"Harmonious Interfaith Relations"
Catholic Diocese/UPF-Richmond, September 22, 2014
The local TV Channel, NBC 12, began its Focus on Faith report on the evening news of Wednesday, September 10th by saying: “There’s so much fighting going on these days, world peace seems like a dream. However, there’s a program which intends to make it a reality. It’s called; ‘Harmonious Interfaith Relations.’ It is a partnership between the Richmond Catholic Diocese and the Universal Peace Federation-Richmond….”
The event, which was held on Monday, September 22nd, 6:00 – 9:00pm., was planned to commemorate the United Nations International Day of Peace which falls on September 21st, each year. It was convened with 120 people in attendance from 12 faith groups, which included: Christian; Muslim; Jain; Jews; Hindus; and Buddhist.
The Program displayed a well-balanced agenda. Welcome and Invocation was given by Monsignor Patrick Golden, Rector of Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, which hosted the event. The Cathedral is the mother church of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. It is a treasured historic landmark in the City, well located at the heart of the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) with the beautiful Monroe Park in its foreground. As a center of worship and outreach, it sees interreligious dialogue and the call to advocate social justice as prominent elements in its mission focus.
The Honorable Governor Terence McAuliffe of Virginia sent a pre-event letter, and later, a statement via one of his Aides. He congratulated the organizers on their noble efforts and conveyed his best wishes for success of the program. Following the governor’s statement, an Interfaith Prayer was delivered by Venerable Cang Kim (AFP 2005), Abbot, Buddhist Monastery of Richmond. This led to the Interfaith Readings from World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts, 1991; by Mrs. Lynn Johnston (AFP 2013), Unity Church of Richmond, and Mrs. Midge Falconer, Baha’i. Both ladies are former presidents of the Interfaith Council of Greater Richmond (ICGR). The World Scripture selections showed the richness and similarities of content which lay at the heart of the sacred texts of the respective faith traditions.
The Panel Discussion which followed, focused on the topic: “Interreligious Dialogue: Keys to Success in Richmond.” The panelists: Rabbi Ben Romer (Jewish); Mr. Malik Khan (Muslim); Mr. Justin Myers (Catholic Christian); Mr. Sanjay Thirunagari (Hindu); and Priest Sarah Boyles (AFP 2013 - Buddhist) dealt with the topic based on five central questions presented by the Moderator, Mr. Dale Fickett (AFP 2013) of the Virginia Conference of Catholic Bishops. The questions which ranged from views on ultimate reality; man’s relationship to the Absolute; what constitutes a healthy family; the pursuit of justice and peace; and, approaches to effect better changes in society; were to be explored from each faith perspective, respectively. Although there were varying differences in emphasis from the panelists on the image of the divine nature and love in humans, and their resultant expressions in human affairs, the overall unifying commonalities were quite evident.
The audience was then able to view three short videos on the global efforts for peace: Pope Francis’ call for Catholics worldwide to become ‘Ambassadors of Peace’; and Universal Peace Federation International endeavors for lasting peace. The Ambassadors for Peace program of UPF was well featured showing its great network of AFPs throughout the world.
The highlight of the evening came with the keynote PowerPoint Presentation on: “A New Dimension of Interfaith Relations for Greater Cultural Transformation.” It was given by Rev. F. George Russell, chairman of UPF-Virginia. He first recognized the Bishop of the Diocese, Francis DiLorenzo, Msgr. Patrick Golden and the Cathedral’s staff. The Bishop had conveyed his blessings and best wishes for a successful event in an email prior to the program. This delighted the participants.
In the PPt presentation, emphasis was made on the five core principles of the AFP program. The mission of UPF was highlighted, and everyone was enlightened on the vision, words and sacrificial lifestyle of UPF’s late founder, Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon. Overall, the spirit of the UN International Day of Peace and the timing of the Second Anniversary of Rev. Moon’s Ascension (Seonghwa), September 20th, helped to create a well-suited atmosphere for the program.
The questions of, “Why different religions appeared in the various loci in human history? What’s the formula for sustainable peace? And, How realistic and effective is this formula?” provided the raison d’etat for the lecture. The following is a brief synopsis:
"God’s original plan for a true human family and world of peace was thwarted and became conflicted due to misguided sexuality and violence in the first human family. These problems are evidenced within the depravity of fallen human nature and supported by the historical religious experiences rooted in the exposure of the self-centered actions of humankind: separation from God, sexual immorality, violence and wars, etc.
"The launch of the world’s religions was God’s providence to enlighten and elevate the spiritual and moral states of fallen humanity, step by step. He raised up messiahs; prophets; teachers; and significant others; to be catalysts in effecting His historical, worldwide efforts. The world’s religions in God’s providence were not intended to be in conflict; rather, they were to bear the hallmark of common morality, spirituality and universally guiding principles. Some references to these were highlighted in the excerpted readings from the World Scripture book.
The founders of the respective faiths, example: Moses, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus and Mohammed, taught what they understood and discovered through inspiration and revelation. They were able to help elevate the spiritual and moral lives of their followers.
"Today, the world’s religions are professing on the global stage. The time has arrived for the harmony of the faiths through rediscovering ‘the original ideal of God’ and the vastness of their shared spiritual heritage – common ground. The world of peace, the 'Peace Kingdom of God' will be the consummation of such a quest. It is embodied in the ideal which UPF founder, Rev. Moon has brought to the world: 'One Family under God.'
"The following quotes from Rev. Moon’s Peace Messages to 180 nations, given in 2006, alluded to the now needed spirit of our age: “In our time,” he said, “war is the most primitive and destructive manner to solve problems among nations. It will never bring about lasting peace. Nations should now pool their resources and move toward the desire of God, the peaceful ideal world.
"The various faiths should now work on the basis of interdependence, shared values and mutual prosperity. It is vital that the vertical axis created by the internal values of religion and philosophy become harmonized with the horizontal axis created by the external values of science and culture, thus realizing a unified cultural dimension, which in turn, will actualize a culture of peace. This is the culminating transformation that must now take place in order to create a world of lasting peace: ‘God’s Peace Kingdom.’"(End presentation)
Toward the close of the event, seven new Ambassadors for Peace were appointed. Among them; the president of the Interfaith Council Greater Richmond and president of the Hindu Temple of Richmond. Further, a ceremonial Toast to Dissolve Historical Resentments between all present, and to receive God’s blessing on their families were conducted. There was also a general pledge to go forward in a new spirit of hope, to create: “One Family under God.”