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A Declaration of the European Congress of Ethnic Religions via Parliament Trustee Andras Corban Arthen, who serves as a Presiding and Interfaith Liason to the Congress, Member of the Parliament of the World’s Religions Indigenous Task Force, and Spiritual Director of the EarthSpirit Community.
We, the delegates from thirteen different countries convened at the European Congress of Ethnic Religions in Vilnius, Lithuania, on this 9th day of July 2014, join our voices together to make the following declaration:
We are members of diverse European indigenous ethnic cultures who seek to revitalize and reclaim our ancestral religious and spiritual traditions. We honor those who went before us, who gave us our life and our heritage. We are bound to the lands of our ancestors, to the soil that holds their bones, to the waters from which they drank, to the roads that they once walked. And we seek to pass that heritage to those who come after us, whose ancestors we are in the process of becoming – our children, our grandchildren, and the many generations yet to be born. We send solidarity and support to those other indigenous nations, races and religions who are also engaged in the struggle to preserve their own ancestral heritages.
Our ethnic religions are the product of the history of this continent; they are the living expressions, in the present, of our most ancient traditions and identities. At a time when the world is precariously balanced on the edge of environmental and economic upheaval, largely as the result of imbalanced individualism and rampant greed, our religions promote very different models of spiritual and social values: living in harmony, balance and moderation with the Earth; the importance of family and cooperative community; and respect and honor for all forms of life. Yet, in many countries of Europe, the practice of our religions is impeded, restricted, and sometimes forbidden. We urge all European governments to fully comply with, and actively enforce, the provisions guaranteeing freedom of religion to all citizens as stipulated in the Treaties of the European Union, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Convention of Human Rights, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other similar conventions and agreements, and to refrain from granting preferential treatment to some religions over others. We also ask that this equality of religious preference be reflected in the European educational systems.
We urge all our governments to actively engage in the preservation and protection of European indigenous sacred sites – be they human-made structures or natural settings. We further ask that free and open access to those sites be given to ethnic European religions which seek to use them for the purposes of worship and spiritual celebration.
We do not seek ownership or exclusive rights to those sites – the land does not belong to us, we belong to the land.
We object to the use of the term “pagan” by extremist political groups of any kind, as it reflects negatively on our reputation.
Finally, we urge all peoples and all nations to place the well-being of the Earth – who is, literally, our Living Mother – above any and all other priorities.
The Sikhs erected what was a place of worship and education. It was beautifully done in a huge tent-like structure. They offered food to everyone for a noonday meal. Upon entering the structure, we removed our shoes. I discovered that after the meal the shoes had been cleaned! What a wonderful loving gesture.
We were then directed to the floor that served as the dining hall. Long rolls of paper on the floor served as our dining table. Most of us sat on the floor to eat. A few tables were scattered about for those who needed to sit on chairs. But most of us opted to sit on the floor. On the floor were Americans in American-casual attire. Some Catholic nuns were wearing their tradition habits. Some men were in business suits; others wore blue jeans and t-shirts. There were men and women from the East in colorful robes. All were served scrumptious meals and water – as much as anyone wanted. The servers were pleasant, kind and courteous. People of different cultures, faiths and clothing came together in love, with open minds, receptive hearts and smiling faces. It was truly what the culture of the 1960s might call “A Love In.” Peace, love and food – that was the experience (not to mention clean shoes!).
This is the impression that stayed with me: One could talk about peace, diversity and understanding. There were fantastic speakers, programs and performances, but in the communal meal, lovingly served without being for a donation, we experienced what was the best of interfaith. Hungry people were fed. Diversity was honored. People were happy and were filled with love and nutritious food.
What remains with me is the conversations I had with attendees at the end of the Parliament. Yes, we loved the venue on the coast of Spain. We loved the city of Barcelona. We loved the gatherings. And what I heard most from the fellow-attendees was the langar. People prepared and served the food. Participants ate, met, mingled with others and were filled. It was a palpable example of peace and loving service in action. Five years before the Barcelona Parliament, I had gone to Cape Town by myself. I came home aglow with love and appreciation for all faiths. I really wanted my wife to have a similar experience. I went to my denomination’s headquarters to plead with them to have a large presence in Barcelona. They did and I was proud of them. It is one thing to talk a good talk, but the Sikhs walked their talk.
Someone has said, “I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” What I saw was people serving one another and loving one another. I was honored to participate. I am grateful to have the opportunity to share my reminiscences. Diverse cultures and religions, good food and humble servant leadership — what could be better? I can’t think of one thing!
Reverend John Strickland attended seminary at Unity School of Christianity, Unity Village, MO. In 1999, Rev. Strickland’s representation at Unity’s delegate to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa marked a strong interfaith commitment. By 2003, Rev. John received the Light of God Expressing Award, the highest honor within Unity, at the Annual Minister’s Conference in Kansas City. During December of 2009, he led a contingent of Unity members to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia. At present, Rev. Strickland resides and serves in the Atlanta, GA region.
As conflict continues to batter civilians in the Gaza strip after a short ceasefire broke down overnight, Interfaith leaders of Judaism and Islam are calling the masses to stand side by side in prayer today, a joint day of fasting that falls on both religious calendars July 15.
Interfaith activists, please share this urgent call for peace.
- In stating a brave interreligious solidarity, all participating can radiate the power of reconciliation. Religion News Service and other-like media outlets highlighting the interfaith perspective on the Gaza conflict seek angles of human commonality across communities while sectarian media only engulfs masses in biased information. Grieving parents comforting each other on both sides become symbols of forgiveness shared widely on the internet.
The Huffington Post is one of the outlets focusing on the parents. An article about Interfaith prayer for peace today reads, “Sanity must prevail. Inertia cannot take over,” wrote Robi Damelin, in a July 10 editorial in The Huffington Post. Damelin, who lost her son, David, to the conflict in 2002, concluded, “We must come out and demonstrate to the powers that be. Stop the violence. As part of the Parents Circle-Family Forum, Damelin meets with Palestinian and Israeli families who have all lost children in the conflict.”
- The religious definitions of today’s fasting is explored in The Times of Israel article reporting more on the “Choose Life” movement promoting today’s peace demonstrations:
“The 17th of Tammuz, a fast day that commemorates the breach of Jerusalem’s walls before the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70, falls out on Tuesday. It’s the start of a three-week mourning period leading up to Tisha B’Av, a more well-known fast day that marks the destruction of the temple.
Tuesday is also the 18th day of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, when Muslims fast from dawn till sunset each day for the entire month.
The joint fast “is not a sixties anti-war thing,” said Shaul Judelman, one of the Choose Life organizers. ‘It’s coming from a religious place, which is tricky when rockets are falling. But our future seems to be here together, and no one’s going anywhere.” (Read more on The Times of Israel…)
Those in the United States wishing to join a public prayer demonstration and fast, seek opportunities like the following being organized in D.C. and Chicagoland:
- Joint Jewish and Muslim Fast and Prayer Against Violence in Washington, DC : In the past month the Jewish and Muslim communities have been shattered by the terrorist killings of four boys: Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah, and Muhammed Abu Khdeir.
In response, Jewish and Muslim clergy of the DC area are joining together as part of an international effort by religious leaders to pray for an end to the violence. On Tuesday, July 15th the Jewish and Muslim calendars are united in a day of fast: the fast of 17 Tamuz, and the fast of Ramadan. For both traditions this is a day designated for soul-searching, an opportunity for people to take responsibility, and for self repair, communal purification, and repentance.
As we join together we hope to direct the consciousness of both peoples to this day as a “peak day” – a day in which each man and woman will be invited to take part, to fast in solidarity with the suffering, violence and pain of self and others, to ask how to end the cycle of bloodshed and draw a horizon of hope and vision.
Please join Maharat Ruth Friedman and Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom: The National Synagogue, Rabbi Etan Mintz and Chava Evans of B’nai Israel Congregation, and Imam Johari Abdul-Malik of the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center on Tuesday, July 15th at 5pm in Lafayette Square in Washington, DC to offer prayers for peace and comfort. Leaders and members of all faith communities are encouraged to attend.
- JEWISH-MUSLIM FAST FOR PEACE, JULY 15 - Fountain Square, Evanston, IL 6:00pm
Friends – In response to the current violence in Israel/Palestine, Jews and Muslims in Chicago will join in a collective fast on Tuesday, July 15, when our two calendars converge:
The Fast of the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz (for the Jews this is a fast commemorating the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem before the Temple was destroyed) and the middle of the Fast of the Muslim Month of Ramadan.
Chicagoland Jews and Muslims will meet in Evanston, at Fountain Square (corner of Sherman and Davis, just steps from Davis CTA and Metra stations), at 6:00pm.
We will show empathy for each other’s pain and share in a collective prayer for peace, and a better future which our peoples deserve.
For both traditions, this is a day dedicated to taking an accounting of the soul, to taking responsibility, for correcting and purifying, to turning in repentance. The plan is to direct two peoples on this day to a kind of summit, during which everyone is invited to take part, to fast in identification with the suffering, the violence, the pain of one’s self and the other, to ask how we will break the cycle of violence and to create a vision of hope.
As one author (who lost his son in war) recently said: the situation is too desperate for us to drown ourselves in despair.
Looking back, I never would have imagined that my introduction to the interfaith movement would change the trajectory of my undergraduate career. Now, as a new graduate of Saint Louis University, I find myself at odds with this transitional moment in my life. For the past four years, the interfaith work in which I have been so thoroughly involved helped me find a voice for my passion and put my values into action. But more importantly, it allowed me to cultivate a community out of solidarity.
Interfaith organizing on a college campus can sometimes feel surreal. On a college level, I have had access to student groups, allies, and resources that help mobilize like-minded individuals to action. It’s easy to feel like you’re making a difference. The frustrating part can be when you feel like you’re preaching to the choir. Yet, at the end of the day, I can confidently say that my interfaith work has allowed me to strengthen my own leadership. It has helped me build a coalition of inspired young people, who are ready to create change.
The truth is, I feared not knowing how to access similar communities once I graduated. One of the biggest criticisms that the interfaith movement, like many other movements, is that it can tend to be idealized and focuses more on dialogue and less on action. I worried that this would become a reality for me without the network and resources I had previously worked so closely with.
This past month, I was one of two students who were selected as the St. Louis Citizens for Global Solutions Chapter Essay Contest winners. In the essay, we were asked to speak about what the US can do to solve our global issues. I wrote about the role that a global ethic could play towards creating a new cadre of religiously and culturally competent citizens around the world, and how it could serve as a call to action for faith and secular communities.
While in Washington D.C., we learned about a variety of issues including world federalism, international treaties, and grassroots leaderships. We attended a conference sponsored by Citizens for Global Solutions, and lobbied on Capital Hill. I was most surprised on the last day of the conference, when I attended a workshop about how the major World Religions can help establish a peace system of a democratic world federal government. Dr. Oughton, the guest presenter, referenced the Parliament of the World Religions’ Global Ethic as a guiding document to action.
I was, like everyone else in the room, truly inspired by the notion that interreligious dialogue can help build peace and justice in our global communities. I now understand that interfaith action is something that applies to all communities – both domestically and internationally. The world’s religions are responsible for building a foundation of peace by promoting the ideals of a global community through the teachings of the Golden Rule, the Global Ethic, the Charter for Compassion, and so forth. Interfaith is not limited to one network or community; it is all encompassing and inclusive to any worldview. As I begin this transition to the working world, I am certain that my motivation for interfaith action will continue to shape my experiences and interactions.
Ms. Sara Rahim, is a Parliament of the World’s Religions Youth Rep to the UN-DPI, and a recent graduate of Saint Louis University in Public Health and International Studies. Sara’s passion for social justice expands to global health, interfaith, and refugee/migration issues. She has studied Arabic in Egypt, offered healthcare in Honduras, and spent a semester in Morocco, where she conducted a study on access to healthcare for undocumented sub-Saharan migrants. She later returned to Morocco to work with grassroots NGOs that focus on sub-Saharan female migrants’ health. On campus, Sara has spearheaded the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Challenge for the past two years, while organizing student interfaith programming. Off campus, Sara has interned at Interfaith Youth Core coaching students to be leaders of interfaith action, and she has worked in refugee resettlement at World Relief. In the future, Sara would like to pursue a career in global health and international development, with a focus on communities in conflict, and she hopes to use interfaith as a tool towards sustainable development.
By Kevin Childress
There simply was no diversity in the small southern town I grew up in. Virtually 100 percent of the population was white, middle-class Baptists. The most “exotic” people in town were a small number of Lutherans, including my close friend Laura and her family. Hearing how people talked about Lutherans, I wanted to defend them, and I started seeing myself as an outsider like them. From that time onward I have identified with outsiders.
As an adult, my life has taken me around the world (for example, I lived in Armenia for two years, working with the Peace Corps). I’ve been to Egypt, Turkey, Russia, India, and all over Eastern and Western Europe. And in all these places I have witnessed expressions of hatred and superiority that one group of people directs at another. No country is free of it. But in those same countries I witnessed extraordinary acts of kindness, sympathy and respect for outsiders.
When I finally got around to it in my 40s, I went back to school to formally study comparative religion (the comparison of doctrines and practices of the world’s faith traditions). It was something I had always wanted to learn more about, perhaps because of my commitment to respecting outsiders. I never wanted to solely study a particular religion, as it is the diversity in particular that most fascinates me, and what I wanted to center my work around.
Two years ago, I read a blog by Lisa Sharon Harper (a columnist with “Sojourners”) about her experiences as a non-Muslim fasting during Ramadan. The idea was appealing to me, as it clearly conveyed a message of respect for, and solidarity with, Muslims.
When I decided to fast last Ramadan, I posted something about it on my Facebook page. That was all I initially said about it to anyone. I prepared myself for fasting with what I thought was practical planning – figuring out schedules for when I would prepare and eat food. I am such an organized person (one of those people with a Master List of smaller “to do” lists), and I dove into it with enthusiasm. For a while it was pretty easy. And I learned a lot of tips. For one thing, it helps to have ready-to-eat food on hand. Late at night, I sometimes just didn’t have the energy to cook. And it’s important to be sure to eat when the time arrives – missing the mealtime window can make for a very uncomfortable day.
Some people say they gain spiritual insight during fasting. It might sound odd, but I have to say that during my fasting time, I found myself reading more poetry, and thinking about the world around me in poetic terms. I rarely ever write poetry, but during fasting I found myself writing haikus about the smell of summer rain, or the intricacies of a well-made shirt. I developed a kind of stillness in my mind that allowed me to “unpack” an idea, to hold it to the light and attempt to see it more clearly. Some people might joke I was simply experiencing protein deficiency or something, but I don’t think that was it. I think I was just a little closer to what I call the “eternal,” and what most people call God.
My post on Facebook attracted a bit of attention. Muslim friends sent me the obligatory “High Five” comments in the beginning, and checked in with me on occasion to see how I was faring. Muslims I hadn’t met before sent me friend requests, because they’d seen something about my fasting on their friends’ Facebook pages. As Ramadan went on, people started sharing with me how fasting was altering their views of the world and themselves, often (to my surprise and pleasure) using poetry as a means of communicating their feelings. One friend on Facebook quoted the Sufi poet Rumi, who compared the fasting person to a musical instrument ready to be played: “We are lutes, no more, no less.” I had often heard that fasting during Ramadan brought Muslims together, spiritually and emotionally (through their shared experience), and physically (in breaking the fast every evening). It was interesting to discover the same type of thing happening virtually.
My first invitation to attend an Iftar (the evening breaking of the fast) came from someone I had met on Facebook. At that Iftar, I met numerous people who in turn invited me to other Iftars. Thanks to these invitations, I could easily have gone to a different one every evening, and quite a few of them were interfaith iftars – some hosted by city politicians who weren’t even Muslim. And it was in the gathering together with people to break the fast that I knew I was engaging in something marvelous and important: around the table, as we met and got to know each other, we changed from strangers into neighbors.
As Ramadan continued, what started to be a problem for me were encounters with people who didn’t know I was fasting. I would show up at someone’s home and they would have this lovely lunch laid out. “I made lasagna because I know how much you love it,” a friend said. It reminded me of a time in Armenia when a poor village family had invited me over for a meal. In honor of my visit, they had killed their only goat, and fried its liver. They brought the dish to the table with such pride, and I remember feeling queasy just looking at it. But, in knowing what it cost them – and what it meant to them to serve me – I ate as much of it as I could. So when faced with the lasagna, I made a quick decision to eat it. Later I felt bad about breaking my fast, thinking I had failed. But then I realized I had sacrificed something that was important to me in order to offer my respect and regard for another person. Maybe I hadn’t failed after all.
For the rest of Ramadan, I fasted as much as I could, but I broke fast when situations like this arose. A Muslim would never make such concessions, of course – and they would rarely face such situations anyway, since most people know they are fasting. But for me, my fasting had been successful because it prompted me to be mindful of food, and to think about the function of food in society. The sharing of food can break the ice between strangers; it can be a gesture of hospitality, and an indication of trust and respect. And it certainly helps us to celebrate joyful moments in our lives, when people come together around a table to share a meal.
Beside fasting during Ramadan, there are countless ways a person can join in experiencing the faiths of other people. Guests are warmly welcomed at the Jewish Passover Seder, Christmas Mass, a Sikh Diwan, or the annual Hindu Diwali. But what I learned from my Ramadan experience is something that perhaps leaders and members of faith communities should keep in mind: for the people outside your doors who are interested in sharing your faith – they need to be invited. An implicit and generic “We are always open to visitors” isn’t really enough. Much better to issue an explicit and specific invitation, a “We invite you to join us next Tuesday” type of thing. Like a meal, the sharing of faiths requires a proper invitation.
About the author: Kevin Childress is the sole proprietor of SocialNet Works, LLC. While his academic background is in Comparative Religion, his professional background is in Business, with more than a decade of experience in Information Technology, Public/Media & Donor Relations, Executive Management and Finance. He has extensive knowledge of digital imaging, including video production and, of course, all avenues of social media. A 22-year resident of Manhattan, Kevin has worked with religious and civic leaders in every borough of New York City.
By Arun Gandhi
The Parliament of World Religions condemns all forms of violence any where in the world. While the world claims to be progressing toward civilization, the actions of brutal ethnic violence in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, as well as in other parts of the world, must be strongly condemned by all peace-loving people.
Growing intolerance, widening disparities, a life-style of exploitation, a burgeoning armament industry freely producing and selling weapons of mass destruction, are all the kinds of fuel that ignite people’s imagination for violence. Sri Lanka and Myanmar are the latest flash-points on the world map where ethnic violence has taken many innocent lives. But the world as a whole lives on the edge of the precipice of conflagration fueled by ethnic, economic, political, religious, national, gender and many other issues that become more contentious by the day.
It is important for all of us to understand that the path of hate and destruction destroys the very things we seek to preserve. Religious beliefs, economic progress, security and sanctity of life can only be enjoyed and preserved for future generations by respect, understanding, harmony and compassion.
The world community cannot ignore the strife in parts of the world because it does not affect us immediately. What happens in one place today will happen all over tomorrow. We are all sitting on a tinder box of intolerance that only needs a spark to ignite.
There are two main reasons for this state of affairs in the world. As Mohandas K. Gandhi said many decades ago: the more materialistic we aspire to be the less moral we become. This is reflected in the seven social sins that Gandhi said leads to violence in humanity. The world is guilty of indulging in politics without principles, in commerce without morality, in science without humanity, in religion without respect.
Massacres of people in the name of God and religion have become the norm with events like those in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and many other parts of the world. These events are not aberrations, they are a reflection of the unmitigated religious bigotry exacerbated by political chicanery.
It is this kind of religion-political exploitation and abuse that the Parliament of World Religions seeks to change. Religions is not how many times we pray, but how sincere and truthful we are in practicing our beliefs in real life and relationships.
Arun Manalil Gandhi, Born 1934 in Durban South Africa, Arun was sent by his parents to India when he was 12 years old so that he could live with and learn from his grandfather, Mohandas Gandhi. It was then that young Gandhi learned the principles of non-violence that he continues to espouse until today. Dr. Gandhi spent much of his adult life in India working as a journalist and promoting social and economic changes for the poor and the oppressed classes. Along with his wife Sunanda he rescued about 128 orphaned and abandoned children from the streets and placed them in loving homes around the world. They also began a Center for Social Change which transformed the lives of millions in villages in the western state of Maharashtra. In 1987 Arun came to the United States and in 1991 he started the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. In 2007, the Institute was moved to the University of Rochester, New York. In 2008 Arun resigned from the Institute to begin the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, with its mission to build basic education schools for the very poor children of the world. The first school will open shortly in a depressed village in western India (www.gandhiforchildren.org). Arun Gandhi has taken the message of nonviolence and peace-making to hundreds of thousands of high school and university youth around the United States and much of the Western world. His publications include The Legacy of Love; The Forgotten Woman: The Life of Kastur, wife of Gandhi, and several others.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions tells a 121-year story of extraordinary, inspired people from around the world- belonging to literally hundreds of faith traditions- coming together with global leaders to create a better planet. Where common bonds and prayers transcend spiritual paths and national origin, these luminaries and lay leaders collaborate to empower the worldwide interfaith movement. This collective of interfaith activists work through a shared love of humanity to create a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world.
Take a glimpse inside the vaults of Parliament history to see that another world is possible, and what those who have experienced the life-changing encounter have to say about the Parliament of the World’s Religions. .
“A Parliament, in essence, is a big conversation.”
-Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Parliament of the World’s Religions
The Birth of a Movement
“What we need is such a reinforcement of the gentle power of religion that all souls of whatever colour shall be included within the blessed circle of influence.”
– Fannie Barrier Williams, the only official African-American presenter at the 1893 Parliament
Towards a Global Ethic
“The Parliament’s keynote address spelled out clearly the destruction that humans have wrought upon the planet, and this theme was echoed throughout the week. What better time for Earth-centered spiritual paths to enter the conversation.”
– Sarah Stockwell
A New Day Dawning
Cape Town, South Africa
“In the year 1999, you gathered in our own continent, Africa, in the city of Cape Town. You inspired us. In 2002, IFAPA (Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa) was founded. It embodies the spirit of the Parliament.”
New Pathways to Peace
“The most important lesson I learned in my role as Parliament Chair was that interfaith dialogue and engagement empowers us to understand that our differences present us with an opportunity to go deeper. Beneath our differences we share a common humanity. It is this vision of our deep unity amidst our diversity that gives me hope and keeps me doing the work I continue to do.”
-Rev. Bob Thompson, Chair Emeritus of the Parliament of the World’s Religions
Hearing Each Other, Healing the Earth
“Only the Parliament, the largest interfaith gathering on earth, has the potential to serve as a platform to mobilize interfaith social justice movements on a global scale.”
A Legacy for the Future
“The Parliament was an opportunity for people with different ideas getting together, discussing issues for better understanding. Religions plays such a big role in so many people’s lives, that if we can manage to get people to be tolerant towards each other where religion is concerned, other problem areas should be a lot easier to sort out.”
– Ms. Hettie Gats, Cape Town, South Africa
I watched a Muslim youth and a Jewish youth join hands on the stage of Good Hope Center. Each sang a prayer, one in Arabic and the other in Hebrew, and I wept at the profundity of their simple gesture.”
– Rev. Pete Woods
“With open hearts and minds, the Parliament’s participants will be returning back to their neighborhoods in our shared global village enriched with new experiences, friendships and new success stories after a joyful six-day long intensive listening and learning experience. Many of them will be making their personal commitments in writing on how they plan to change the world”
-Abdul Malik Mujahid
Prestigious Catholic Theology Award Presented to Parliament Trustee John Pawlikowski, OM for Lifetime Pluralism Scholarship
The Parliament extends deepest joy in congratulating Parliament Board Trustee John Pawlikowski, OM, on his receipt of the Murray award given by the Catholic Theological Society.
The Servite Provincial Office Order of Friar Servants of Mary in Chicago says in a release,
Our Servite brother, John, joined a list of “Who’s Who” among theologians, when he received this most prestigious award, given annually by the Catholic Theological Society of America, for lifetime contributions to study and research in theology. Joe Cheah, also a member of CTSA, and Mike Pontarelli (representing the Provincial Council and Province) were present at the award banquet held in San Diego this past Saturday, June 7, 2014.
JP, who has written about John Courtney Murray, now joins such previous recipients of the award named for Murray, including: Bernard Lonergan, Charles Curran, Richard McBrien, David Tracy, Monika Hellwig, Margaret Farley, Ladislaus Orsy, Kenan Osborne, Elizabeth Johnson, Sandra Schneiders, Virgilio Elizondo, and his colleagues (former and present) Zachary Hayes and Robert Schreiter.
Murray, a Jesuit, was known for his efforts to reconcile Catholicism and religious pluralism, focusing on the relationship between religious freedom and the institutions of a democratically structured modern state. He played a key role, during Vatican II, in persuading the assembly of the Catholic bishops to adopt the Council’s ground-breaking Declaration on Religious Liberty, Dignitatis Humanae.
We are proud of our brother who has been given this tremendous honor, and congratulate him for having been recognized by his scholar colleagues for his body of signficant theological contributions over many years.
And he’s not done yet!! CONGRATULATIONS!!
Women & Girls Victimized, Killed in the Name of Honor – Rampant Impunity
By Syeda Hameed
Lahore (Women’s Feature Service) – On May 28, 2014, Farzana Parveen was stoned to death outside the Lahore High Court in Pakistan. She had come to the court early in the morning to give testimony in favour of her husband, Mohammad Iqbal, who she had married against the wishes of her family. Farzana was 25 years old and three months pregnant. The incident occurred bang next to the High Court and within two kilometres of the District Court, Aiwan-e-Adl (Hall of Justice), where family disputes are settled. The driver, Rashid, who took me back and forth on that particular stretch the next day informed me that this place is a ‘women’s adalat’.
I had reached Lahore a day after the gruesome killing, crossing on foot from Wagah. On the Delhi-Amritsar flight I had read the chilling story filed from Lucknow about two teenaged dalit girls from Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh, who had been gang raped by five men and found hanging from a tree, which was described by the police as ‘probable suicide after the brutal attack’. Violence against women is the one persistent, omnipresent, blatant reality in every country of South Asia. Despite all that has been said at various political forums, it occurs throughout the region every single day and becomes a little more heinous each time.
It was 17 years ago that as Member of the National Commission of Women I was witness to my first case of honour killing. It had occurred in a village, Sudaka, in the Taodo block of district Mewat, Haryana, a mere 40 minutes drive from Delhi. The name of the two victims, Maimun and Idris, will forever be branded on my heart. The couple had eloped and married. The girl’s cousin had her gang raped, her body slashed and then left for dead. After she was rescued she escaped to Delhi and came within our protection. We took up her case with the Supreme Court, which gave its verdict in favour of the young couple. The two were forced to live incognito in the Capital where he worked as a mechanic and she gave birth to two children. Six years later they were tracked down by her family and it was in her own room that she was ‘honour’ killed by her younger brother.
In Lahore, Farzana Parveen was accosted at 7:45 am by a hostile group of 20 family members, including her father Mohammad Azeem, her brothers Zahid and Ghulam Ali, her cousins Mazhar and Mohammad Iqbal. She had come with her husband to contest an abduction case her family had filed against him. They fired shots in the air and tried to snatch her away but when she resisted they began pelting her with bricks from a nearby construction site. There was a crowd of onlookers who watched the stoning. Her husband told the BBC that the police was ‘watching silently’ while his wife was beaten to death despite desperate attempts to get them to act. Then he made the most bizarre statement; ‘One of my relatives took off his clothes to catch their attention. A naked man was crying for help before the court but nobody intervened’. Farzana’s father showed no remorse when he surrendered to the police and called the cold blooded murder: ‘my honour redeemed’.
When I went to the scene of crime it was bustling with life. I looked up at the beautiful domes of the Lahore High Court building and then down at the pavement where she must have been killed a mere two days ago. What bricks did they use; were they construction leftovers? Did they bring rods which they used to smash her skull? The media reported ‘batons and bricks’. Did her brain spill onto the pavement that was burning with May heat? I looked around but there was no evidence, not a shred. There was only the incontrovertible scene of crime screaming its story for anyone who cared to listen.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a relentless crusader, once again spoke about the failure of the State to protect its citizen’s lives. In 2013 alone the HRCP had recorded killing of nearly 900 women in honour crimes. It stated: ‘These women were killed because the State did not confront this feudal practice supported by religiosity and bigotry’.
The stories are the same across this region. A swathe of blood of innocent girls, some of them children, courses through all seven countries though we hear of more cases from Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. Back in 1997 when I filed my report in the honour killing case there was a storm in the country. After the Supreme Court had intervened, I felt a heady sense of victory. What I and even the Supreme Court had not foreseen was that ‘honour’ would find a way to redeem itself even after the passage of several years.
Following the Lahore incident, the media has gone wild in reporting stories about this killing. One account that has emerged is by Farzana’s sister Khalida who has said that she was killed by Iqbal (her husband) and his accomplices who shifted the responsibility to her father and brothers. One can discount the tales and stick to the very first report that appeared hours after the kill, but the rot underlying this practice is incontrovertible. And that pertains to the practice of ‘diyat’ or blood money that allows the victim’s family to forgive the murder in compliance with blood money laws, which simply means compromise and payment, sometimes even offering a girl in marriage. In this one family, for example, three women have been murdered.
It is reported that Iqbal had killed his first wife ‘because I fell in love’. His son, who had reported the murder of his mother, forgave his father under the blood money laws. Farzana’s family had killed one of her sisters but had escaped punishment because her son had given forgiveness. Quite likely that the same formula will work once again, allowing free passage to Farzana’s killers as well. The third woman killed in one family.
Impunity flourishes under the fig leaf of religious sanction, while society looks on. Columnist Nazish Brohi’s comment on the incident, ‘intolerance and violence are the only factors to have had a trickledown effect’ applies equally to the Indian context where we too wear dark lenses of cynical acceptance.
And the black humour in the comment of a family witness to the Farzana Parveen bludgeoning that ‘a naked man was crying for help but no one listened’ is matched in the report of the dalit girls’ hanging in UP on the last page of ‘Dawn’. It reports on Congress Vice President’s visit to the village, Katra Shahadat Ganj: ‘Mr Gandhi also saw the tree where the girls were found’.
Women’s Task Force Urges Attention to Woman Lawyer and Rights Under Threat for Pursuing Honor Killings of Two in Pakistan
Via Asian Human Rights Commission
9 June 2014 – The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that the life of a lady lawyer and human rights defender is under threat for pursuing the murder case of two women who were killed in the name of honour. The murderers quickly tried to bury the bodies claiming that they both committed suicide after the exposure of their illicit relations. The local politicians from the ruling party used high police officials to stop the court order of the exhumation of the bodies. The lawyer was threatened to keep away from the case.
The killers have made several attacks on the lawyer’s chambers and threatened that if she pursues the case she and her children will not be spared. The killers told her that killing one more woman would not increase the sentence for killing two already. The police and courts have ignored the threats to the lawyer.
Ms. Munaza Bukhari, advocate and prominent human rights defender of Pakpattan, Punjab province, is under threat of death by the alleged killers of the two women who were killed on the pretext of honour on the accusation of having illicit relationships out of wedlock. The government, courts and police have been informed, but it looks as if the authorities are biding their time and waiting for the attempt to kill her. This is similar to the case of Mr. Rashid Rehman, a human rights defender fighting the case of a professor who was accused of Blasphemy. He was shot dead in his chambers. Mr. Rehman had received threats to his life in a court room before the judge. The judge and the authorities ignored the threats.
Whenever there has hearing of the case in different courts, Ms. Bukhari was threatened in the court premises themselves, that she would be killed in the same manner as the two women. On more than three occasions the alleged killers attacked her chambers and boasted that they were not afraid as the sentence for three women would be the same as that for killing two.
The details of the case which resulted in the threats to her life are as follows:
On 24 February, two young women Ms. Parveen Bibi, 26, and Ms. Shakeela, 17, resident of Chak No. 77/D, Malka Hans, district Pakpattan, Punjab were allegedly poisoned to death on the pretext of hounor killing. They were suspected of having illicit relations out of their marriage.
Ms. Parveen Bibi, the mother of three children, was married to Mansab Ali six years ago while the other woman Ms. Shakeela was the sister of Mansab Ali and married to her cousin just eight months earlier. The husband of Bibi and the closed relatives of the deceased women claim that both the women were having illicit relations with two men, causing shame for the family honour, and at the disclosure of their illicit relations and accusation; they confessed and then committed suicide because of the shame.
However the neighbors and the local community of the same village believe that Mansab Ali, in connivance with other family elders killed his wife and sister by administering them poisonous pills as they doubted their honour. They also informed the police about the death of two women in mysterious circumstances.
The family members of the deceased women were in a rush to bury them in the village graveyard silently but the news of alleged murder spread out. The Deputy Superintendent of Police, Muhammad Akram rushed to the village along with the Station House Officer (SHO) of Malka Hans and started inquiring about the incident. During the initial inquiry and investigation of the police the accused husband, Mansab Ali, and other family members were unable to provide satisfactory reason and cause of death. On the suspicious grounds, the police stopped the burial without postmortem.
When the accused and his family felt that the police were not satisfied with the answers provided they panicked. The husband, along with other family members, approached the local politicians from the ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League (N) and some landlords of the area to seek help against the police interference into the matter. The local politicians used their influence and stopped police to further investigate. Later, the police let the family to bury both women without a postmortem.
Meanwhile, after the burial, on the basis of having strong reason of suspicious death of the women, Ms. Munaza Bokhari, the lawyer, intervened and demanded the exhumation of bodies. On the fear of being exposed, the Malka Hans police reported the matter in their daily register on 27th Feb, three days after the murder.
On March 2, Ms. Munaza Bokhari, herself became the complainant and filed a writ petition before the court of local Magistrate Mazhar Fareed for exhuming the bodies and registration of an FIR against the alleged killers. The complainant pleaded to the Magistrate and sought permission for the exhumation of the bodies as she believed that the Deputy Superintendant of Police, Muhammad Ikram and former Station House Officer of the Malka Hans police station, Ashfaq Husain were concealing facts by converting the double murder into suicide. Interestingly, later the the police, just to save itself, also filed a writ petition at the local court for a post-mortem of the bodies.
On 8 March, the court of Magistrate accepted the plea and gave the orders for opening up of the graves on13 April. In the meantime, the police and legal heirs of the two deceased women forced the court that in Islam exhumation of the graves of women is prohibited therefore stopped the exhumation. The lawyer, Ms. Bukhari, after observing the pressure from the politician of the ruling party and the police tilt towards the perpetrators, also filed a petition before the Session Court of Additional Judge Mr. Bashir Choudry, for the exhumation of the bodies to get the cause of the death. The Additional Sessions Court also ordered for exhumation of the graves and fixed the date on April 22 for excavation of the graves. On the date of exhumation all arrangements were made and the magistrate and other court staff and technicians from the government were present at the graves. However, just before the exhumation, the main accused person, Mansab Ali and 19 others filed a petition before the bench of Justice Syed Iftikhar Hussain Shah of the Lahore High Court to grant a stay order against the exhumation of the graves. The court without hearing the point of view of other party immediately granted the stay order and the exhumation was stopped until the vacation of the stay order. The High Court single Bench fixed the date of next hearing on April 28, but on the date judge postponed the next hearing for left over, which means when there would be time available from the court’s ’cause list’ the case would be heard.
The lawyer, Ms. Munaza Bukhari, is being followed and whenever she comes in contact with killers they threaten her that if she comes to the next hearing she would be killed.
The alleged killers have no fear of the law and they know how to manipulate with courts and police. They have not only used the police but also obtained help from the High Court as it is commonly known that judges are biased against women in general. Therefore it is an easy matter to get relief from the courts by taking the shelter behind Islam.
The case of Ms. Munaza Bukhari, advocate, is no different from the case of Mr. Rashid Rehman, the lawyer and prominent human rights defender, who was gunned down by unknown persons at his chambers at 8.45 p.m. He had been receiving death threats from the Muslim fundamentalists since February. In the month of April he was threatened in court during the proceedings before the judge by a lawyer, Zulfiqar Sindhu and two other complainants and was warned that from the next hearing he should not defend a Muslim lecturer of Bahawalpur University in a case of Blasphemy. Sindhu actually stated before the judge that Mr. Rehman would be eliminated. The presiding judge remained silent and took no notice of the threats by the bigots who were forcing the judge to sentence the lecturer to death.
The judge of the anti terrorist court totally ignored the threats given from the lawyer before him, the same attitude was shown by the local authorities and police that allowed the killers the freedom to kill in the name of Islam.
In the case of Rashid Rehman the killers knew how to get impunity from courts, police and authorities and they were successful. Until now no one has been arrested and even the Multan district bar association has not taken any action against the lawyer who threatened to kill Rehman before the judge.