World Interfaith Harmony Week Observed in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. – On a blistery winter afternoon in Washington, D.C., 63 religious leaders and students from the diplomatic corps and private sector met together in the warm Beech room of the Washington Times for the UN created Interfaith Harmony Week on February 19, 2015.
Following a delicious lunch, Mrs. Tomiko Duggan, Director of Public Affairs of UPF, in Washington, DC, welcomed the guests and thanked Mr. Thomas McDevitt, Chairman of the Washington Times, for supporting this important program, and she then introduced the UPF video.
Mrs. Susan Fefferman, then took over to begin the program by inviting five religious leaders: Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, to participate in the Water of Lifeceremony by pouring glasses of water into a common bowl, symbolically uniting the faiths of mankind into one common body in the hope for peace and happiness.
She then invited Rabbi Herzl Kranz as the first speaker, representing possibly the oldest religion, Judaism. The Rabbi established the first Orthodox congregation in suburban Washington, DC in 1967 and has been its rabbi for the past 46 years.
He is an advocate for social justice and human rights issues. In that way established the Center for Economic and Social Justice supporting inalienable human rights as life, liberty, and access to productive property. The center proposes Employee Stock Ownership Plans which allows employees to purchase equities in the company where they work. He also helps inmates with rehabilitation regardless of their religion.
He spoke about Rev. Moon being a remarkable man because he pursued peace. Aaron, the brother of Moses was a similar figure because he pursued peace.
He told a story about two men who both had the same amount of water in the desert. One drinks all his quickly while the other saves it carefully. What should the man with the water do, let his friend die or share his water and both die? The rabbis discussed this predicament and Rabbi Akiva said the water belongs to the one man and he should drink it alone. Tough decision.
Minister Amar Nath Gupta spoke, a former diplomat and head priest of the largest Hindu Capital Temple in the area. He always begins by blowing a conch shell representing peace. He works to educate funeral homes about Hindu practices, and helps local funeral homes keep the ashes of the deceased until families can return to India to spread those ashes in the Ganges River.
Minister Gupta, is a friend of the Unification movement and testifies to the good works of Rev. and Mrs. Moon. He personally experienced healing of cancer at the Korean spiritual retreat. He expressed his ideas that all people should be healthy by loving their neighbors, practicing the yogic postures and breathing. He respects and honors all other religions and quoted from his sacred text several times.
Western Buddhist nun Gen Kelsang Varahi, a Resident Teacher at Vajrayogini Buddhist Center, in the Adams Morgan area of DC, has been a close disciple of Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who gave her the title “Gen”, indicating she is a senior teacher of the Kadampa Tradition since 2000.
She spoke on the teaching from Buddha Shakamuni that “all appearances are the nature of mind. Everything we see, perceive and experience is the nature of our mind, and in particular what type of mind we are generating.” She quoted from, Shanti Dava, a famous Indian saint, “May I become the protector of the protector-less.” This means ‘let me be responsible.’ It is our responsibility, not someone else’s, she added. It is our responsibility to have peace or happiness.
In Buddhism we define compassion as being motivated by love. It is not sympathy or pity, it is responsibility. Who are the protector-less? Perhaps the vulnerable, the victims but she adds Buddha teaches it is also the harmer, and that is the challenge. How are they protector-less? Their mind is unprotected, uncontrolled. Their mind is being controlled by delusions, by negativity and hatred.
Through the eyes of compassion he is suffering just like the victim. He is suffering from hatred, attachment, evil, and resentment. She adds that this is in contrast to looking at the harmer through eyes of anger which sees them as the enemy and we wish to harm them. We need compassion and wisdom working together to create peace, inner peace is essential to external peace, she concluded.
Pastor Ernest Patton is pastor at the Northern Virginia Family Church in Fairfax and the regional director of six Unificationist churches in the DC Metro area. “It is good that we can gather here and discuss the commonalities of different religions,” he began. He spoke about forgiving one’s enemy and mentioned how Rev. Moon went to North Korea at personal risk, and embraced the man, Chairman Kim Il Sung, who had held him captive in a death camp during the Korean war. He reconciled with his enemy as a brother, healing the rift within.
Dr. Zainab Chaudry is the Maryland Outreach Manager for CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) and a board member of Interfaith Action for Human Rights. She is also a member of Salaam Shalom, an interfaith Dialogue Group for Muslim and Jewish Women.
She spoke on how difficult it is to not feel fearful toward Muslims with the violent images on the TV and in the media. She said if she weren’t a Muslim she would be fearful too. She said that we all have a responsibility to set the record straight on what religions really teach.
Sixty percent of Americans have never had a conversation with a Muslim, she reported. Their information comes solely from the media, not from personal knowledge. “We all have a responsibility to bridge the divide and bring us all together,” she added.
She left pharmacy work to help support interfaith efforts and bring people together to make a difference in the world. She quoted the Prophet Mohammad’s final sermon as a guide for everyone, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, and Arab does not have superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have superiority over an Arab. A white does not have superiority over a black, nor a black over a white, except by piety and good action.” This means that we can’t differentiate between individuals.
She added that we cannot judge, that is for God alone to judge. She continued with describing that due to social media and technology the world may be the same size but we can have societies with wonderful diversity through learning and education. ‘Islam’ means submit to God, ‘salaam’ means peace. Anyone who submits to God is a Muslim. The God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam is the same, she added. She urged us to go beyond what we know and discover the diversity that is out there.
Following her, Mrs. Nanae Goto, a talented staff member of UPF, moved the group with her powerful rendition, singing “The Impossible Dream.”
The next part of the program were the presentations by two ambassadors: Ambassador Michael Moussa-Adamo, who was appointed by the President of Gabon, in September 2011. He has spent more than 20 years in public service in his country and most recently worked with his President to ensure that Gabon has a seat on the UN Security Council.
He gave three points on how to work together for peace. First: to agree to disagree, meaning our differences should never cause us to hurt one another. Second, “we must sit down and reason together, break bread together and share about our families… our shared humanity.” And third, all people must dare to dream about peace and shared happiness.
He cited the famous ‘Christmas truce’ between Germans and English soldiers during WWI. He added that investment in education is essential, especially education for girls. “When women are educated everyone benefits and peace follows.”
He concluded with a quote from Sam Kutesa, President of the UN General Assembly given in observance of Interfaith Harmony Week, “As intolerance, bigotry and hatred fuel conflicts, violence and extremism around the world. We need to strengthen our efforts to foster respect and understanding between cultures, religions, and ethnic groups. Every time we choose dialogue and reconciliation over confrontation, we take a step forward on our collective path to lasting peace.”
The final speaker was Ambassador Winston Thompson, who began his government service in 1962 working in agriculture, finance, the public service commission, the UN, and in the private sector as the CEO of Telecom Fiji Ltd. and finally, as Ambassador to the US for the past six years.
He gave a short history of the struggle of Fiji to become a strong, democratic nation where religions are respected by all. A previous English colony, independence was gained in 1970. Since 1879 indentured Indians had been brought into Fiji to work on plantations, most stayed and the result was a divided nation with Indians and native Fijians struggling for supremacy.
No blood was ever spilled but only through the religious leaders coming together to discover how to heal the nation, a tri-religious group was produced which helped to create respect and understanding. Today, Christian, Hindu and Muslims live and work together making Fiji the “happiest country on earth” (93%) according to a Win Gallup poll while Iraq is the least happy (31%).
Ambassador Thompson, who with his wife Queenie, has attended many UPF programs and they both have been appointed Ambassadors for Peace. They will be leaving DC in a few months, they were happy to appoint new Ambassadors for Peace. The four new appointees are: Ambassador Moussa-Adamo, Gen Kelsang Varahi, Dr. Zainab Chaudry, and Venerable Maung Shein from a Burmese Monastery in Richmond, VA. Many photographs followed and a toast for peace concluded the program.
— Written by Susan Fefferman