Unification News for December 2004
Report on the IIPC / IIFWP Briefing at the UN
by Ricardo DeSena
On Wednesday April 21, 2004 forty-two participants representing the Member-States and the United Nations Secretariat attended the Interreligious and International Ambassadors' Luncheon held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York sponsored by the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace (IIFWP) and the Interreligious Peace Council (IIPC). Mrs. Karen Judd Smith, Director of the IIFWP Office of United Nations Relations, moderated the event, reminding the audience of the 2001 report by Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in which he recognized that religions and religious organizations can play a role in preventing armed conflict. In particularly, Mrs. Smith recalled the Secretary General's recommendation # 27 urging Non-Governmental Organizations to convene national and international conferences on this topic. "I'm pleased to say that we've done that," she said.
After showing the video "The Path to Reconciliation" Mrs. Smith introduced Dr. Thomas Walsh, IIFWP Secretary General, who gave a glimpse of the work and vision of IIFWP. Stressing "we are seeking to work in a very constructive and cooperative way with the United Nations and its Millennium Development Goals, and particularly the Secretary General's report on the prevention or arm conflict," Dr. Walsh recalled that in September 2002, a year after the tragic events of September 11, the IIFWP organized a conference, which addressed the role of religion in promoting peace and security. "We believe that promoting interreligious dialogue is very critical and very important, but we are seeking to bring both the interreligious dimension together with the international, working in a cooperative, collaborative way among religions, governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations," he said.
Dr. Walsh also explained the two core principles guiding the work of the IIFWP. The first one being "living for the sake of others" and second, "overcoming barriers between races, nations, cultures and religions." In order to put these principles into practice, he told the participants that, "The IIFWP developed peace councils at local, regional, national and international levels. Consistent with our desire to put our principles into action, in October of last year we launched our Peace Council, calling it the Interreligious and International Peace Council which will apply these peace principles in a very specific and active way."
In his closing remarks, Dr. Walsh noted that the program areas under the IIPC will be organized through the four main bureaus of human development, good governance, peace education, and peace initiatives. Already with respect to peace initiatives, there is already ongoing work in North East Asia with a special focus on the complexity of the problems of the Korean peninsula; in South Asia, such as in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal, but currently the greatest effort is to help peace emerge in the Middle East, through the Middle East Peace Initiative which is actively working both in Israel and Palestine.
Rev. Michael Jenkins, co-chair of IIFWP USA, reported on the most recent efforts of the IIPC that includes "continuously going to the Gaza Strip, to Ramallah and to Jerusalem, focusing on the work of expanding consensus among the religious leaders, finding the common ground of the Koran, the Bible and the Torah and so increase the ability of religious leaders to stand together for peace." He, a Christian, also expressed his conviction of the key role of Islam because "the Koran supports the uplifting of the Torah, uplifting of Jesus, and the recognition of the teaching of Jesus as well as the prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him. The Koran, I believe can play a central role."
Concerned that "if we don't go in the right direction, the world will easily be polarized into the Muslim world and the Judeo-Christian world, Rev. Jenkins further noted, "And if we allow that to occur it will lead to more destruction." Again, he emphasized the urgency for religious leaders and people of faith to step forward and be involved in the peace process.
Recalling his experiences inside the Gaza Strip, Rev. Jenkins described the work of truly courageous figures such as President Wahid of Indonesia who, during one IIPC conference, called the sheikhs to seek a non-violence approach in front of the Palestinian leadership. Stressing the need for a non-violent approach, Rev. Jenkins linked the relevance of the American Black Civil Rights movement led by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the Middle East. Rev. Jenkins concluded, "The seeds of reconciliation were sowed. That bore fruit and is still growing. So we pray for reconciliation throughout Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities of the world."
Before questions were answered, Dr. Frank Kaufmann, IIFWP Director of the Office of Interreligious Affairs gave some remarks. He began by asking the audience, "Are human beings basically different from one another or basically the same?" Even though the conclusion is obvious, Dr. Kaufmann noted that religion is one of the areas where people easily presume the differences are insuperable, through his years of experience have proven to him, that is not so. Furthermore, he said, it is actually the responsibility of religious leaders to find the way over those seemingly insuperable differences. ironically they achieve this when they "do things religiously." He gave an example of this process explaining "We had a ceremony in which Jewish rabbis offered the crown of kingship to Jesus Christ. Muslims gave the Menorah to rabbis and so forth. In this way, the religious leaders are standing together. They are truly acting religiously."
Dr. Kaufmann concluded, "And so with the religious leaders standing together and acting religiously toward one another, each out of the greatest of their own faith, they are basically saying that the one last thing that people are afraid of, need be feared no more." This liberation through inter-religious action will allow people to move forward in every way to be mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. There is now no more fear of some insuperable differences. Our oneness and solidarity can be guaranteed.
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