The Words of the Haft Family

Youth Seminar on World Religions 1984

Mel Haft, Jack Sheffrin, and Karen Wilkening
November 1984

All 150 participants gather for the grand finale event outside the Little Angels Performing Arts Center in Seoul, South Korea.

Jack Sheffrin, UTS Divinity Student '84

Since Father first initiated the Youth Seminar on World Religions (YSWR) his goal has been to bring educated young people together to discover the unity of religions and the oneness of humanity. The third YSWR this year was successful in accomplishing this task.

Participants representing 35 nations and 12 religions discovered through the worldwide pilgrimage that religions are teaching the highest values of love, peace, and harmony. At the same time, though, participants were exposed to a world full of poverty, resentment, fear, hostility, and distrust.

The few seminary students among the 150 participants that attended the tour discovered more deeply the need for the Unification movement. No other religious group is taking responsibility to promote ecumenism on the same scale as does the Unification Church. Father's vision and determination has moved the Unification Church into a unique position in history.

One Hindu holy man said to the participants of the YSWR that to bring peace in the world they should compile all moral teachings of the great religions and publish them in a book. "Let the world see that all these religions desire the same goal," he said. Already Father has spoken of this and is pushing us to make such a publication. In response to a question concerning communism the Hindu saint said, "This seminar is the answer to communism. Let them see what you are doing."

World Peace through Religious Dialogue and Harmony
Mel Haft

The 1984 Youth Seminar on World Religions was a unique adventure, more so than the previous two seminars. Its unique characteristics are expressed from my personal perspective in the following essays: Dialogue and Harmony: The Uniqueness Within the Group and Approaching the Almighty: Interfaith Prayer.

Dialogue and Harmony: The Uniqueness within the Group

At first glance, the group of 150 participants of the Youth Seminar on World Religions looks like a group of ordinary tourists. At a second glance, one's intuitive senses immediately scope out the diversity of cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. The image is striking -- brought very close to the consciousness of even the ordinary unprofessional believer: a holding tank of culture and spirit.

Nothing said or done can be more inspiring than what exists-150 scholars and students, all seekers, from over 30 nations, representing 12 religious traditions, spending seven weeks together visiting the holy sites of the world. And deep inside, they each carry a message of world peace.

Truly it is a historic event. The idea is so appealing that it has brought inspiration to the religious and secular communities they visited all over the world. The variety of participants is wide -- some of meditative qualities and some of a celebrative type -- but it is a simple collection of religiously bound pilgrims.

Each participant is clearly unique, like a mirror, receiving and reflecting images of personal rebellions and loyalties, of agonies and resurrections, and of personal beliefs -- finding expression but not always being absorbed. Each person is a work of art which reflects the glory as well as the tragedy and distortion of life.

Among them is Lou from California, a practicing Mormon in his mid-twenties with a strong physical resemblance to Robert Redford (so said a news article about the tour). He has spent a year teaching English in Taiwan and two years as a missionary in France.

Kristian is a Protestant priest who was recently expelled from East Germany, where he was born and grew up, and who now lives in West Germany. Like the majority of seminar participants, he was recommended by his professor and was required to submit an essay on his religious faith and activities and why he wanted to take part. (Participants are chosen for high moral and academic standards.)

Friday Mbon, a group leader, is a lecturer in the sociology of religion at the University of Nigeria. He is particularly interested to see how religion functions within a particular society, to see what religion does to people and what people do to religion.

Annette Cook, 27, is getting her masters' degree in religion at the University of Georgia; she's a tall American girl. Annette says she has not come on this trip for the academics but for the people.

Annette's sponsor, a theological advisor to the seminar, has a somewhat similar perspective, that the YSWR does not replace academic studies of the world religions but complements that study by an experiential and dialogue- oriented encounter of these religions in their own setting.

Face-to-Face Encounter

The central theme for the 1984 Youth Seminar on World Religions is "World Peace through Religious Dialogue and Harmony." The participants in the seminar, now or even later in life, will probably face the challenge of constructively living and dealing with people of other faiths. To help facilitate sympathetic understanding of these faiths and their value for human solidarity, inter-religious dialogue is greatly encouraged.

The religions of the world, their adherents, and the cultures and lifestyles associated with them are of penetrating interest and worth serious and sincere discussion. Though the world's religions symbolize many things to many people, their interpretations are often universal. Frequently these are expressed in the many forms of human emotions. As one former participant expresses it,

Belonging to a particular faith is most often a matter of chance, but actively professing the faith is a different issue altogether. Our religious sentiments are quite often wrongly conceived and are sometimes herd-like arousals to manipulated instigations. Our views are often one-sided and emotion-tinged, thus giving very little scope for reasonable argument or discussion.

The bottom line of it all is a face-to- face, side-by-side, and sometimes back- to-back encounter.

What is at the mainstream of the seminar, though, is a uniqueness within that perhaps is not found anywhere else. It is not so much what is communicated, but the method of communicating in our human relationships and in our relationships with God, expressing sincerity and speaking with earnestness and humility.

"Principles and policies clash, feeling and emotions are aroused, only to show that a sober and serene attitude is required if we wish to understand the other properly," says Hema, an Indian participant from the 1982 tour. She added, "Above all, it dawned on me that I must learn to respect another faith if I want my religious feelings to be left unhurt."

Throughout the world people are lacking this kind of relationship and are deeply searching for the ideal. What a wonderful opportunity to test one's soul and heart and to immerse oneself in inter-religious dialogue! The talks, sometimes all through the night, touch upon everything important -- the power of God, philosophy and the state of humankind, the length of life, heart, wisdom, beauty, sin, patriotism, life's stresses, historical values, the price of tea in China, and all the endless questions and answers for which we all search.

With depth and sincerity in dialogue, God can listen. With kindness and harmony, God can rejoice.

Approaching the Almighty: Interfaith Prayer

In Madras, India, early one morning, we journeyed out to the ocean where there was a statue of Mahatma Gandhi. As we pilgrims prayed for world peace, each in his or her own religious tradition, the local beach strollers gathered around the prayer circle. Attracted by the Hindu music which accompanied the words of Gandhi being read by Seshagiri Rao on peace and prayer, the spectators seemed in awe at our diversity.

In Istanbul, Turkey, we paid homage in a small mosque, offering a traditional Islamic prayer for peace. The Imam of the mosque, moved by such a diverse group in prayer, opened the tomb of a close disciple of Muhammad as a special favor.

In Beijing, China, we prayed for peace in the inner sanctum of the state guesthouse -- a place reserved for heads of state. And within hearing distance of our prayers resided the North Korean premier.

In Jerusalem, a caravan of three cars with 12 pilgrims of the Youth Seminar maneuvered down the dirt roads of Jerusalem's "Peace Forest." Small tree saplings covered acres of the arid desert. It was six o'clock on a Sunday morning, the sun hazy and the lingering quietness of this holy city surrounding us, a city once torn by religious strife; one in which three major and related religions are insecurely bound by bonds of cautious veneration and love.

In each city along the world tour representatives of each of the religious traditions would gather at some religiously significant location and pray for world peace. The theme for our journey, as stated to the participants in correspondences, literature, banners, and in public talks, was "World Peace through Religious Dialogue and Harmony." As Jerusalem was our first overseas stop, the meaning of the seminar theme had not yet been implanted in our hearts.

A display of hope and vision at the Great Wall of China.

Planting Our Trees

The 12 of us stopped by the information center of Jerusalem's Peace Forest and each received a prayer card and a small sapling to be planted in an assigned area. In Jewish tradition, trees are planted in commemoration to the departed, a symbol of resurrection and growth.

Einat, a Jewish-Israeli participant, first read a prayer in Hebrew. Then we all followed by repeating in unison the same prayer for peace in English. Each one of us then offered a prayer in his or her tradition, the Christian, the Hindu, the Sikh, the Jain, the Unificationist, the Mormon, the Universalist, and even our Muslim taxi driver. Bikshu Sudarshan, a Buddhist Nepalese monk and spiritual advisor for the Youth Seminar pilgrimage, added a special touch of his own by lighting incense and a candle and then placing an image of Buddha on the fresh soil next to his tree.

As we each planted and watered our trees, our contributions became more meaningful to us, each in our own way. These 12 trees were more than a restorative gesture to the desert; they represent a swelling of our faiths, a growing together in close harmony. These 12 trees represented the cosmos with its cyclical processes and its regenerative blooming. They represented immortality, growth, and creative power! Ourselves watered and nourished, we departed -- student, scholar and worker.

The interfaith prayer ended with deep emotions, insight, and retrospect. Saying the prayers aloud in light of each other's beliefs penetrated our minds and hearts deeply. It was an experience that spoke to the human heart beyond all possible barriers of culture, language, and education.

The inspired Author of prayer had a meaning for such an event and we should attempt to capture that meaning.

From "It" to "We"

Dr. Huston Smith, chairperson for the 1984 God Conference, former co-chairperson for the Youth Seminar on World Religions, and author of Religions of Man, once said of the different faiths that stand in prayer together:

As one begins to look at another faith, one's pronouns change. At first the other faith, be it Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, whatsoever, looks like an object for which the appropriate pronoun is "It." But as one gets to know not just the doctrines, the teachings of the faith, but the members and participants in that faith, then the religion changes and becomes more human and alive and the appropriate pronoun changes from "It" to "They." And as one comes even closer and gets to know these adherents, these participants, these believers in another faith as individuals, the pronoun takes on yet another thinks of Buddhism or Islam or Hinduism not as an "/t" and its members not as "They," but individually face to face, one on one as "You." There is one final step...when in almost miraculous grace even the space between "I" and "you" is closed and the pronoun finally collapses to a "We," as you of a different faith than I stand or pray together to that which transcends us both.

The overarching theme of our prayer, though stated as "World Peace through Religious Dialogue and Harmony," was God Himself, the Divine expressed in each religion. It was this blending of duty and delight that brought the Youth Seminar's pilgrims together for interfaith prayer -- a duty to unlock God's soul.

A Common Heart Beats Across All Nations
Karen Wilkening (UTS Divinity' Student '84)

The Youth Seminar on World Religions (YSWR) condensed seven years of experiences into seven very short and very intense weeks. Perhaps the most enriching aspect for me was the relationships I formed with other participants.

I found that a common heart beats across all nations and faiths. I found the similarities among the world's peoples more striking than the differences among people. In touching that common heart I found hope for the future of our world. The dream of a peaceful world composed of the world's diverse peoples living in harmony seems a little less a dream and more of a potential reality.

World events, especially events and conflicts in the area of religion, are personalized for me now. When I read about the conflict between the Sikhs and the Hindus I think of my Sikh friend and my Hindu friends. When 1 read about the problems between the Arabs and Israel I think of my Israeli friends and of their fears and feelings for their nation and its future. I also think of the Palestinian Arab that I came to know as well. Over the summer on the YSWR I met people from 12 different faiths and 35 countries. Our time together expanded my comprehension and sensitivity to the world's religions, its cultures, and its peoples.

The students came from:

1. Argentina
2. Australia
3. Bangladesh
4. Belgium
5. Canada
6. Chile
7. Ecuador
8. Egypt
9. England
10. France
11. Guyana
12. Holland
13. Hong Kong
14. India
15. Israel
16. Japan
17. Kenya
18. Liberia
19. Mohawk Nation (American Indian)
20. Nepal
21. New Zealand
22. Nigeria
23. Pakistan
24, Philippines
25. Somalia
26. South Korea
27. Sri Lanka
28. Switzerland
29. Thailand
30. Trinidad
31. Turkey
32. Upper Volta
33. United States
34, Vietnam
35. West Germany 

Table of Contents

Tparents Home

Moon Family Page

Unification Library