The Words of the Pople Family
Lighting candles, pouring water into a common bowl, listening to the collective wisdom of spiritual leaders, sharing with one another around a circle, visiting places of worship together. These are some of the methods used to communicate the spirit of interfaith harmony.
UPF chapters around the world responded to the invitation to organize programs for World Interfaith Harmony Week in 2012, designated as the first week of February each year by a UN General Assembly Resolution approved in 2010.
Some gatherings built on the foundation of past interfaith work. In Thailand, the World Interfaith Harmony gathering built momentum for the National Interfaith Peace Council, which was launched on September 21, 2011. In several cities of Nepal faith leaders offered their insights into ways to build peace in this nation where a stable government is still elusive. The Teusaquillo district of Bogota, Colombia, has been dedicated as a "Peace Territory," and the leaders met there during Interfaith Harmony Week to plan activities for the year. Each of these nations have experienced bouts of violence, and faith leaders are paving paths to cooperative, peaceful development in their nations. In Utah in the US, an interfaith roundtable has been meeting monthly since the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games of 2002, during which local leaders of many faiths served as chaplains.
Compelling visual imagery helps translate concepts into tangible reality. In Hungary, Italy, and Washington, DC, representatives of various religions poured water into a central bowl signifying their awareness of being members of one common human family under God. In Australia, Germany, and Korea, faith leaders lit candles and offered prayers for peace. In Tokyo, Japan, prayers were offered not only for world peace but in memory of the devastation of the Great East Japan Earthquake last year.
Another type of transcendent unifying principle among faiths comes through their mystical traditions. In Germany and Malaysia, speakers from a variety of mystical traditions offered insights about the distinctive as well as common elements from their faiths. Joint visits to places of worship was a featured activity in Russia and Taiwan. Prayers and readings from various faith traditions were the focus of programs in Canada and Honduras.
The central theme of World Interfaith Harmony Week, "Love of God and Love of the Neighbor," offered a logical springboard for discussion. UPF chapters in nations such as Albania, Austria, Chile, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Moldova, Netherlands and Poland invited representatives of various faiths to share their insights.
In Brazil and the Philippines this message was taken to the halls of city and state government. In the United Kingdom, a forum in the House of Commons addressed challenging issues of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Another approach to World Interfaith Harmony Week is to take the vision of interfaith understanding and cooperation to the younger generations. A Christian university in Indonesia invited Muslim as well as Christian leaders to address the student body. Children in Moldova enjoyed a program of humor that drew on themes from various religions, and students in St. Lucia discussed insights from various faiths. Hindu and Muslim university students in New Delhi, India, debated each other about the need for interfaith harmony, and young adults from diverse religious communities in Austria shared with adults their life experiences with people of different faiths and cultures.
Forums in Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Slovakia offered opportunities for people to share memorable experiences in interfaith settings. Ideally, such conversations lead to constructive action. People in Chile, the Czech Republic, and Russia decided to continue the conversations. In Zambia, a national inter-religious council was suggested, and Israeli scholars proposed the establishment of a Peace Academy.
Next year will be the third World Interfaith Harmony Week. Who knows what will develop by then?