Unification News for September 2002

Interreligious and International Couples Blessing and Rededication Ceremony

by Phillip D. Schanker

On September 14, 2002, an historic Blessing ceremony was held in New York Cityís Manhattan Center, just a few short miles from "ground zero," where the twin towers of the World Trade Center were decimated barely one year before. Couples from many faiths participated as in recent ceremonies, but this time, in commemoration of the tragedy of September 11th, several Christian-Muslim couples joined together as bride and bridegroom, seeking the Blessing of True Parents. In a poignant and moving statement of hope, these and many other couples determined to reconcile centuries of hatred and war between conflicting religions, by their own commitment to a God-centered marriage.

Beginning from the Holy Wedding of Father and Mother Moon in 1960, the Blessing movement has expanded from 3 couples to 36, 72, 124, and on and on. In 1970, it expanded beyond the land of Korea, as 10 nations participated in the Blessing of 777 couples. But Father and Mother Moon did not come to found a church or denomination. Their essential mission is the restoration of Godís ideal of the family, as it was intended to be in the Garden of Eden with our first ancestors as True Parents of humanity. The mission to establish this unchanging foundation of God-centered parents as a substantial reality is an effort that must embrace people of all faiths and traditions, to realize a culture of true love, beginning from the universal ideal of true parental love, as the channel of Godís love into human life and society.

By the 1990s the Blessing of marriage became not the rite of any particular faith, but an interfaith affirmation of Godís ideal of the family. As religious institutions sent representative couples to participate in the Blessing representing Islam, Judaism, Christianity and other faiths, Father and Mother Moon bequeathed their mission to anoint marriages and sanctify couples to clergy from these traditions. The Blessing movement began to spring up in churches, mosques and temples across America and throughout the world. For many Christians, the experience of rebirth through Jesus and the Holy Spirit was deepened, as the meaning of changing from Satanís false lineage of death to Godís original lineage became ever more clear.

Humanityís hope for a new millennium of peace was crushed through the tragic terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. The deep divisions that remain between religions, races and cultures became undeniable. As governments scramble to find a political or military solution to this crisis, it is increasingly apparent that, as Father Moon has long maintained, we must resolve the religious issues at the root of these problems, and leaders of faith must set the example of love, reconciliation, and living for the sake of others. It was in this spirit that an interreligious and international Blessing and marriage rededication ceremony was planned for September 14th this year.

Saturday morning, September 14th dawned bright and clear, as clergy couples from representative cities around the country joined leaders from the New York area and their spouses for a morning symposium entitled, "The Root Causes of 9-11, the Role of Religion, and Proposals for Peace." The overall theme of the commemorative symposium, at Father Moonís request, was "God is the Origin of Peace." Co-convening the interreligious dialogue were Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, of Detroitís Islamic House of Wisdom, and ACLC Executive Committee Chairman Archbishop George Augustus Stallings. The New Yorker Hotelís Sutton Place Suite filled to overflowing with a colorful array of interfaith participants.

After representative readings from Father Moonís words on marriage, family and world peace, the responsibility of religious leaders and the role of America in creating peace, three distinguished respondents electrified and warmed the entire gathering. Dr. Hycel Taylor, pastor of Chicagoís Pilgrim Baptist Church shared an impassioned presentation challenging world leaders to place spirit at the heart of all political and social efforts for peace. He shared his own experience from the civil rights movement, that all else will be fruitless. Imam Omar S. Abu-Namous, imam of New Yorkís host mosque, the Islamic Cultural Center, and a Palestinian, affirmed Father and Mother Moonís wisdom in building world peace through interreligious marriage. He noted that one third of all the marriages performed at his mosque are interreligious, Muslim-Christian marriages. Dr. Frank Kaufman of the Interreligious Federation for World Peace shared practical and heart-warming examples of the way in which Father Moonís Interreligious work and Blessing movement are transforming hearts and relationships. The ensuing group discussions spilled out into the hallways, as the spirit of one human family enveloped everyone. Following inspired testimonies from the leaders of New Yorkís Afghan, Indonesian and Pakistani communities, a joint Christian and Moslem closing prayer ended the morning.

Following lunch, interfaith leaders walked next door to the Manhattan Center, joining the crowds that streaming into the Grand Ballroom. Drawn by the news that Christians and Moslems would join couples of other faiths, the media was well represented by the New York Daily News, the New York Post, the Associated Press, as well as several TV stations. Additional chairs were set up in all of the aisles to accommodate the burgeoning crowd. Prelude emcee Reverend Levy Daugherty urged Unificationists to give up their seats for the many couples lining the halls and stairways of the Manhattan Center, unable to enter the room. All told, more than 800 couples were Blessed that afternoon, along with beaming friends and family members. It was announced that through internet broadcast to simultaneous ceremonies worldwide and video distribution for ceremonies in the coming days, some 22 million couples would share this Blessing ceremony throughout the world.

Among those couples newly married were Sheku Kabbah, younger brother of the President of Sierra Leone and a Muslim, and his Pentecostal Christian bride Aissatou Fofana. They bowed their heads and held each otherís hands as prayers were offered for the couples by a Jewish Rabbi, a Muslim Imam, a Christian Pastor and a Native American leader. Distinguished New York religious leaders joined the ceremony and encouraged the participants, such as Rev. and Mrs. Preston Washington, of Harlemís memorial Baptist Church. Bishop Cecil Riley, Pastor of Freedom Hall Church of God and Chairman of the Caribbean Clergy Association, offered the invocation for the ceremony. Famed civil rights pioneer and Pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem, Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, shared a moving exhortation to faithfulness between the couples and the scriptural basis of Godly marriage.

Following the ceremony, the joyful couples gathered for a huge group photo with the True Parents, Father and Mother Moon. A profound statement had been made in front of heaven and earth. Terrorism is rooted in anger and hatred harbored in the wounded hearts of people who are willing to die, to give their lives to harm their enemies. This Blessing was a gathering of people from every race and religion, with love in the hearts, who are ready to give their lives for the sake of others, and give themselves in matrimony to reconcile with former enemies. What better answer could there be to the intractable problem of terrorist hate and violence? As the New York Daily News quoted, it was "Öa statement of reconciliation and hope that couldnít be more appropriate on the week America marked the first anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks."

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