[First published on February 10, 2013]
The first week of February was declared by the United Nations to be World Interfaith Harmony Week. For us at The Peacemakers’ Circle, this was another week—albeit more colorful, hectic, and picturesque than usual–in the life of our hopeful striving.
The Peacemakers’ Circle has been engaged in the endeavor of building relationships of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation between and among people of diverse religions and spiritual expressions since 2001.
Like any human relationship, interfaith friendships cannot be built overnight. This is a co-creative endeavor that deepens over time among those who appreciate and honor the richness of diversity among people, and celebrate this in various ways.
Diversity is apparent everywhere; it is in the divine scheme of things. This makes our relationships colorful and interesting, although often difficult and challenging. In our journey through life towards fullness in God, diversity makes every step not only exciting but growth-giving and awe-inspiring.
In this spirit of excitement and awe, I share glimpses of this week’s activities as we at The Peacemakers’ Circle moved forward towards the realization of our shared vision of unity in diversity, and peace among religions.
January 31, 2013 (Thursday)
The Peacemakers’ Circle launched the week early with a “year opening” party organized by the members of the Muslim-Christian Peacemakers’ Association in Tala, Caloocan City. They were assisted by the youth participants of the leadership training project that was being conducted by The Peacemakers’ Circle under the Australian Embassy’s Strengthening Grassroots Interfaith Dialogue and Understanding (SGIDU) program.
February 1 (Friday)
This was the beginning of The Peacemakers’ Circle’s Interfaith Friendship Pilgrimage 2013. Our first visit was with our Buddhist friends at the Fo Guang Shan Mabuhay Temple. We were received warmly by Venerable Meio Jin and other leaders and members of the temple. We looked forward to returning on the eve of the 9th to join them in celebrating the Chinese New Year. Kung hei fat choi!
February 2 (Saturday)
This was a day of colorful spectacle as people flocked to the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City to experience the Festival of India. It was organized by the U.P. Asian Studies Department in partnership with the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Everyone reveled in the unique cultural experience and enjoyed Indian vegetarian food, music and dance.
February 3 (Sunday)
Our team–Orlan, Shakun, Cecile and I–brought a basket of fresh oranges to give to our friends at the Ananda Marga Wellness Center in Sikatuna Village. We met with its director, Dada Premamamyanda, and his dedicated team of volunteers. They received us warmly like old friends would, and we enjoyed discussing our partnership in organizing our upcoming People for Peace program on March 14. It would be a celebration of the 12th year anniversary of The Peacemakers’ Circle.
In the afternoon, there was a fun “year opener” activity in Culiat, Quezon City. This was organized by the Muslim and Christian youth leaders who participated in the 2012 youth leadership training program of The Peacemakers’ Circle under the Australian Embassy’s SGIDU program.
February 4 (Monday)
The Peacemakers’ Circle participated in a forum entitled: Our Shared Values as a Foundation of Muslim-Christian Harmony.” This was hosted by the Miriam College Center for Peace Education headed by Dr. Loreta Castro. Dr. Macrina Morados of the U.P. Institute of Islamic Studies presented views from a Muslim perspective, and I presented a Christian perspective.
In the afternoon, Orlan and I conducted a “deepening” workshop on interfaith dialogue for Muslim youth leaders from Rajah Mudah High School (Pikit, Cotabato), and the Christian students of Miriam College.
February 5 and 6 (Tuesday & Wednesday)
Orlan de Guzman gave an orientation to the participants of the Miriam Center for Peace Education on The Peacemakers’ Circle’s Muslim-Christian youth leadership activities in grassroots communities.
On Wednesday (February 6), the students of Rajah Mudah High School visited the youth leaders in the community of Tala in Caloocan City. They had fun in each other’s company as they shared stories of hopes, dreams and aspirations with one another.
This was a day full of activities for the team of interfaith pilgrims. The first visit of the day was with Master Wong Seng Tian of the Taoist Sheng Lian Temple along Bayani Street near Araneta Avenue in Quezon City, Metro Manila. We were offered snacks of apples and oranges, tea, and gracious company. Master Wong also gave us a book on “Authentic Annual Prediction 2013” which he said would help us navigate our way through this year of the “water snake.”
Our next stop was at the Baha’I Spiritual Center where its director, Ms. Ador Newman, and a friendly group of Baha’is welcomed us warmly. After a lively conversation around the circle, we were graciously invited to stay for lunch. We enjoyed a sumptuous vegetarian meal prepared for us by Brother Kumar (a Bangladeshi), and Sister Phyotu (a lovely woman from Myanmar married to a Filipino). How gracious our hosts and how enriching our conversations!
After lunch, we proceeded to Plaza Miranda in Quiapo, Manila to attend the culminating activity of the WORLD INTERFAITH HARMONY WEEK hosted by the Silsilah Dialogue Movement (of Rev. Fr. Sebastiano d’Ambra), the Parish of Saint John the Baptist (Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene), and Religions for Peace (headed by Dr. Lilian Sison and Bong Baybado). We were welcomed by Msgr. Clem Ignacio of the parish, and speeches expressing commitment to interfaith harmony and peace were given by representatives of the Buddhist, Islamic and Christian faith traditions. The Peacemakers’ Circle was represented by our very own Dr. Shakuntala Vaswani who also represented the Hindu faith community. Our dear friend and supporter, Fr. Carlos Reyes of the Episcopal Commission on Inter-religious Dialogue of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (ECID-CBCP), spoke as a representative of ECID. Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim also graced the occasion and expressed his support for the endeavor to promote interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding initiatives in the City of Manila.
The journey continues as we strive to “be the change that we see in the world” and to create common grounds where people of different cultures and beliefs can meet and speak. We carry on to create safe spaces where they can learn to appreciate and respect their differences, transform conflict into opportunities for growth, and build relationships of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation in their midst.