Unification News for June 2005
Religious Reconciliation in South Asia
by Dr. Robert S. Kittel
At a Hindu ashram just outside Goa, India, interreligious harmony is thriving. In this small resort town, famous for beautiful beaches and mouth-watering cashews, the eleventh annual "All Religions Seminar for World Peace" was convened on March 20, 2005. Despite the historical religious rigidity and loathing that forced the British Raj to be divided between Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-dominated Pakistan at the end of WWII and the current tensions over the divided state of Jumma and Kashmir, this conference sought to reconcile these differences by seeking common ground and mutual understanding.
The seminar organizer, Shri Sadguru Parwadeshwar, a Hindu, invited and sponsored two Muslim leaders: a Sufi saint from New Delhi and a former UN representative from Pakistan (all three are Ambassadors for Peace). In addition, one representative each from the Archbishop of Goa (even though this was Palm Sunday) and from the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace attended, along with local political leaders and two women academicians.
Syed Zia Rizvi (L), Pakistan, Director-General of the Independent Bureau for Humanitarian Issues and former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Pir Khwaja Afzal (R), Nizami, Sajjada Nashin of the Dargah of Hazat Nizamuddin Aulia from New Delhi. The conference began with a religious procession, not celebrating personalities, but the sacredness of each faith's Holy Scripture. Three religious books, the Bhagavadgita, the Quran and the Bible, were carried in on a royal canopy by pallbearers.
Although the term pallbearer conjures up images of a funeral, the only thing laid to rest here was religious hatred and bigotry. To be precise though, at an interment the term pall refers not to the casket, but the cloth covering it. In fact, this word comes from the Latin pallium which is an ecclesiastical term referring to the robes worn by the Pope. This pall, or royal canopy, shaded the cloth-covered scriptures that were carried in a small replica of how Maharajas would have traveled in olden days. It was obviously meant to show deepest respect for these revered writings.
About five hundred people gathered under a tent at the ashram for the first part of the day-long seminar. At an octagonal fireplace (Yagna Kund), the religious leaders threw rice and incense on the blaze to consecrated its flames. This added to the interfaith spirit of the seminar since fire universally represents truth, love, and divine light.
A press communiqué following the seminar noted that the group agreed to promote peace within and between neighboring countries at regional as well as international levels and to support the efforts of regional and international bodies including, in particular, the United Nations in the field of peace-making and peace-building. In addition, great importance was attached to identification and elimination of the root causes of armed conflicts.
In conjunction with non-governmental organizations such as the Interreligious and International Peace Council and World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations as well as research bodies mentioned in the U.N. General Assembly resolutions such as the Independent Bureau for Humanitarian Issues, it was decided to develop a follow-up mechanism intended to spread the interfaith message of the seminar. In this context, special mention was made of the resolutions adopted by the U.N. General Assembly regarding the promotion of a New International Humanitarian Order which is urgently needed, particularly in view of global developments since the 9/11 events.
According to reports from the World Bank, this year India will replace South Africa as the nation with the largest number of AIDS/HIV infections. The Goa Resolution acknowledges the vital role that faith-based organizations must play in stemming the tide of this incurable disease by, "Support[ing] all possible measures to promote better health, spiritual as well as physical, and to take collective measures to prevent and control. the pandemic of HIV/AIDS."
In the evening a smaller program was held in the Rajiv Gandhi Centre where the former Chief Minister, Mr. Ravi Naik, and the current Member of Parliament, Mr. Shripad Naik, attended. Concluding this part of the seminar an advocate from Goa, Mr. S. B. Patil, was given an award for his social services and, following this, the "Goa Resolution" was passed by consensus. The entire event was covered by the local press, including regional newspapers, All India Radio and the Indian national television network, Doordarshan.
The promotion and consolidation of this South Asian Peace Initiative will be followed up at a conference in April in Washington DC where the principal participants of the Goa seminar intend to suggest and support practical measures which need to be taken in order to consolidate interreligious cooperation, as well as the physical and spiritual venues needed to establish world peace.
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