Unification News for March 2002

Religious Dialog at WCSF

Frank Kaufmann
March, 2002

The World Culture and Sports Festival was held in Seoul February 13-20, 2002. IIFWP'S Assembly 2002 aspect of the WCSF was comprised of elements reflecting the broad array of peace activity and organizations founded and maintained by Reverend Moon -- religion, politics, media, and so forth.

As always religion had a central role to play. Spiritual leaders offered prayers and invocations throughout the many events of the Assembly and the festival, one early morning leaders offered an interfaith worship service open to all participants, 52 scholars and leaders engaged in three, two-hour committee sessions on issues of religion and peace, other religion participants contributed to different committees (such as politics or NGO's), and eight from our number brought Heaven's Blessings from the world's traditions to the 1,000's of young couples.

We are grateful to Khamba Lama Dambajav for opening the entire Assembly with his invocation at the opening banquet. Reverend Jesse Edwards offered the invocation at the opening plenary which included talks from former President Abdurrahman Wahid, and Reverend Moon, Dr. Manjit Singh Jathedar offered a plenary invocation, and Archbishop Augustus Stallings prayed the invocation at the closing banquet at the Little Angel's School. Religion plenary speakers included Pastor T.L. Barrett, Professor Jameson Kurasha, and Dr. Martin Forward.

On the second morning of the Assembly participants gathered for Interfaith Prayer and Meditation whose leaders included Sister Lilian Curaming FFM (Christianity), Professor Tansukh Salgia (Jainism), Dr. Manjit Singh, Jathedar (Sikhism), Dr. Mohamad Abdulrahman Alhabach (Islam), Professor Ernesto Lazarovitz (Judaism), Chief Joseph Silverbird (First Peoples), Professor Anatoli Byaruhanga-Akiiki (African Traditions), Mr. Om Prakesh Sharma (Hinduism), and Reverend Levi Daugherty (Unificationism).

Unification marriage Blessing ceremonies began in 1960 with just 3 couples, and eventually 36 that same year. This was also the year of Reverend and Mrs. Moon's own marriage. By 1992 Blessing participants came from various of the world religions, and by 1995 a tradition was established whereby Blessing couples would receive prayers and Blessings upon their vows not only from Reverend and Mrs. Moon, but also by leaders from all the world religions. This year there was a wonderful group who joined the ceremony to bring the rich treasures of their respective traditions to the couples starting family life. Some of the spiritual leaders have performed these ceremonies often in the past, others were involved for the first time ever. Dr. Manjit Singh Jathedar representing the Sikh faith has prayed many times at Blessing ceremonies, as had Chief Silverbird from the Apache and Cherokee Nations, and Pastor T.L. Barrett from the Chicago area Life Center of the Church of God in Christ. New this year were several delightful friends whose commitment to the ceremony was genuinely moving. Economos Emil Rohana Israel's Economos and representative of the Patriarchate of the Orthodox Catholic Church prayed. Together with Pastor Barrett they represented Christianity. Vishwanath Dadarao Karad of Pune offered Hindu Blessings.

Special stories from the Blessing come from our Jewish and Muslim prayers this year. H.E. Sayyed Musawi of Alulbait extended himself and his foundation extremely sacrificially to be sure that he could be present to offer prayers and Blessings from the Muslim tradition. His Eminence went to significant personal expense, and delayed urgent meetings in Mecca so as to bring his Blessings of peace! His Eminence Musawi similarly invested himself enormously at the recent Muslim Summit in Jakarta, standing undaunted and uncompromising for an Islam of peace and interfaith harmony.

A similar degree of personal determination characterized events surrounding the Jewish Blessing prayer. On the morning before the Blessing ceremony, Rabbi Bar Dea reminded me that the Blessing is scheduled on Saturday (the Sabbath). Of course the Rabbi cannot travel on the Sabbath. I was about to give up, but the Rabbi was determined by all means. "No No! It cannot be that the young people will not have a Jewish prayer for their families!" He decided the only way was to somehow get close enough to the Blessing site (Seoul's Olympic Fencing Gymnasium) to walk to the ceremony. Once it was decided that this was the path we'd take, we had only a tiny bit of sunlight left to transfer the Rabbi to the hotel nearest the gymnasium. He raced up to his room, came down with an overnight bag including a bag of dried fruit to get him through one day. We hit the streets only to find ourselves entangled in Friday night, Seoul traffic. Daylight is fading, the sun is dropping in the sky, the driver is madly racing through back routes, and obscure alleys trying to beat the setting sun. Like a car chase in a spy movie, only with a Rabbi and the setting sun!

We arrived at the hotel with just moments to spare, now to find a new round of challenges. The first floor on which western 'beds' were to be found was the 12th! Below that were only traditional Korean rooms. The 5th floor was the lowest (no elevators on the Sabbath -- a mode of transportation). We rode up to check the room in advance, and soon behind us coming up the stairs was the Rabbi. Eyes wide, "Vere's the Bed?" In this little cubby here. "Take it out take it out." The light, the key, the lock, the heat... Well, we did all we could do, and left Rabbi Bar Dea with a shiny floor, bedding laid out, a bag of dry fruit, and the hope that by the grace of God above, we would see him somehow or another in the Olympic Gymnasium, still not that close. Indeed Rabbi Bar Dea arrived on foot, and offered lovely prayers for God's Blessings on the thousands of young people soon to start family life.


In addition to the many spiritual and ceremonial roles for the assembled guests, all participated in the rich dialogue on matters of religion and peace.

The religion committee was organized around the following backgrounder with three sessions, each related to an aspect of religion and peace. As can be seen the third and final session was conducted jointly with the United Nations committee.

Session I: Exploring the relationship between scholars of religion and ecclesiastical leaders of religion in a comparative context with special emphasis on how this relationship affects the internal health of a religion, and its capacity to dialogue effectively for peace.

Session II: Exploring the relationship between large, powerful religions, and minority religions, especially as these dynamics affect efforts for peace.

Session III: (Joint Session) Exploring the possibility of a permanent interreligious presence in the United Nations.

Each session had between three and six speakers offering brief précis of their papers followed by a short conversation including questions from the floor, and responses from the paper presenters.

Session one on the relationship between clergy and religious scholars included a number of serious papers and good work on the question. Imam Tariq Ansaar Aquil in his paper presented theology and autobiography arguing a viable ground for harmonizing strong piety in a particular tradition, with a commitment to universalism and interreligious embrace. Dr. Lilian Curamming, in her article set justice as a defining matrix through which to assess viable spiritual and religious positions. The venerable Dr. Ratsnamy Thiagaraj criticized both clerical leaders and scholars for contributing to parochialism in religious worldviews, and offered constructive proposals for reform in both professions.

Professor Imtiaz Yusuf in his paper argued the position that universal religions have become ethnocentric. and called upon the discipline of religious studies to promote religious dialogue. The politicization of religion at both intra- and inter-religious levels is deemed harmful to peace and dialogue, and the resulting selectivity in teaching derived from ideological predispositions mars the fair teaching of religion. Dr. Imtiaz’s positions drew some fairly strong response, allowing for a decent debate to arise in the brief available time for discussion. Professor Shifan Liu of Beijing outlined the basic tenets of classical Confucianism. Toward the end of this session, professor Jameson Kurasha challenged the group to reflect more immediately about religious imperialism and the history of missions. Kurasha’s points were penetrating, but any blanket critique of missions was rejected among the participants.

Day 2 of the Committee treated the relationship between large and powerful religions and minority religions, and entertained presentations from Ms. Johanna Broman, Professor Ivan Kaltchev, Dr. Ibrahim Metaweh, Professor Hector Iturrulde, and Dr. Tansukh Salgia representing the Jain faith.

Dr. Kaltchev gave a thorough and penetrating look into current religious rights and legislation issues in his home nation of Bulgaria, citing especially pending legislation rife with potential of religious oppression and persecution. His reflections included serious thoughts on both the proper and dysfunctional relations for religions with the state.

This paper was followed in appropriate sequence by that of internationally renowned author and spiritualist, Johanna Broman of Finland. She deftly analyzed the relationship between new and traditional religions, from a scholarly perspective as well as from extensive first hand experience. She explained that established religions are often dull if not antagonistic to the Spirit, but new religions are often disrespectful of tradition. Johanna’s recommendation is that the current religious climate is best served through a rhetoric and presentation less bound in theological and ecclesiological categories, and more expressive of natural human institutions which themselves reflect the divine, and the spiritual. The ideal category for this, according to Ms. Broman is the family.

Dr. Metaweh of Egypt recalled for participants the essential history and spiritual message of a number of the major world’s religions.

Dr. Tansukh Salgia offered a well-crafted introduction to the essential of the Jain faith, with especial emphasis on those aspects of the tradition, which are crucial for consideration and application in a time of religious hatred and war. Dr. Salgia highlighted the ahimsa (non-violence) aspect of Jainism, as a clarion message in the current world of religious affairs.

Dr. Gregario Hector Rivero Iturrulde concluded session 2 with an inspiring study of the current landscape of interreligious relations in Catholic dominated Latin America. He analyzed in careful strokes, often poetically, and well-referenced throughout, necessary reforms, and deeper embrace of inter-religious ideals of respect and mutual embrace. Iturrulde’s piece had good impact and helped to forge a vision of a multi-faith reality, which does not bog down under rivalries, and aggressive manipulation of religious and non religious institutions.

The final religion session was most interesting and genuinely productive. It was a joint session held together with the UN group who themselves had met for two sessions prior (as had we of the religion group). This joint session was devised to examine in concrete and substantial ways how to proceed on the concept of establishing a permanent multi faith leadership council as part of the United Nations.

In this section there was only a single prepared intervention, and that was that of Dr. Martin Forward of Chicago. Dr. Forward very carefully highlighted not only the strengths and weaknesses of such a proposal, but perhaps more importantly he presented a fair inquiry into what aspects of both communities enhanced or obstructed the likelihood of the eventual establishment of such a permanent body. These introductory remarks proved to provide excellent guidelines for the ensuing debate from the floor.

At one point a Christian clergywoman posited an almost despairing question. What really are our chances (i.e., the chances of sincere religious leaders) of people at the UN listening to we of the religious side, even if we have excellent plans and ideas, which could genuinely help the UN in its mission. Ms. Smith, session co-convener offered that the UN would certainly respond if religions could generate a record of verifiable success in peace intervention. This observation caused Imam Aquil to propose (and since implement) the establishment of a multi faith crisis response team, designed precisely to bring to bear religious and spiritual wisdom, forces and benefits to areas of conflict and crisis, and a means to build this track record which would then oblige UN figures and leaders to begin the process of formally institutionalizing these treasures within the UN structure.

This is just one of many solid and ongoing results of the deliberations of the religious leadership community convened in Seoul for this years WCSF.

One often hears a wonder aloud about conferences "and what all this talk" amounts to. Typically one would not find confusion among the same people as to why bank directors or university administrators might need to gather to plan and organize their affairs, but the cliché rolls easily off the tongue, when applied to spiritual matters. This should decline as even moderns recover a respect for the work of God through saints and scholars who endeavor to bring in effective ways the benefits of the most important part of being human.

A number of important moments of enduring spiritual force occurred throughout the WCSF, in addition to the initiation of several projects for substantial progress toward peace and improved human life.

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