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Reflecting from Russia on World Interfaith Harmony Week

The Parliament of the World’s Religions recently welcomed Ermolina Galina of Siberia to the Ambassadors program. The following reflection shares the story of her interreligious community in Novosibirsk, Russia, observing the United Nations Interfaith Harmony Week.

World Interfaith Harmony Week inspires community gathering and interreligious excursions for Siberian residents. Shared by Parliament Ambassador Galina Ermolina.

The world we live in is overloaded with hatred these days, and religious conflicts bring us to disasters. What we need today is to change the paradigm of thinking from confrontations to understanding that we belong to one world, to one planet, to One God, whoever God is for each one of us.

My friends and I- being very much concerned about the situation- made attempts to find a possibility of cooperation between representatives of some religious institutions in our city, Novosibirsk, Western Siberia, (Russia).

In the beginning, I would not say we were very successful. Like anywhere, some religious representatives here are not yet able to speak cooperatively about different religions.

So when news came that the United Nations proclaimed a Week of Inter-religious Harmony from February 3 up to February 9, 2014, we decided to participate in a cultural excursion program organized by one of the public organizations working for peace in our big city since we had done events together in the past.

The purpose of this project was to get acquainted with representatives of the religions, to learn more about their unique qualities, so that it would become possible to start mutual cooperation of understanding and sharing on the basis of the Golden Rule.

Every day of the week, a group of people interested in the subject planned to visit this or that religious center, or church, or cathedral, following the list:

  • Bate Menahem Synagogue
  • Catholic Cathedral
  • Mosque
  • Church of Jesus Christ (Mormons),
  • Christian Church and Center of the Vedic Culture (Krishnaits)

On one of the days, a concert for veterans was performed by the student-volunteers of the Federation for Peace.

I managed to visit three events of the Week: Bate Menahem Synagogue, Church of Jesus Christ (Mormon) and Center of the Vedic Culture (Krishnas).

Personally, I have already been aware of diversity in interfaith relations because I have been many times during the last ten years in the Interfaith Community of the great Saint Baba Virsa Singh in Delhi and Punjab, where I have been significantly trained and acquired experience on the subject. Also, I have tried to stay active over the last three years as a member of the United Religions Initiative.

At the end of the week reflecting on the events of Harmony Week I have come to the conclusion that the event was not only interesting for the participants, but we learned a lot and gained new experiences in relations between the people of different religions. We hope that managed to make new friendships, for almost everywhere we were welcomed to come again.

“Unity in diversity” is one of most important slogans in the world, and we had an opportunity to see it in practice. Unity and oneness was manifesting itself in the warm hospitality, peaceful atmosphere of the meetings everywhere.

However, when our group approached the Russian Orthodox Church, we were given a chilly reception with the comment that special written permission was needed.  Unfortunately, many of us have faced difficult policies and responses, and this may be one of the reasons for us to join the Interfaith movement.

It was such a disappointment for all, and the situation was saved somehow by one participant who suggested to go the very special Exhibition “Holy Religious Places” of Siberia, situated quite nearby. The exposition was created by Dmitriy Dobryi who started this project a few years ago after the vision of Saint Princess Olga who told him to collect paintings, photos and other artifacts of Churches and other religious institutions of Novosibirsk region in one place for the people to see them. He himself made an incredibly beautiful embroidery portrait of St. Olga.

People like Dmitriy are those fanatics who are devoted to the values of religion, which means “connecting with the Highest.” The fact that this exhibition exists and works is a miracle itself, for there is no financial support from officials, either church or civil.

Coming back to the issue of diversity I would say that have come to the comprehending the method which every religious institution applies to attract people to their congregation.

Belonging to Synagogue, first of all, one feels protected in the midst of the surrounding world, one feels being a member of one powerful community, where one can get help if needed. It attracts even the people belonging to other religions due to the nationality or native traditional religion.

We didn’t feel any attempt to woo us into converting to this religion. Even if one can have different points of view on some fundamental things, but one can admit and accept those values which are strong within Jewish Community.

The visit to the Mormon Center was a pleasant one as well. Most of the missionaries are young smiling people from the USA speaking good Russian. From the speech of the center leader we received a lot of information about the origin of Mormon movement, its history and the development of the movement today.

We were given some materials to read at home as well. Even though the Mormon Teaching itself is difficult for me to follow, our event was devoted not to discussions or disagreements, but to finding the things which we all have in common, which can bring us to cooperation.

The Golden Rule says: “By thy God”, not by mine. It is important to Mormons to proclaim love to Jesus and God.

Chowing down on delicious Indian-style food in the vedic house of worship during World Interfaith Harmony week in Siberia!

The last event, visiting Vedic Center was quite different from what we have seen before. Most of the people present there were young, and some come with children. I have been many times in India, and at some moments felt as if I was again there. The highlight of that evening was a presence of Indian Swami Ji, who had been touring through Russia for more than a month. He addressed the audience with a nice and wise talk, speaking about love and harmony between people, despite difference in religions.

Of course, he said much about Krishna and Krishna movement all over the world. That Swami Ji is a good example for spiritual leaders; he managed to connect vedic knowledge with every day life challenges in a good, not scholastic way.

I asked him a question what way would he suggest to stop violence in the world and the answer he had given made me happy, because it completely coincided with my thinking:

we should begin with changing the way of our thinking, with cleansing our mind. That’s what Baba Virsa Singh used to say again and again.

Bombs and bullets will not change the world,at any rate –to a better world.

It is known that “joy is a special wisdom,” and appeared that the Vedic group of people sincerely follow this rule through ritual dancing and singing. I don’t want to say that this is an example for all to follow, but they enjoyed that evening.

After talks and dancing, everyone was invited to have traditional vedic food, of course vegetarian. One of the guests belongs to the Orthodox church and came out of curiosity.

In a way the events and experiences of our project was a reflection of the situation between religions today.

In two days we came together to share experiences, reflection and for planning our future cooperation with the religious institutions of the city, taking into consideration the experiences we had during the Harmony week.

Parliament History Revived At Retirement Prayer Service For Board Trustee Emeritus Sister Joan McGuire

Sr. Joan McGuire, CPWR Board Trustee Emeritus, was recently honored for her retirement from directing Ecumenical Affairs for Chicago’s Catholic Archdiocese. She is credited for rallying Chicago Catholic governance into participating in the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions faced difficulty in the early nineties pumping up the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago to participate in plans for the centennial Parliament of 1993. Then came Sister Joan McGuire, whose will to advance ecumenics changed it all. At a June 14 prayer service honoring her retirement, leaders of CPWR past and present, including Chair Mujahid and Executive Director Nelson,  gathered to celebrate a trailblazing career in ecumenical, interfaith accomplishment. Board Trustee Emeritus of CPWR and current Ecumenical leader of the Archdiocese Thomas Baina led the service as celebrant, citing a dissertation in the ceremony which detailed McGuire’s service leading up to her joining the Parliament Board of Trustees. In his remarks,

And, history has already recorded her place in the founding of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.  Those of you who know this story know that I was against the idea from the start.  I thought it was a pretentious name and an unworkable idea.  I advised her to keep her distance.  Well, fortunately for history, Sister Joan ignored my advice.  Listen to what Dr. Carlos Parra, in his recent dissertation on the Parliament says:

. . . Sister Joan McGuire, a member of the Dominican Order with a doctorate in sacred theology and the Director of the Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Archdiocese of Chicago was a committed observer throughout this process.  Her ecumenical presence, leadership as a Catholic religious woman, and ecclesiastical savvy and tactfulness were like a gentle wind that swept over the waters of these early converging currents.  As Cardinal Bernardin’s official representative  . . . Sister McGuire was instrumental in getting for the centennial project not only the support of the Archdiocese but of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago . . . which brought together not only Catholics and the various Protestant denominations but also the Jewish community . . .

In Dr. Parra’s study he argues that Sister Joan’s prudent judgment, patience in building relationships and the trust she has with the religious leaders of Chicago were all instrumental in their receiving her recommendations to support the Parliament.  I would add that he correctly describes all her dealings with our partners in dialogue.  And, of course, she won me over to the parliament.

Sister Joan was called back to her Order in 1992 to assume a position on the Council.  She served there until 1996 when, in December, she returned to again assume the position of Director.  Only a few months later, in May, she would introduce herself to the new Archbishop, Francis George, who when she said she ran the ecumenical office, replied, “Good, I’m interested in that.”

That simple remark could not capture the degree of personal engagement and support which EIA received from the new archbishop.  Within the first year, she was able to schedule the Cardinal for the first visit of an Archbishop of Chicago to a mosque.  Cardinal George’s experience with the Evangelical/Roman Catholic dialogue brought another new dimension to EIA work, as did his focus on Faith and Culture.  Sister Joan was also able to help plan and execute the “Dialogue of Love: A Pilgrimage to Constantinople and Rome” with the Greek Metropolis of Chicago.

With utmost gratitude, the Parliament salutes Sister Joan McGuire wish best wishes for a peaceful and exuberant retirement. Her work facilitating relationships between Catholics and Muslim, Jewish, and other faiths made her a perfect match for the Parliament.

Catholic Couple Embark on Interfaith “Pilgrimage,” Circle World on Religious Tolerance Quest

by Gillian Flaccus
from the Huffington Post

CLAREMONT, Calif. — Frederic and Anne-Laure Pascal are devout Roman Catholics who built their lives around their religion. When she lost her job last year, the young couple decided on an unlikely expression of their religious commitment: a worldwide “interfaith pilgrimage” to places where peace has won out over dueling dogmas.

Since October, the French couple has visited 11 nations from Iraq to Malaysia in an odyssey to find people of all creeds who have dedicated their lives to overcoming religious intolerance in some of the world’s most divided and war-torn corners.

The husband-and-wife team blogs about their adventures – and their own soul-searching – and takes short video clips for the project they’ve dubbed the Faithbook Tour.

Click here to read the full article

Hindu prayer recited at Catholic youth rally in Nevada

From SIFY

In a remarkable interfaith gesture, Sixth Annual Catholic Diocesan Youth Rally held on March five in Reno (Nevada, USA), involving Catholic teenagers from all over northern Nevada, heard from area Muslim-Hindu-Buddhist-Jewish leaders.

Catholic teenagers listened intently in the chapel of Bishop Manogue Catholic High School to Muslim imam Abdulrahim Barghouthi, Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, Buddhist priest William S. Bartlett, and Jewish rabbi Myra Soifer, explaining the tenets of their respective faiths, highlighting similarities. It ended with recitation of Gayatri Mantra (most sacred mantra of Hinduism from the oldest existing scripture of mankind, Rig-Veda) by Zed.

Click here to read the entire article.

March 18th, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Protestant and Catholic Irish Teens Work Together in Texas

From The Dallas Morning News,

ARLINGTON – For far too long, Protestants and Catholics didn’t mingle in Northern Ireland. Violence tore them apart.

But this month, 16 teenagers from the Belfast area – eight of them Protestant, eight of them Catholic – are side by side and becoming friends in Dallas-Fort Worth . They’ve been bonding as they stocked a food pantry for the needy, built a Fourth of July float and jumped on rides at Six Flags Over Texas.

They’re staying with North Texas teens and their families as part of the Ulster Project, a 35-year-old national effort that helps foster friendships among Irish students and transform them into peacemakers in their homeland. Program supporters say that the American teens benefit, too. In 1994, the project expanded to Arlington.

When Beth McClements, 15, heads back to Northern Ireland, she’ll take some lifelong lessons with her.

“Hopefully, to be a little more tolerant and more accepting of people from different backgrounds,” said McClements, who is Catholic. “Be more understanding and less judgmental.”

Hanging out with Catholics and Protestants has shown McClements that while there may be differences in their faith, “we’re all the same.”

Liza Hawrylak of Arlington says that the Ulster effort is making a difference. Her family has hosted two students from Northern Ireland. The Irish teens find common ground, said Hawrylak, president of Ulster Project Arlington.

“You see how the kids grow and they’ve bonded together and work together,” she said. “We’re bringing peace to the future leaders of Northern Ireland.”

Beginnings in 1975

The Ulster Project was launched in 1975 when a Church of Ireland priest was asked what could be done to ease tensions in Northern Ireland.

The priest, who had visited the U.S. during a pastoral exchange program, figured that students could benefit from seeing how Americans lived in a multicultural society.

There are several Ulster Project chapters across America. The Arlington group holds fundraisers through the year to cover half of the Northern Ireland teens’ travel and program costs.

In Northern Ireland, peace has long been elusive. About 3,700 people were killed during a 30-year period called the Troubles, which lasted until the late ’90s.

In 1972, British soldiers killed 13 protesters in Northern Ireland on a day known as Bloody Sunday. Last month, the British prime minister offered an apology after an investigation determined that the killings were unjustified.

A peace agreement in 1998 ended much of the violence.

But tensions linger. Last spring, a bomb went off in the town of Holywood, where McClements lives.

“It’s sad to think that it’s still happening,” she said. “There’s a small group from each side that would still be involved in violence, but everyone else is trying to move forward.”

Life is improving in Northern Ireland, and people are more tolerant, the Ulster Project participants say. Protestants and Catholics are mingling. Schools are integrated and children of both faiths are becoming friends.

“It’s definitely getting better,” McClements said.

The Northern Irish teens in Texas say they’re open-minded. To them, it doesn’t matter who’s Protestant and who’s Catholic.

“I don’t really care what religion somebody is,” said Thomas Elliott, 16, who is Protestant. “As long as they’re a nice person, that’s all that really matters.”

Elliott said the tension between Catholics and Protestants won’t completely disappear. But he hopes that what he learns in Texas rubs off on people back home.

Their American hosts are learning lessons, too.

Beth Grothouse of Arlington, whose family is hosting McClements, hopes to take what she’s learned back to the halls of Lamar High School, where she’s a student.

“There’s just so many people at school who you look at and say, ‘I’m not going to talk to them,’ ” the 15-year-old said. “There are so many little cliques, and people judge. I think it will open me up and be more accepting.”

Click here to read the full article.