The Words of the Haft Family

Youth Seminar on World Religions 1983

Mel Haft, Bob Beebe, Colette Delrue, Joe Stein, and Herb Mayr
October 1983

Father created this seminar, a spiritual highway around the world.

The 1983 program included the following stops: Jerusalem, Israel; Istanbul, Turkey; Rome, Italy; New Delhi, India; Kathmandu, Nepal; Beijing, China and finally Seoul, South Korea ending with a Farewell Banquet.

From the rich variety of testimonies -- both from participants as well as staff members -- we can share only a few.

One hundred fifty participants from 39 countries arrived in Barrytown on July 2, 1983 to kick off the second annual Youth Seminar on World Religions. A rich diversity of religious traditions and cultures assembled under one roof! Some of the countries represented included Austria, Australia, Canada, Chile, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Korea, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Pacific, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, the United States, and Upper Volta. These young men and women had come to spend one week of orientation before starting their two month grand tour around the globe to study about God.

It was the second time that such a "spiritual pilgrimage" was launched. The first one had occurred one year before around the same time.

How did the idea of this Seminar come about?

Over six years ago Father inspired theologians' conferences at the Unification Theological Seminary. These conferences have continued to grow both in size and depth, the largest being the annual "God Conference" in which religious leaders and teachers from major religious traditions gather to discuss God. It was after the "God Conference" held in December 1981 in Hawaii, that Father expressed to Rev. Kwak and Dr. Herbert Richardson his desire to have young men and women from all over the world study about God. As more concrete ideas developed Father suggested a travelling seminar for at least 150 students who would travel around the world and see firsthand the birthplace of every major religion, and study its theory and practice.

Inspired by this idea, more definite plans were made with the cooperation and input of theologians and professors and the special effort of Dr. Herbert Richardson. And three months later, the first Youth Seminar on World Religions was born. John Maniatis, project coordinator of the Seminar, describes its purpose as follows:

Father hopes that through this seminar we can help revive the major religions by inspiring more and more young people, religious leaders and professors to a greater appreciation of their own religious traditions and also of the other major traditions of the world. He hopes that this tour can be a catalyst for religious revival in the various places that it visits. And that it can forge alliances that can begin to solve global human problems and ultimately bring about world peace.

Traveling for two months together involves eating, sleeping, laughing and crying together, certainly a unique way of learning about and confronting different people, cultures, worldviews and religions. As Rev. Kwak concluded in his Bon Voyage speech at Barrytown, "It is not only by books, but by actually experiencing that you most truly learn... Rev. Moon is sponsoring your journey with historical vision, so that after you receive this education, you can make a significant contribution to future history, to your society, your country and furthermore to the world."

Staff members reflect:

And Harmony
Mel Haft

The city hall auditorium filled with over 700 guests, a wide and colorful spectrum of different races and ethnic groups that make up the kingdom of Nepal. Here is where Hinduism and Buddhism have historically thrived in the spirit of religious tolerance. Most guests came from the local religious, academic and diplomatic community of Kathmandu, Nepal's capital city. Among the guests, the orange colored saffron robes of the Buddhist monks stood out brightly. Some of the monks came from remote areas, some from the shadow of the Himalaya Mountains and some of them taking as much as three days to arrive by foot.

Reiner, our German brother, was hurriedly dashing around, seating VIP and media people in rows specially reserved for them. He had struggled for seven years as a missionary, witnessing and teaching English. But most often during those years he was fighting off malaria and the feelings of depression from not bringing results. It was an incredible opportunity for him to meet new people who had an interest in world religions. He was totally involved at the moment, serving and giving, flowing with the excitement of the audience and their anticipation.

The words on the banner above the stage read: "World Peace through Religious Dialogue and Harmony." On the last day in each country that we visited the banner for the public program would be draped across a stage in a large hall. In some cities the public meetings were very small, for example in Jerusalem and Rome. There wasn't one at all in Istanbul because such meetings were prohibited. But in India 200 guests had come and in Nepal and Korea up to 700 guests each.

After the completion of the first historic Youth Seminar on World Religions '82, Father initiated the idea of a `rally' or public program for future seminars. At first no one was sure what these 'rallies' were going to be. From this idea first came to mind visions of crowds in St. Peter's Square in Rome, or Tiananmen Square in Beijing, or Red Square in Moscow, the banner flying high, and people shouting loudly, "World Youth for God"! This would certainly make a clear public statement. However, instead, the Youth Seminar would dialogue in defense of God and the role of religion in bringing about world peace.

Three speakers and a spokesperson for the Youth Seminar on World, Religions were seated on the panel. One speaker, a religious Buddhist scholar, spoke on the role of religion in bringing about world peace. Another speaker, a Hindu scholar spoke about the syncretism of Buddhism and Hinduism in Nepal. He emphasized how Hindus have a great tradition of assimilating the doctrines of other religions and fostering them as their own. "Unity in diversity is the main ideal of Nepalese religion and philosophical thought," he said.

The public talks ended with a sense of agreement, at least among the speakers. Perhaps for many participants though, a sense of emptiness may have been felt because it meant the need to make a change within and in relations to others.

The cultural program shifted my thoughts to the beauty of the diverse ethnic groups of Nepal. Among the many creative dances was that of the legendary Sherpa, Nepal's mountain people who dwell at the foot of the Himalayas (they have a reputation as sturdy and courageous mountain guides). Their dress and culture is quite similar to that of Tibet. Another outstanding performance, a drum dance, depicted the 'exorcism' of sick spirits by a local medicine doctor (beating on his drum to drive away the spirits). It made us chuckle as the patient seemed more tormented by the beat of the drums than the treatment. The peasant was finally healed and the audience approved with hearty applause.

Afterwards, the participants, some in their national robes, rose up from their seats, faced the audience and warmly displayed their pleasure by each clasping his hands together, bowing slightly with the head, and offering a heartfelt Namaste, the traditional word for peace and goodbye.

The guests remained to see the final portion of the public program; the film on the 1982 YSWR. The film entitled "One Truth, One God, Many Paths" took us on the journey to all the religious centers of the world visited on the 1982 pilgrimage... At the conclusion of the program, 150 of the 700 guests boarded buses to attend a farewell banquet sponsored by the YSWR. There was a deep sense of gratitude in the hearts of the seminar participants for a very enriching experience in this lovely kingdom.

The city hall emptied, the banner was taken down. Reiner and a Buddhist monk -- a group leader on the YSWR tour and advisor for our program -- were the last to leave. They spoke of forming an institute for the study of world religions. Reiner had already begun informally teaching classes on each of the major world religions.

A Buddhist monk, a participant, wrote at the end of the spiritual pilgrimage whether it is possible to find a way to World Peace through a secret means, whereas there are many other secular ways. If so, then how? Yes, he concluded at the end, there is a possibility, "What all the world religions have to say about world peace is contained in a single verse of the Buddhist Canon, "Do good, avoid bad, cultivate morality, love and live in peace" and also, "hatred can never be overcome by hatred, but by love, friendship; this is the eternal law."

When Father first saw the proposal for the theme of the YSWR, "World Peace through Religious Dialogue," he added, "and Harmony." The YSWR reflects the personal conviction of True Parents to establish harmony by eliminating hatred and prejudice on the basis of religious life. Father created this seminar, a spiritual highway around the world because he is convinced that the world religions have an important role in building a foundation for world peace. And it would be the practical cooperation of the world faiths in solving specific

A Life-Changing Experience
Bob Beebe

For me the tour was a consciousness-expanding event. I began to see how God really was the inspiration behind Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc., how in many ways they offered different approaches to God and life.

For many participants it was actually the first time they had ever been outside of their own country. Many of them formed deep friendships with people of countries, races, and religions they had never encountered human problems, creating harmonious international communities and ultimately bringing about world peace before. By the end of the tour I really felt the presence of God with us. Many of the participants expressed both publicly and privately their gratitude to the church and to Father for giving them such an experience. Several expressed a desire to study the Divine Principle more and to stay in contact with the church. It was both sorrowful and deeply touching to see so much tearful affection expressed when we had to go our separate ways at the end.

As for the countries themselves, I gained a sense of where the people were at spiritually and how much each country and people are affected by its past. Technology may be propelling us into the future but our hearts often keep us mired in the past.

In Israel, the tension between the Israelis and Arabs is the dominant influence on life there. Neither side can forgive the other for the hurt each has caused the other in the past. In Turkey the atmosphere was much less tense despite the military regime there and the people were much more hospitable. Rome was busy, expensive, and felt like a city which had known wealth for much of its history. To travel from there to India was a culture shock. I cannot think of the beautiful temples and shrines that we visited without remembering the garbage- infested streets, people huddled in rags, many of them hungry, some sleeping on the sidewalks in order to forget their hunger. And beggars everywhere. The Indian scene imparts a sense of despair and hopelessness. In Nepal the poverty is sometimes just as great, but the people are more rugged, hardier, and happier than in India. I will always remember the innocence and beauty of the Nepalese children.

After India and Nepal, Communist China in some ways appeared in a positive light. No abject poverty. No beggars. Everyone seemed to have some function and purpose. Although providing a basic foundation of life- support, the system also works to suppress the spirit. Service to others is regarded as a duty rather than an act of love. Religiosity is prohibited outside of a church, mosque, or temple. So there is little chance for proselytizing and witnessing about one's faith.

South Korea was a breath of fresh air after China. In Seoul I felt that I was witnessing the unfolding of the "emerging Pacific culture" which Father has talked about. Because of its history of suffering, perhaps Korea has the spiritual foundation to employ modern technology in the proper way and lead the world toward a new future as a model nation. All of us were moved by the generosity and humility of the Korean people.

There are countless things I could share -- personal experiences with children, youth groups, and families we visited -- but most importantly for me the Youth Seminar has been a life- changing experience. My intellectual knowledge and awareness of other countries and religions became alive, the peoples' different way of life became real to me and affected me emotionally. I am a different person because of it.

I am so grateful to God and True Parents to have had this opportunity. And I am also grateful to my brothers and sisters who, because of their sacrifice, have made this trip possible.

Touching Father's Vision
Colette Delrue

This summer I could touch more substantially what Father's vision is for mankind and my mind and heart grew a lot in appreciation and understanding.

In some countries we met conflicts, poverty, oppression, fear, lack of freedom... This made me more concretely understand God's suffering. I feel pain in my heart when I think about the oppressing poverty of India, the spiritual coldness of China and its lack of freedom and creativity, the real conflict between Arabs and Israelis... but at the same time, I have a lot of hope because I could concretely experience that because of love, people of very different horizons can come together in harmony.

Unity in Diversity through Sincerity
Joe Stein

Among the most important components of the Seminar for me was the diversity in the religious perspectives of the participants. As we travelled around the world, we had the chance to see tremendous divergence in religious practices and beliefs. We could also gain insight into how spiritual values and philosophical perspectives influenced the political, social, economic, and religious life of different peoples and nations. Despite all of these differences, however, we could feel a tremendous desire to grow in our capacity to love one another. The world's turmoil inspired greater love.

I learned that unity among us as a small group representing the larger world did not come about through our common theological positions, common philosophical perspectives, or common rituals, but in our common sincerity to serve God and humanity. I could find the spirit of God in the beauty of sincere worship and humble devotion in each of the world religions, as individuals sought to develop their highest standards of love and service. I could envision a world in the future in which the sincere love, dedication, and consecration of individuals to God is the basis of unity in diversity.

Reflection on Two World Tours
Herb Mayr

The second Youth Seminar on World Religions began the moment the first YSWR concluded. When people think of the Youth Seminar, often it's thought of in terms of moving over 140 people to and through airports, checking into and out of hotels, and moving on the daily trips. But there is also a mountain of preparation work. New literature was printed, bids were obtained on travel arrangements, letters were mailed out, religious leaders and teachers were consulted for advice and chosen for leadership roles on the tour, and the entire process for the selection of participants began.

Developing a "public program" for each country was an important new step adding to the Youth Seminar the dimension of public outreach.

It was almost impossible to imagine the enormity of this project. I remember being in the office of one of the largest airlines in the world and one of the executives looking at the proposed itinerary and stating, "I've never seen tickets like this before!" I remember the hundreds of applications that came in, the thousands of letters that we sent out, and the millions of questions that were constantly arising. I remember travel guides from the previous year confiding in us that when they had first heard about this large and diverse group that was supposed to come, they really didn't believe we would actually appear; it sounded more like somebody's dream. (It seems as though Father's vision is always at the fingertips of outstretched efforts.)

The YSWR 1983 was so much different from the first one -- especially the participants. On the 1982 YSWR tour it seemed no matter how hard we worked and how much we gave, the participants had a difficult time trusting us. I can understand. What would the student think who is suddenly offered a free trip around the world sponsored by Reverend Moon, the most controversial religious leader in the world? But this year, we stood upon the foundation of the year before, and there was more time for questions to be answered.

Sometimes there are very special moments that symbolize something far beyond themselves. When I think of the YSWR 1983 I'll always remember such an instant in a mosque in Turkey. One of the Muslim participants from Africa read several pages from the Koran in a beautiful melodic chant. The elders of the mosque were gathered around him, their lips moving with the words, nodding their heads in approval. In a short time there were dozens of local worshippers gathered around listening. When he was finished they were patting him on the back and thanking him for the experience and he was asked to offer a prayer for the moment. He prayed, and then there were so, so many questions... How could an African be here in this Turkish mosque reading the Koran so beautifully?

He began to tell them of the Youth Seminar. Many people there had read the article in the paper the day before, about a "mysterious group" and there came even more and more questions. But also some of our participants began to support him explaining the Seminar, testifying to its goals and purpose. It was quite obvious that in the middle of this huge mosque something very special was happening.

Furthermore this was "happening" across some difficult language barriers, for none of the Turks spoke English fluently, and none of the participants present spoke Turkish. But our foreign missionary could help out! At that moment all the foundation of the Seminar was his to use and to testify with. Truly the Youth Seminar was heaven's gift to him and those in the mosque.

Participants' view:

The Lamps Are Different but the Light Is the Same
Yahaya Ahmed (Nigeria)

Personally this trip has enabled me to have a wider vision of what religion means. Born and raised in the Islamic tradition I knew very little of other religions. I was brought up to dislike especially all forms of worship in the presence of images. But through this seminar I have been able to observe for the first time Buddhist and Hindu worship, and I came out respecting and admiring these faiths. The mere observance of these devout Buddhists and Hindus at worship made me believe in the value and genuineness of these religions and I now recognize their worth.

Back in Israel I was able to participate in two other forms of worship different from mine: Judaism and Christianity. At the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem I stood beside the rabbi watching him chanting and making a to and fro movement. And I tried to do as he did. I really felt something at that time.

Before this trip I was told by some friends that religion is just a fallacy and a projection of human desires. But this spiritual pilgrimage has shown me that man must have faith to live by. Wherever we visited we have been able to see men of faith deeply involved in their religious practices. And I came to agree with a Moslem saying: "The lamps are different, but the light is the same." World Peace can truly be achieved -- I am now convinced -- through religious dialogue and harmony.

Tolerance and the Lack of It
Dr. Cromwell Crawford (United States)

The underlying experience which I believe all of us had, the one lesson if it could be encapsulated in a single word, would be the word "tolerance." This learning on our own the message of tolerance was in a formal sense the vision of our great benefactor Rev. Moon...

(One experience)... there was the young man, our tourist guide. We came to know each other very well. And I remember when we stopped at that big square in front of Chairman Mao's Mausoleum, I began to ask him such simple questions as, "What place does Mao have within the thinking of the people?"

He began to give me rather short choppy answers. His conversation was in non-sequiturs and didn't quite make sense. Then he realized that I was catching on to his inability to express himself so he put his arms around me, he squeezed my neck and he said, "I hope you will understand, I can't tell you what I want to tell you, and besides, I think we are being followed."

The idea of tolerance, the lack of it in this special moment where a young man whom I did not know previously, within a very short time begins to spill out his guts and pour out his heart and express the tremendous camaraderie which he saw among all of us. As we were people from different countries, he could not understand how so many different countries could come together and how we could have such a wonderful esprit among us without it coming as an order from the top.

I am glad there is this message which was given to us; it hasn't been "given to us from the top," as it was suggested, but we have made this discovery on our own.

Feeling Jesus' Heart
Vered Zadok (Israel)

One of the most important questions with regard to this seminar is,

"How can we understand somebody else's belief?" and whether it is possible at all.

When we were in Frascati in Italy -- it was the last day in Italy -- I walked with Cathy through the streets and we came to a church. I suddenly felt I wanted to pray there and I sat down on one of the wood benches in front of Jesus' cross and prayed. I don't know if you can understand, but for me as a Jew, the Christian Church has always been something very frightening, dark and mysterious. I liked to go to churches because they were beautiful, yet I always had some kind of very strange and uncomfortable feeling. But there I could sit and pray looking at the picture of Jesus in front of me! I felt his heart. It was a very loving one and I felt very fulfilled.

In each country there were so many surprises, I just felt that somebody has given me and given me. I know that saying thank you is very small. But I really want to thank all the people of the Unification Church for that big opportunity. I watched the members who worked day and night. I want to thank also the people who weren't in the seminar but somehow made it possible.

In Honor Of Rev. Moon and the Unknown Moonie
Jean-Francois Mayer (Switzerland)

How many things have we done together during the past weeks. Remember we climbed upon Masada, Jerusalem, the Nepalese hill, the Great Wall, weren't afraid to descend into the catacombs, the tunnels at the 38th Parallel. We went to shrines and places of worship of many religious traditions. Deep impressions have been flowing into our minds and into our souls.

Now we will go back to our respective countries and homes; but that is not really the end of the travel, because now will begin the time of personal and peaceful reflections about our experiences and discoveries during this summer.

I must confess I had a fear when applying for this summer -- and surely I was not the only one. I feared that this seminar could promote some kind of religious syncretism. Fortunately that has not been the case! I have deeply appreciated meeting strong and wonderful and at the same time open- minded believers who, however, don't think they have to sacrifice their own faith for the sake of unity. And I think this strong attachment to one's own faith is not incompatible at all with unity. Surprisingly, visiting many places of worship of various religions we didn't experience so much division as w. could have expected. We discovered the fact that we can feel more or less at home in the places of worship of religions other than our own.

Actually we think now that the unity of religions does already exist -- not superficially, not immediately recognizable -- but in depth. The dogmas of the various religions describe aspects of the same universal truth that is much higher than human words can express. This truth manifests itself under various forms. Of course it is beyond the forms, beyond the dogmas, but we are human beings, and as limited beings we need the help of those forms in our religious quest. So it doesn't seem necessary to be able to acknowledge, to recognize, the unity which already exists in depth between all the religions of the world.

As this seminar comes to an end, it's also time to express our feelings of gratitude to all people who made it a success and an unforgettable experience. To the coordinators, organizers, group leaders, we all say, "Thank you!" We were able to see and to appreciate the extraordinary tasks you have achieved despite the difficulties and the strenuous schedule. Thanks to you travelling around the world seemed to be easy.

And now there is a man without whom this event would have never occurred; a man who was inspired to sponsor this seminar. We all feel deeply indebted to Rev. Sun Myung Moon, for giving us this unique opportunity. Listening two days ago to Rev. Kwak's speech we were impressed to know the number of projects that Rev. Moon and the Unification Church sponsor. I am sure we all have the feeling that Rev. Moon dares to do things nobody else would dare do today.

We don't only express our gratitude to Rev. Moon but also our admiration for his tremendous work. Before concluding I have still someone to thank. But first let me share a personal moving experience with you:

During our orientation week in Barrytown we had a day trip to New York City. In the streets of Manhattan there were many people in a hurry, drug dealers, and so on, but at the end of the day while coming back to the buses, I met at the street corner a strange person. A young lady. She wasn't in a hurry; she didn't seem to be, at least. She wasn't a drug dealer. No, she was a Unification Church missionary. I stopped and began to talk to her and we spoke about the Youth Seminar. And she said to me with shining eyes how much she would like to be able to attend this seminar. I don't know who this young lady was or where she came from, but she and thousands of Unificationists are working hard day after day, and their work made this Youth Seminar possible!

Rev. Moon is the mind behind this seminar. But the mind needs a body to act, and they are this body. After meeting this young Unificationist lady I felt unworthy to participate in this seminar. I felt we don't deserve such a privilege. Those hard-working Unificationists who made this travel possible for us have a thousand times more right to such a privilege.

On that day, in the streets of New York, I pledged to myself never to forget this young lady and to remember her all over the world. I remember her tonight, and she is like a symbol for those thousands of Unificationist missionaries who made this travel possible for us.

And if we think about it, I am sure that there will be in the hearts of all of us an internal flame shining in the honor of the unknown Moonie. To Rev. Moon and to the unknown Moonie we all say, "Kam-sa ham-nida!" 

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