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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.

U.S. Department of Justice Reflects on Oak Creek

By Attorney General Eric Holder

This Monday, August 5th, marks the one-year anniversary of the senseless murders of six Sikh worshippers – Satwant Singh Kaleka, Paramjit Kaur, Prakash Singh, Ranjit Singh, Sita Singh and Suveg Singh – at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, in Oak Creek, at the hands of a lone gunman.  This heinous act of hatred and terror also seriously injured several other worshippers, as well as Oak Creek Police Lieutenant Brian Murphy, who was shot 12 times at close range while attempting to save others.

In the aftermath of this terrible tragedy, individuals and communities of faith across the country were badly shaken.  Millions were affected deeply – because we are a nation that has always cherished the right to worship and practice one’s faith in peace and liberty.  The attack in Oak Creek was particularly jarring not only because of its scale, and the number of victims involved, but also because it occurred in a place of worship; of fellowship; and – above all – of peace.

One year ago, I traveled to Oak Creek to stand in solidarity – and to grieve – with a shattered community that had witnessed the worst of humanity.  That day, I was inspired by the response of the Sikh community, by the outpouring of support from members of other faiths, and by the heroism of the Oak Creek Police Department officers who rushed to aid victims in the face of gunfire.

In the months since that shooting, many have asked how we should respond to mass casualty events like Oak Creek – which constitute both hate crimes and terrorist acts.  Following any such incident, the process of healing will inevitably be lengthy and difficult, as the effects of the tragedy endure long after the event.

This is why, today, I’m pleased to announce that the Justice Department’s Office on Victims of Crime will offer an emergency assistance grant to the Wisconsin Department of Justice providing over $512,000 to help reimburse, and continue to pay for, mental health and trauma services for the victims and survivors of this horrific shooting.  These funds are intended to assist all those affected – including family members, witnesses, first responders and the wider Oak Creek community – as they continue to rebuild their lives and keep displaying the extraordinary resiliency so many of us have come to admire.

More broadly, we also must engage in an inclusive dialogue about how we can prevent these tragedies in the future – including through the improved tracking of hate crimes reporting.

Now, the victims of Oak Creek must never be reduced to mere crime statistics.  But, in order to honor their untimely losses by ensuring that justice can be done – they do need to be counted.  Indeed, as Harpreet Singh Saini, who lost his mother during the Oak Creek attack, said at a Congressional hearing organized by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin last fall, “I came here today to ask the government to give my mother the dignity of being a statistic.”  Having accurate information allows law enforcement leaders and policymakers to make informed decisions about the allocation of resources and priorities – decisions that impact real people, and affect public safety in every neighborhood and community.  Today, I am proud to report that we have taken steps to collect this information.

After a nearly year-long process, in June of 2013, the Advisory Policy Board that advises the FBI on various issues, including statistical reporting under the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, recommended that the FBI Director add a number of categories in its tracking of hate crimes – including offenses committed against Sikh, Hindu, Arab, Buddhist, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness and Orthodox Christian individuals.  Director Mueller approved this recommendation.  And – as we look toward the future – I’m confident that this change will help us better understand the law enforcement challenges we face.  It will empower us to better enforce relevant laws to protect everyone in this country.  And it is emblematic of our unwavering resolve to prevent and seek justice for acts of hate and terror.

As we speak, the Justice Department – through the FBI, our Civil Rights Division and our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices – continues to vigorously investigate and prosecute threats and violence directed at people because of their religion or ethnicity, and to prevent acts of discrimination against them in the workplace, schools and many other areas.  Since the attacks of September 11th, the Department has investigated over 800 incidents involving violence, threats, assaults, vandalism and arson targeting Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs, South Asians and those perceived to be members of these groups.  The Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices have brought prosecutions against 60 defendants in such cases with 50 convictions to date – including, most recently, obtaining a guilty plea from a Washington state man who attacked a Sikh man in violation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.  And the Community Relations Service is working to help communities prevent and respond to these crimes wherever they occur.

Protecting the safety and civil rights of every person in this country is, and must always remain, a top priority for all those who serve the American family.  Through this work, my colleagues and I will continue to honor the memories of those lost at Oak Creek and all others who have become victims of terror and hate.  And we will keep striving to uphold the uniquely American promise that has always united people of differing faiths, creeds, colors, races and ideologies: the promise of liberty and equality for all.

Engaging Faith In the Neighborhood Retreat Registration Closing Soon

Registration closes July 5 for a 3-day intensive interfaith leadership development retreat for adults over July 23 – 25 with Chicago-based Seminary Consortium on Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE).

Parliament of the World’s Religion Board Trustee and SCUPE President Shanta Premawardhana says, “During these times of significant religious diversity in our communities, it is very important that we begin to understand how to relate to people of other faiths. It requires interfaith literacy, interfaith action, and it requires us to come to know each other and build community together. A lot of the time we are not able to do that because we don’t understand theologically how to make it work.”

Dr. Lucinda Mosher of Hardford Seminary will lead workshop participants on site visits to a Sikh gurdwara, a Hindu temple, and a Greek Orthodox Church, enjoying meals and accommodations just outside Chicago.  It will be an opportunity to answer critical questions by learning “what moves them, what gives them meaning and purpose of life,” says Premawardhana.

The course will begin with a day-long course in Interfaith engagement, followed by two days of site visits with meals included at houses worship. Registration tiers begin with student commuter rates and cap at full shared hotel accommodations and meals.

Workshop objectives include: empowering interfaith leaders, creating a safe space to learn, equipping the participants with teachable resources, discussing America’s religious diversity, building courage to visit new places of worship, building community among the participants, training in effective speaking about interfaith engagement, teaching the history of modern interfaith movement, practicing interfaith engagement, and developing skills to foster interfaith relationships. For more information please visit SCUPE.com.

July 1st, 2013 at 3:55 pm

3 Recent Victories Against Hate in the U.S.

FAITHS AGAINST HATE PREMIERING PUBLIC TRAINING DAY IN NEW YORK

  • In partnership with the Interfaith Institute of the Islamic Center of Long Island, CPWR Executive Director Dr. Mary Nelson and Chair Imam Malik Mujahid will join Long Island and New York City’s leaders of interfaith action against hate to deliver frontline training on hate crime and hate culture. On Saturday, June 22, 2013 – we welcome all participants to share training, inspiration, free meals, and action planning to mobilize a Faith Against Hate Task Force to overcome hate, fear, and anti-religious violence in the New York/Long Island area. Sponsors speaking at the event from The Interfaith Center of New York, The Sikh Coalition, the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, the Muslim Consultative Network, and more will be on hand to share formal and informal time to all. The training will empower and foster interfaith relationships for concerned citizens, clergy, and civic leaders. Come concerned, leave prepared! Register Free…

FBI TRACKING CRIME AGAINST SIKH-, HINDU-, and ARAB-AMERICANS

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation that tracks hate crimes in the United States announced on Wednesday, June 5, that it will finally include Hindu-, Sikh-, and Arab-American categories in future annual uniform hate crime reporting. This win is celebrated by hundreds of organizations which were heard en masse by the Senate Judiciary Committee last summer at the overdue hearing on domestic extremism and hate crime, which was expedited after the murders of Sikhs at the Gurdwara in the Oak Creek, WI last August.  Data on hate crimes motivated by 9/11 backlash and Islamaphobia will finally quantify widespread violence targeting several communities perceived “other-,” “Middle Eastern-”, “South Asian-.” It also signifies more attention by the U.S. government on this pervasive and complex illness in American society.

For more on this, check out our webinar with the chief organizer of the petitions and government relations at the Sikh Coalition, Rajdeep Singh, on “How Interfaith Coalitions Can Strategically Combat Hate.”

ANTI-IMMIGRANT ADS DROPPED BY PANDORA INTERNET RADIO

  • Pandora Internet Radio recently dropped hate ads against undocumented immigrants heard by 70 million listeners sponsored by an organization classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a known “hate group.” Sojourners Magazine made major moves to denounce the ads and responded by calling for funds to air counter-hate ads and asking Pandora to remove the ads from airplay. Read more…

Inaugural Benedictions Dedicate CPWR Trustee Message to President Obama

Dedicating words of spiritual guidance to the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama January 21, this Huffington Post feature shares a beautiful prayer from CPWR Trustee, Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia:

O Creator and Sustainer of Life. Bless our nation with strength and humility, confidence and compassion, safety and shared security, as well as prosperity and loving kindness. May we continue to stand up for the weak and oppressed so we can be a light to the world for the dignity of all human beings. May we be respectful of our sacred environment and engage in civil discourse that leads us towards national progress. Bless this great nation and its citizens, our President, and our elected representatives so we can work together to create a more perfect union for all.”

CPWR Trustee Butalia is a Sikh faith leader with progressive results facilitating interreligious relations. Butalia’s benediction reflects the shared spiritual will of faith traditions in support of the national community and its global relationships.

CPWR staff offer our warmest wishes for peace and progress to President Obama as he begins his second term, and to CPWR’s new and continuing Trustees beginning the 2013 term.

Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia is a member of the Interfaith Committee of the World Sikh Council – America Region (WSC-AR) and served as the Secretary General of the organization for 2004-2005. At the national level on behalf of WSC-AR, he is on the Presidents Council and Steering Committee of Religions for Peace – USA as its Moderator, and serves on the Board of Directors of the North American Interfaith Network as its Vice-Chair. 

The Tony Blair Faith Foundation’s: 2011-2012 Faiths Act Fellowship

Photography credit to the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

The 2011-2012 Faith Acts Fellows

from The Tony Blair Faith Foundation

Those who seek to cause religious conflict are small in number but highly motivated, organized and funded. While there are billions of people who are engaged in their own faith tradition, many have not yet learned how to live or work together well with those of different traditions.

The Tony Blair Faith Foundation decided to tackle this challenge through organising a year-long Fellowship that brought together young people of different faiths to work toward better interfaith action. The Foundation selected 33 outstanding future leaders, who between July 2011 and June 2012, worked in interfaith pairs around the world.  They built understanding between different religious communities by mobilising them around the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in particular around malaria prevention.

The Fellows represented a diverse cross section of the faith traditions: 11 were Christian, 10 Muslim, 5 Jewish, 3 Hindu, 2 Buddhist, 1 Baha’i, 1 Sikh and 1 Quaker. Thirty of the Fellows were placed in multi-faith pairs in Canada, India, the United Kingdom and the USA.

Click here to read full article 

UK Jews Muslims Sikhs and Others Join Christians to Wish Happy Christmas 4 All

By Alexander Goldberg
From Reuters

There are no Christmas trees in my home, not even a Chanukah bush, no sign of tinsel and no sound of children singing carols. If I was asked on Facebook to describe my relationship with Christmas, like most Jews I would opt for the ‘it’s complicated’ or even the ‘separated’ status. The personage of Jesus, whose birthday it marks, is the main theological divide between Christianity and Judaism. So whilst a minority in my community do mark it in some way, it would be difficult for me as an observant Jew to do so. Perhaps therefore, it is surprising to some that I have joined the HappyChristmas4All campaign. So why?

For me, it comes down to good neighborliness. It gives me no satisfaction to see others denigrate another person’s religious festival or stop my neighbours from practising their beliefs. That’s why I joined the HappyChristmas4All campaign that has attracted over a thousand supporters on Facebook and captured the attention of the broadcast media in Britain. People have signed up for their own reasons, but in essence Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs and secularists have joined together to say Christmas in Britain must be respected. Some from other communities have gone further and I have learnt this week from both Muslim and Buddhist friends the meaning that the birth of Jesus has in their traditions.

The ‘War on Christmas’ myth needs to be debunked. I share similar concerns to my closest Christian neighbours that the festival risks becoming on one hand a secular consumerist feast or on the other a time when the majority of the population wrongly believes it has to play down celebrations so as not to offend others.

Click here to read the full article.