizations and hopes to develop and include this as an ongoing part of the IIFWP repertoire.

During the evening program, there was a performance by the performer, M’zuri, from her award winning play about the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, an African American civil rights activist who played a pivotal role in the struggle for African Americans to win the vote. M’zuri wrote and produced this play that won the Delco Award for drama. When asked why she chose that topic, M’zuri said, "Actually, Fannie Lou Hamer chose me. I didn’t choose her." M’zuri is committed to letting Fannie’s story be known.

There was an evening bus tour of Washington DC made available for those who wanted to tour this beautiful city.

Day Two

The panel discussions continued however the 11:30am Session was marked by a special plenary given by Rev. Chung Hwan Kwak on the Significance of Marriage, Family, and World Peace. The Moderator was Dr. Jameson Kurasha, Professor of Philosophy and Religion, University of Zimbabwe.

This session included a powerpoint presentation that Dr, Kwak has formulated and presented around the world at the International Leadership Seminars that he and Dr. Walsh have presided over in more than 100 nations. The Leadership Seminars are smaller regional events so it was a gift to gather this large audience at one time for this presentation.

The presentation focused on the family as the cornerstone for world peace and emphasized the relational dynamics within the family as related to parents and children, brothers and sisters, husband and wife and grandparents and grandchildren. He said that these relationships create a context for understanding the nature of God and form the fundamentals for building a world of peace by practicing the ethic of "living for the sake of others."

At the final IIFWP briefing panel where future plans were laid out by the departmental directors, a Declaration called: GOD, The Universal Foundation of World Peace," was read aloud by the entire audience and signed by the participants as an affirmation and resolution of the work that had been done at the Conference.

The Closing Ceremony was a cathartic experience that was the culmination of two very full days. New Ambassadors for Peace were appointed including world renowned artist, T.F. Chen and his wife, (originally from Taiwan), who have established the New World Art Gallery in Soho, New York. A beautiful candle lighting ceremony was conducted by Rev. John Gehring and Rev. Carol Pobanz where all participants received a candle and lit their candle from a seed candle at the center of each table. Rev. Pobanz explained that these candles represented the light of world peace and Cheong Il Guk, the new nation, the unified nation of peace, that we all long for. It was a solemn, prayerful, beautiful moment and the room glowed with an effervescence that some believed was celestial presence.

Mrs. Jamie Baer an accomplished opera singer sang two selections but what was most unexpected was Rev, Kwak’s soulful sharing. Not an ending speech or conclusive statement, but an act of heart that had him come to the edge of the stage, not by the podium as is usually done, but at the very foot of the stage where he shared his life story and what meeting Rev. Moon has meant for him.

He talked about meeting his wife and the love they have shared even when they spent five years apart when he was doing missionary work. He spoke about how proud he was of his 6 children and 23 grandchildren. It was a personal moment that was not planned and came out of his being moved by the event and its conclusion.

Everyone felt his heart and the honesty and sincerity of this man in offering his life for peace. At the conclusion of his testimony, he sang a Korean song. This closing then unexpectedly turned into a "Family Night." Participants from each continent got up and sang a joyful song of praise and thanksgiving for the wisdom of Rev. Moon and his wife to convene such a year-end event and to each one of the participants who contributed to the success of the event.

The fanfare concluded after Bishop Stallings called up all the African Americans and whoever wanted to join in for a stirring rendition of, "He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands." The audience sang verse after verse without wanting the evening to end. Many of the participants, myself included, walked around singing that song for days following the conference.

For more information regarding this conference please visit www.iifwp.org and sign up for our online enewsletter.

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