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Gatherings Large and Small Call for Peace

Reports from South Korea and Southern India

Last month I was glad to be invited to two significant interfaith gatherings, one in South Korea and the other in Southern India.

Getting Serious About Peace in South Korea

“Vive la paix!” “We are all one.” Sixty thousand young people chanting for peace, filling up the Seoul Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony of the World Alliance of Religions Peace Summit (WARP) last month, was an inspiring and unforgettable moment. The dream of a world at peace was being passed on from elders of the peace and interfaith movements to a new generation.

No one was in any doubt how difficult is the search for peace – it does not come from shouting slogans. Bertie Ahern, former Taoiseach (head of government) of Ireland, who played a key role in North Ireland’s peacemaking Good-Friday agreement, put it plainly: “It requires determination and patience.” It is a step-by-step process and depends on dialogue with so-called ‘enemies’ and the inclusion of all interested parties. He and others also made clear that the search for peace cannot be separated from the struggle for human rights, an end to poverty, and the protection of the environment.

People came from many parts of the world to attend WARP, especially from Africa and Latin America, as well as from Asia. Many were used to living in societies which have for centuries been multi-religious, so the importance of interfaith dialogue was taken for granted. Most participants were happy to sign a pledge “to become one under God through the unity of religion” – understanding this as joining together “to end war and to establish peace.”

Marcus takes the hand of a South Korean girl at the Peace SummitMany religious leaders attended, and several former heads of state, as well as journalists and peace activists, were present, so we enjoyed multidisciplinary discussions. The formal sessions were dominated by set speeches, but meal times and bus-journeys to the various venues provided ample opportunities for one-to-one conversations. At every point there were young volunteers to guide and help us. A promotional video gives a sense of the size and scope of the event.

The World Alliance of Religions for Peace Summit was sponsored by The Heavenly Culture World Peace Restoration of Light (HWPL), the International Women’s Peace Group (IWPG), the International Peace Youth Group (IPYG), and the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD).

These organizations all result from the dedicated work of H.E. Man Hee Lee, an 84-year-old veteran of the Korean War. During the past three years, he has made more than ten World Peace Tours, meeting with presidents and religious leaders around the world, asked them to consider drafting an internationally applicable constitution which would bring violent conflicts to an end and prohibit further wars from being fought. Mr. Lee also played a leading role in the civil peace agreement signed between two religious communities embroiled in a 40-year-long conflict in Mindanao, Philippines, and signed a peace agreement with a leader of 14 million descendants of the Incas in Peru.

Like other charismatic leaders, Mr. Lee is a controversial figure, and some critics regard the movement as a cult. Others find the rather ‘flowery’ English off-putting and are suspicious of talk of the ‘unity of religion’ and of ‘unification,’ although this is an urgent concern in a country that has been divided for more than sixty years.

In Southern India – “Let None Suffer”

A second gathering took me back to Chennai (Madras), in India, where many years ago I was a student at Madras Christian College. The Sri Ramanuja Trust, which was celebrating its 14th Anniversary, takes its name from the great mediaeval religious thinker, Sri Ramanuja, who founded the Vishistadvaita (qualified non-dualist) theistic school of Indian philosophy. Most of the members are Vaishnavites, but followers of other paths were very welcome.

The trust was founded by and is led by the charismatic and scholarly Swami Professor S.A.R.P.V Chaturvedi, who gave two wide-ranging addresses (one in Sanskrit, the other in English), calling for faith communities to be far more active in peace work and social uplift. The Trust’s motto is “Let none suffer.”

The first day was a joyful celebration of the Swami’s birthday. The conference itself attracted participants from all over India and abroad. The Trust is engaged in social work with the poor and with peace and reconciliation projects, most recently in Bosnia. It is eager to arrange a Peace Pilgrimage in the Holy Land and would be glad to hear from anyone in Israel/Palestine or elsewhere who would support the venture. Please contact Sri Varadan Charndar at sriramanujamissiontrust@gmail.com.

Both the Heavenly Culture World Peace Restoration of Light and the Sri Ramanuja Trust are keen to make contact with other interfaith, peace, development, and environmental activists.