Following a tradition by UPF Austria to organize annually (2020, 2019, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013) a conference in the UN in Vienna commemorating the World Interfaith Harmony this year the only possibility was to do it virtually. The conference with the topic “Interfaith Cooperation as a basis for Social Cohesion” on February 5th 2021 was attended by 150 guests.
In his opening remarks Mr. Peter Haider, president of UPF Austria, made a reference to a proposal made in 2000 during a conference titled “Renewing the United Nations and Building a Culture of Peace” by Dr. Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Universal Peace Federation, to establish an Interreligious Council of spiritual and religious representatives within the structure of the United Nations. During the first years of the new millennium several organizations like the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) in 2005 and later the King Abdullah International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) and the World Interfaith Harmony Week proposed at the UN General Assembly in 2010 by H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan were established. This shows a global resurge of the importance of religion for international relations.
Ms. Heather Wokusch, who served as the moderator, introduced the topic and guaranteed a smooth flow of the contributions by the various speakers and during the discussion with the audience.
As a first speaker Dr. Joshua Sinclair, a medical doctor, filmmaker and professor of Comparative Theology spoke about the encyclical “Fratelli Tutti – On Fraternity and Social Friendship” of pope Francis, who as Jesuit took on the cloak of a Franciscan and how it relates to the Abu Dhabi declaration in 2019 and the meeting of St. Francis of Assisi with Malek al-Kamil, the sultan of Egypt, in 1219. He conveyed this message: “We should not become digital people and loose our humanity. We are forced to be born again and find ourselves again, when we will take off our masks post-covod-19. We have to stop blaming each other and be as close as possible to each other. Our human rights and our human dignity are innate to us, given by an universal power and not by a state. St. Francis gave up everything so he could belong to everyone. Are we willing to give up all our prejudices and bigotries in order to be embraced by the society of all men and women”
H.E. Lourdes Gisela Antonia Victoria-Kruse, Ambassador of the Dominican Republic to Austria and the International Organizations in Vienna expressed her gratitude to be part of this conference which promotes a culture of global peace and harmony of all people regardless of their faith. She made a point that in this time of pandemic we must bring joy to people so that they see this as an opportunity to grow and become better human beings. The Dominican Republic is a place of many historical events, first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and in 1938 it was the only country in the world to receive Jews. She finished by quoting this phrase from the invitation letter to the conference “This age of globalization needs enlightened people in each faith who can examine their sacred writings and traditions and identify the aspects that can benefit all humanity as well as those that preserve each religion's identity.”
H.E. Aftab Ahmad Khokher, Ambassador of Pakistan to Austria, Slovakia and the UN in Vienna stated that this year’s topic of the Interfaith Harmony Week is “Building Bridges across countries”. The ideal of interfaith harmony and cooperation has assumed an even greater importance and urgency since it was established over ten years ago. We live in a globalized world not just in a physical sense but also in the realm of ideas. All nations and societies inhabit a shared sphere of thoughts. Such a tightly integrated world calls for a new mind, social behaviors and a renewed commitment of tolerance, respectful dialogue and celebration of diversity. Unfortunately recent developments and trends across the world have shown that while living in period of increasing interdependence we also live in increasing discord. Our societies are no more monolithic, they are multicultural, multiethnic and multifaith. Islam is a religion that not only recognizes the essential unity of humankind but also accepts the diversity which creates the mosaic of cultures and civilizations. Coming to Pakistan he spoke of the rich tradition of humanism that permeates the great Sufi saints and poets and emphasizes the shared humanity of all people. The shrines attract devotees of all religions. During the last years “Interfaith Harmony committees” comprising members from all religious minorities have been established in each district. There are reserved seats for minorities in the legislative. Recently Kishoo Bai became the first Hindu Dalit woman member of the Senate, a milestone for women and minority rights in Pakistan. Most recently Pakistan spearheaded the UN General assembly resolution “Promoting a Culture of Peace and Tolerance to Safeguard Religious Sites.”
Ms. Anja Kruse, film and television actress and author of the Book “My Way with Buddha” explained how she found her way to manage this difficult time with a spiritual life through prayers, meditation, chanting, right thinking and right acting. The answers can be found in ourselves, faith is the key word. She found her faith in the teaching of Buddha, understandable, practical and reasonable. “It helps to overcome all obstacles in life. At this moment we understand that the pure human life is the most precious of all treasures in the world and we are all connected to each other, many bodies one mind. This means that peace is our constant goal. Shutting down all kind of social, cultural and economic life creates negativity, fear, anger, desperation, jealously, egoism and hatred among people. This makes us blind to feeling compassion or tolerance for other people and leads to the dangerous path of a war culture. This is a challenge to people of all religions. It is vital to remain with a peaceful mind otherwise we will not survive. The power of the universe exists in our own life. Every human being has an enormous potential and the power to change any poison into medicine.” She explained how the Buddhist practice based on the Lotus Sutra shows the way to overcome all these obstacles and the path to be happy. It helped her to survive in peace and harmony. She wants to become the utmost, best version of herself and so be a bridgebuilding member of society, in order to have all the power to change things and that every winter turns into spring. “Hope is not the conviction that something is going to work out well, but it is the certainty that whatever happens to you makes sense.”
After a lively discussion among the speakers answering questions by the audience, the conference was closed with the hymn of the World interfaith Harmony Week “Sami Yusuf – The Gift of Love”. After a short break the conference was continued by another session organized by the UPF chapter of Switzerland on “How can the Korean Cultural and Religious Heritage contribute to a Rapprochement and Unification on the divided Peninsula?”
The World Interfaith Harmony Week was first proposed at the UN General Assembly on September 23, 2010 by H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan. Just under a month later, on October 20, 2010, it was unanimously adopted by the UN and henceforth the first week of February will be observed as a World Interfaith Harmony Week. The World Interfaith Harmony Week is based on the pioneering work of The Common Word initiative. This initiative, which started in 2007, called for Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in a dialogue based on two common fundamental religious Commandments; Love of God, and Love of the Neighbor, without nevertheless compromising any of their own religious tenets. The two commandments are at the heart of the three Monotheistic religions and therefore provide the most solid theological ground possible.
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