Category Archives: TOLERANCE & SOLIDARITY

UNAOC and BMW Group Announce the 10 Finalists of the Intercultural Innovation Award

TOLERANCE & SOLIDARITY .

A press release from Global News Wire

Ten global grassroots initiatives have been named finalists of the prestigious Intercultural Innovation Award during an Awards Ceremony held last night [December 10] in Madrid, Spain. A partnership between the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the BMW Group, the Intercultural Innovation Award supports grassroots initiatives that promote intercultural dialogue and understanding and contribute to peace, cultural diversity, and more inclusive societies.

The Awards Ceremony was chaired by the High Representative for UNAOC and former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, H.E. Mr. Miguel Ángel Moratinos, and Mr. Bill McAndrews, Vice President Market Communications at BMW Group, and took place at the Royal Theatre.

“As the Intercultural Innovation Award enters its sixth edition, UNAOC and the BMW Group continue to collaborate to magnify the work of cutting-edge social innovators,” said Mr. Moratinos during his opening remarks. “In today’s global context, marked by conflicts of a complex nature, civil society organizations have the power to influence individual behaviors and foster the values of respect and inclusion, and therefore play a critical role in advancing these values among their communities.”

“With the Intercultural Innovation Award, we celebrate outstanding initiatives implemented by extraordinary individuals. They are working to bridge intercultural divisions in innovative and impactful ways. We at the BMW Group believe that diversity not only enhances our company; it is the very foundation on which our success is built. That is why we are so proud of our strong partnership with UNAOC. This collaboration and the Intercultural Innovation Award enable us to recognize some of the remarkable cross-cultural work being done worldwide,” said Mr. McAndrews.

This year, the selection process was highly competitive, with over 1,200 applications from 128 countries. The first place went to “Milenial Islami,” a project of the Indika Foundation in Indonesia. The project engages leaders of various religions in conversations with the public, both online and offline, to promote interfaith dialogue and peaceful coexistence.

In addition to a financial grant, the recipients of the Intercultural Innovation Award will benefit from capacity-building and mentorship support from UNAOC and the BMW Group to help their projects expand and replicate to other contexts. They will also be invited to join the “Intercultural Leaders” network, a skill and knowledge-sharing platform for civil society organizations and young leaders.

Other awardees include:

2nd place: Child Soldier Reintegration Project – Grassroots Reconciliation Group (Uganda)
The “Child Soldier Reintegration” project helps former child soldiers reconcile with war-affected communities in northern Uganda. More info: https://interculturalinnovation.org/child-soldier-reintegration-project/

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Question related to this article:
 
How can different faiths work together for understanding and harmony?

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3rd place: Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom Chapter Expansion – Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom (USA)
The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is a Muslim-Jewish grassroots organization in North America that helps young women and women develop relationships and gain the skills to react quickly to incidents in their communities in order to stand together in the face of hate. More info: https://interculturalinnovation.org/sisterhood-of-salaam-shalom-chapter-expansion/  

4th place: MinorMatters: Rewind; Rebuild – The Alliance Development Trust (Sri Lanka)
The project “MinorMatters: Rewind; Rebuild” is a web-based platform with resources to equip and empower citizens, especially youth, to promote religious freedom and coexistence in Sri Lanka. More info: https://interculturalinnovation.org/minormatters-rewind-rebuild/

5th place: Schools of Peace – Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (El Salvador)
The “Schools of Peace” project offers a variety of workshops to young people, from music and theater to photography and audiovisual production, intending to promote youth leadership and responsible citizenship and foster a culture of peace through arts and culture. The project also targets teachers by teaching them about violence prevention at school. More info: https://interculturalinnovation.org/schools-of-peace/

Honorable mentions:

E4D Entrepreneurs for Diversity – Ventana a la Diversidad (Spain)
The project “E4D Entrepreneurs for Diversity” empowers young entrepreneurs and creators from marginalized communities in the Ibero-American region to develop innovative ideas to overcome barriers, promoting a culture of peace, and transforming their communities. More info: https://interculturalinnovation.org/e4d-entrepreneurs-for-diversity/    

Life Into Lyrics: Bridging Cultural Divides Through Song – Darkspark (Canada)
The “Life into Lyrics” project invites youth to create pop songs and digital campaigns with social purpose, encouraging them to lend their voices to the change they want to see in the world. More info:  https://interculturalinnovation.org/life-into-lyrics-bridging-cultural-divides-through-song/   

Inclusive Intercultural Education for Social Cohesion – Kachinland College (Myanmar)
The “Inclusive Intercultural Education for Social Cohesion” project empowers and equips young leaders from different ethnic, linguistic, and religious backgrounds in northern Myanmar to become facilitators in intercultural dialogue, both online and offline. More info: https://interculturalinnovation.org/inclusive-intercultural-education-for-social-cohesion/   

Women as Peace Champions – Women’s Rights Association (Pakistan)
The “Women as Peace Champions” project engages marginalized women groups to decrease the gap in the decision-making process and increase collaboration between different communities. It provides a platform for dialogue about peace and aims to foster tolerance amongst communities through the contribution of women. More info: https://interculturalinnovation.org/women-as-peace-champions/  

180° Wende – 180° Wende (Germany)
180° Wende connects the youth community to support their disadvantaged peers and empowers them to reclaim their own lives by reconquering their social environment. 180° Wende works in abandoned neighborhoods, prisons, and schools to provide quick and informal assistance to youth and their relatives. More info: https://interculturalinnovation.org/180-turn/ 

Media Inquiries:
- Ms. Milena Pighi, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, BMW Group: Phone (Germany): +49-89-382-66563; Email: Milena.PA.Pighi@bmw.de 
- Mr. Alessandro Girola, Programming Coordinator, UNAOC: Phone (USA): +1 (929) 274-6217; Email: alessandrog@unops.org

Nepal: A senior supports grand seniors with walking sticks

TOLERANCE AND SOLIDARITY .

An article by Lok Raj Joshi based on a news article in Kantipur

Mr. Chandra Prasad Acharya has started a unique campaign to support the senior citizens. He himself is now 63 years old, retired from a middle income government job. At his own expense, he buys the raw materials and prepares walking wooden sticks for senior citizens. He then draws beautiful images of birds, fishes or flowers on the sticks. To deliver these gifts, he visits the elders on his own and for those who live far away, he posts them through their relatives.

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“For elders, stick is like a family member and a close friend as it is not possible for their sons and daughters to be with them 24 hours. That’s why I have started this campaign.”- Mr. Acharya explained.

Mr. Acharya initially planned to distribute the supports to 108 seniors above 80 years but later he came to realize that many of them will be left aside. Then he decided to make it 1008. These figures, 108 and 1008, carry special meaning in religious practice, he believes. In the last 8 months, his gifts have reached 550 senior citizens. He shared his joyful experience of delivering his gift to Mr. Nandalal Phunyal, 108 years old.

Mr. Acharya is currently targeting the seniors in his neighborhood in Khotang district in the eastern Nepal and thinking of reaching out to all above 100 years throughout the nation later. His friends are also happy to see his enthusiasm.

His campaign is a good example of culture of peace that expresses love and respect for senior citizens and supports them through efforts at an individual level. It shows that generosity is about great hearts rather than thick purses. His energy also indicates that being retired does not mean being tired.

Top 5 takeaways from the Amazon synod

TOLERANCE AND SOLIDARITY .

An article by Luke Hansen, S.J. in America, the Jesuit Review

The three-week Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region, on the theme, “Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for Integral Ecology,” concluded on Oct. 27 in Rome. Here are five key takeaways from the synod.


Indigenous people carry offertory gifts as Pope Francis celebrates the concluding Mass of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican Oct. 27, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

1. The synod was prophetic in placing Amazonian and indigenous communities at the center of the synod process and for making a clear option for these communities over foreign economic interests.

In the two-year preparatory process for the synod, the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network, or REPAM, coordinated about 300 listening sessions in the Amazonian region. About 22,000 people were directly involved in the territorial assemblies and smaller dialogue groups, and another 65,000 people participated in parish groups.

At the synod itself, there were 16 representatives of different Amazonian indigenous communities who shared their faith and cultural heritage with the synod and delivered compelling personal testimonies about the negative effects of climate change and extractive activities. Several of these indigenous leaders appeared at Vatican press briefings during the synod, speaking passionately about what is at stake for their communities.

On Oct. 16, Yesica Patiachi Tayori, a bilingual teacher and member of the indigenous pastoral team in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, described the decimation of her people, the Harakbut indigenous community, used as cheap labor and murdered by the thousands after the invasion of their land by rubber companies.

A few decades ago the Harakbut were as many as 50,000; they have been reduced to as few as 1,000 people today. Ms. Tayori said she made a direct appeal to Pope Francis to bring their story to the international level so that her people, faced with continuing external threats, do not go extinct.

At the synod, “the periphery speaks from the center with the awareness that its experience is heard as a prophetic voice for the whole church,” said Antonio Spadaro, S.J., a synod member and the editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, in an interview with Vatican News. “And, precisely for this, it is judged by some as disturbing.”

2. At the heart of the synod process and the final document is conversion at the pastoral, cultural, ecological and synodal levels.

Cardinal Michael Czerny, S.J., a special secretary for the synod,  presenting the final document at a Vatican briefing on Oct. 26, underlined the synod’s call for these four conversions (pastoral, cultural, ecological and synodal)because, he said, there are “no new paths” and “no real change” without these conversions.

“With the Amazon burning,” he said, “many more people are realizing that things have to change. We cannot keep repeating old responses to urgent problems and expect to get better results.” Referring to the urgent need for ecological conversion at both the personal and communal levels, the cardinal said the ecological crisis is so deep that if we don’t change, “we’re not going to make it.”

Several synod participants pointedly challenged Europeans and North Americans to examine and change their lifestyles and engage in political action in solidarity with Amazonian communities who bear the burden of climate change and the activities of multinational companies involved in mining and deforestation.

People who live in Europe and North America have a “heightened responsibility” for political action in support of indigenous communities since “we live from the benefits of this tragic exploitation in most parts of the world,” said Josianne Gauthier at a Vatican briefing on Oct. 14.

Ms. Gauthier, a Canadian and the general secretary of CIDSE, an international alliance of Catholic solidarity organizations, said her role at the synod was “to listen to voices we don’t have direct access to all the time” and to consider how to support indigenous communities after the synod through “political pressure” in international political instruments.

3. This special synod—the first Synod of Bishops to be organized around a distinct ecological territory—sought to practice what it preached regarding “integral ecology” and care for our common home.

In this regard, synod organizers undertookseveral important measures: implementing an online registration process in order to avoid printing paper; utilizing bags, pens and cups made with biodegradable materials rather than plastics; and most significantly, to be a “carbon neutral” synod, the organizers offset the emissions spent to get more than 200 participants from South America to Rome—estimated at 572,809 kilograms of carbon dioxide—with the purchase of 50 hectares (123 acres) of new growth forest in the Amazon.

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Question for discussion

The understanding of indigenous peoples, Can it help us cultivate a culture of peace?

Religion: a barrier or a way to peace?, What makes it one or the other?

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“The synod is a son, a daughter, of ‘Laudato Si’,’” the encyclical published by Pope Francis in 2015, said Mauricio López, the executive secretary of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network, inan interview with America.

“The synod is not the end of the road,” Mr. López said, “but the beginning of a new stage for the church in the Amazon, planting the seeds of metanoia, of radical conversion, from within, at this kairos moment.”

4. All 120 paragraphs of the synod’s final document (currently available in Spanish only) were approved with the necessary two-thirds majority vote, including proposals related to married priests and women deacons.

Even though these highly debated proposals had the most votes against them, the synod was able to find language to satisfy large majorities of voting members. It is a remarkable accomplishment, considering that even discussion about such questions was strongly discouraged in previous papacies.

In the paragraph on married priests, the synod noted that many Amazonian communities go for a year or more without the Eucharist and other sacraments because of a serious shortage of priests; that celibacy is a “gift from God” but also “not required by the very nature of the priesthood”; and that criteria should be established for the priestly ordination of “suitable and esteemed men of the community, who have had a fruitful permanent diaconate.” The bishops supported the proposal, 128 to 41.

In the paragraph on women deacons, the synod acknowledged that in “a large number” of the consultations carried out in the Amazon, “the permanent diaconate for women was requested,” adding that the theme was also important during the synod. Then, referring to the Study Commission on the Diaconate of Women that Pope Francis had established in 2016, the synod expressed its desire “to share our experiences and reflections with the Commission and await its results.” This paragraph received the support of 137 bishops, with 30 against.

In his remarks at the synod’s closing session, Pope Francis decided to immediately respond to this proposal, assuring the 265 synod participants that he would reconvene the commission, perhaps with new members. “I take up the challenge” for the synod “to be heard” on this topic, the pope said, as the synod hall responded with applause.

Several bishops and other participants spoke strongly in favor of women deacons throughout the synod, but perhaps the most compelling case was made by Bishop Evaristo Pascoal Spengler, O.F.M., of Marajó, Brazil, on the eve of the highly anticipated voting on the final document.

At the synod’s conclusion, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, a papal appointee to the Amazon synod, told America in an interview, “It was clear to me that the majority of bishops at the synod were in favor of recommending women to be in the diaconate.”

The bishop also said the pope’s closing comments “certainly signaled” that the papal commission would have “a new perspective and new people” looking at the possibility of women deacons “to see is there a way that this can be accomplished.”

5. Since his election as pope in March 2013, Pope Francis has transformed the Synod of Bishops into a privileged place of discernment and conversion.

Through the enhanced preparatory process, the increased participation of lay women and men as experts and auditors, the encouragement to speak freely on controversial topics and the rich discussions in small groups, Pope Francis has ensured that the synod is a place of encounter, listening and dialogue with others and with the Spirit, in which everyone is invited to let go of expectations and be open to conversion.

The synod is “not a discussion, not a parliament,” but there is “a spiritual dynamic,” said Giacomo Costa, S.J., the synod’s secretary for information, at a Vatican press briefing on Oct. 16. The biblical image, he said, is “the blind man who throws away his cloak to go to God,” and for the synod it means “to leave behind the safety of your arguments.”

The synod “is a path of discernment” that must “leave space for the Spirit,” Father Costa said.

On the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops in 2015, Pope Francis said that God expects the church to follow the “path of synodality” in the third millennium.

Synodality refers to the active participation of the whole People of God in the life and mission of the church, according to the International Theological Commission. It means embracing the diversity of charisms, vocations and ministries of God’s people.

The Amazon Synod: “Plus Tard Sera Trop Tard”

TOLERANCE AND SOLIDARITY .

An opinion piece by Michael Schuck from the Berkley Center, Georgetown University

It is a Society of Jesus tradition to test the validity of a teaching by the actions that it inspires. While composing Laudato Si, Jesuit Pope Francis was no doubt already contemplating an action to animate his breakthrough encyclical. The recently concluded Roman Catholic Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region was just that action. At the synod’s opening, Pope Francis called the gathering the “first child” of Laudato Si.


Photo from Reuters/Vatican Media as carried by Sputnik News

Two and a half years of preparation led to the three-week synod which met under the title “The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for Integral Ecology.” From October 6 to 27, hundreds of bishops, priests, religious women, experts, and observers discussed how the Church might better serve the Indigenous Peoples of Amazonia and the Amazon rainforest itself. The result was a Final Document approved by the 184 voting members and issued on October 26, to which Pope Francis is expected to respond with an apostolic exhortation by December.

In his final synod remarks, Pope Francis asked that people not let their attentions get absorbed into the details of ecclesiastical subjects such as the ordination of married men, the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate, and the creation of an Amazon Catholic liturgical rite, but stay focused on the big, overall themes that emerged during the synod. This is where the “fire” of the Spirit would be manifest. At this early juncture, it appears that at least four themes arose and deeply stirred the synod participants in their proceedings and their Final Document: listening, conversion, action, and urgency. 

Listening

The history of Church evangelization in lands of Indigenous peoples reveals how listening has not always translated into truly hearing. Synod delegate Bishop Medardo Del Río from Colombia insisted that walking together and truly hearing Indigenous Peoples “means trying to understand what indigenous communities need and what they want.” Bishop Adriano Ciocca Vasino, prelate of São Félix do Araguaia, Brazil, added that “We need to enter more deeply into their mentality” to better understand “the soul of their spirituality.” This can make genuine human and environmental insight available to the Church. As the Final Document affirms, the Church needs to listen to the “fundamental wisdom” of Indigenous Peoples who have “for thousands of years…taken care of their land, their waters and their forests” (14). 

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Question for discussion

The understanding of indigenous peoples, Can it help us cultivate a culture of peace?

Religion: a barrier or a way to peace?, What makes it one or the other?

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Conversion


The Final Document candidly admits that the Church needs to “unlearn, learn, and relearn, in order to overcome any tendency toward colonizing models that have caused harm in the past” (81). This requires real conversion, a major topic in the synod proceedings and the organizing principle for the Final Document’s four chapters. At the press briefing on October 26, Cardinal Michael Czerny, S.J., undersecretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and Special Secretary for the Amazon Synod, directed attention back to the “New Paths” in the synod title. With that in mind, he stated that “conversion means change and without change there will be no new paths”…we will just be “repeating what we’ve done before.” The Final Document reiterates: “Listening to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor and of the peoples of the Amazon with whom we walk, calls us to a true integral conversion” (17).

Action


In press briefings and interviews, synod delegates recounted how deeply they were stirred by the testimonies of Indigenous Amazonian men and women. Some delegates were brought to a frank, public acknowledgement of their complicity in rainforest destruction and a personal commitment to greater environmental awareness and simpler lifestyles. Among the Church actions called for in the Final Document include:


– stopping excessive consumption;
– decreasing production of solid waste;
– stimulating reuse and recycling;
– reducing dependence on fossil fuels, use of plastics, and consumption of meat and fish;
– seeking sustainable alternatives in agriculture, energy, and transportation;
– divesting in extractive companies;
– reducing the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases related to climate change;
– developing new (circular) economic models;
– promoting education in integral ecology at all levels (especially a new Amazon University);
– defending the territorial rights of Indigenous Peoples;
– restoring the ancestral wisdom of the Indigenous Peoples;
– distancing the Church from the new colonizing powers;
– ordinating “suitable and esteemed” married men to the priesthood; 
– and creating “a liturgical rite for the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.”

Urgency

A sense of urgency pervaded the testimonies of Indigenous men and women throughout the synod. One delegate remarked that the mood was “plus tard sera trop tard”—later will be too late. At the final press briefing, Cardinal Czerny remarked that the ecological and human crisis is so deep that without this sense of urgency “we’re not going to make it.” This bold assertion was matched by the Final Document’s declaration that “integral ecology is not one more path that the Church can choose for the future in this territory, it is the only possible path.” For the synod delegates this urgency was not only a matter social and ecological justice, but also a matter of the soul. As Archbishop Pedro Guimarães from Palmas, Brazil reflected, “While we profess the Creed that we believe in God the creator of heaven and earth, we continue to sin against nature—without even questioning ourselves.” For Pope Francis, this questioning is long overdue. For our Indigenous brothers and sisters, our planet, and our souls, later will surely be too late. 

Cyprus: Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud: “Work for a world that’s a better place”

TOLERANCE & SOLIDARITY .

A article by Susan Kim for the World Council of Churches

Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud, leader of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process, received an International Religious Freedom Award from the US Department of State on 17 July. She paused to speak with WCC Communication with a word about what has inspired her life’s work for peace.


Photo: Kyriakos Arkatides

Q: You are fresh from receiving the International Religious Freedom Award. How did the ceremony move you?

Weiderud: It was extremely overwhelming and it’s a huge honor. I’m humbled. It’s important because it will help shine a light on the joint efforts of the religious leaders in Cyprus to advance religious freedom, and also inspire others working on issues of religious freedom around the world.

Q: Have you always been passionate about being a peacemaker?

Weiderud: Yes! I myself grew up with stories of my ancestors being persecuted, deported and massacred. My family came as refugees from Turkey to Cyprus. My grandmother was five at the time, and my great-grandparents brought her and her siblings to Cyprus. I grew up hearing their stories of pain, fear and violence. Yet at the same time my family did not choose hatred. There was so much pain; still they chose to talk about faith, hope and love. They practiced what they preached. Their stories of coexistence and friendships inspired me. I grew up on a divided island where conflict and its transformation became an existential reality. To me, there was no other option: you worked for a world that was a better place. A world that was free and safe for all, where everyone’s human rights were respected. So nothing else made sense to me.

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Question related to this article:
 
How can different faiths work together for understanding and harmony?

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Meeting amazing committed people in the ecumenical movement was another inspiration for me to be a peacemaker.

Q: In 2017, the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process released a joint statement of the religious leaders of Cyprus condemning all forms of violence against women and girls. What do you think is the best way to address gender-based violence?

Weiderud: In my area, working with faith leaders, especially in Cyprus, the biggest step has been to take responsibility through  joint action so that religious leaders don’t feel they are taking steps by themselves. Together, they advocate for each other’s rights and religious freedom. For the first time ever, Christian and Muslim religious leaders of Cyprus made a commitment against this violence.

Q: How has the Religious Track followed up on this statement with action?

Weiderud: We continuously facilitate the process to ensure that the statements and actions keep their unity, and that statements and actions are well-rooted and owned by the religious leaders. We have helped religious leaders make new alliances with women’s organizations in both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities and take full responsibility of their own commitments. We are working to ensure safe spaces for sharing of information and developing joint action.  It’s very important to ensure that everyone feels feel connected and that they are working together — victims and religious leaders.  Our work takes time, it requires patience, sensitivity and service but it’s worth it because we ensure that there is unity and ownership to move statements into action.  It’s been exciting for us to organize events that have been unheard of, such as the social media campaign 16 Days of Activism for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls.

Asian church leaders call for greater interfaith cooperation

TOLERANCE & SOLIDARITY .

An article from Lutheran World

The Asia Church Leadership Conference (ACLC) has concluded in Indonesia with a call to all churches to work more closely together with other faith communities to promote urgent issues such as gender justice, environmental protection and care for the poor and needy.


Indonesian church leaders meet with the President of the Republic’s special envoy on interfaith relations and intercultural dialogue, Professor Syafiq Mughni (center). Photo: LWF/Isaac Henry

Pastors and lay people from across the region have been meeting with local Lutheran leaders in the North Sumatra town of Pematang Siantar to discuss the theme ‘Pursuing peace through interfaith relations in Asia’. It was preceded by an encounter of Asian women leaders and a meeting of the Global Young Reformers Network, which focused on ways of ensuring more meaningful participation of young people in the life of the churches.

The five-day gathering was hosted by three of Indonesia’s member churches of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the Simalungun Protestant Christian Church (GKPS), the Christian Protestant Church in Indonesia (GKPI) and The Indonesian Christian Church (HKI).

Peace can never be taken for granted

On the final day, delegates heard from Indonesia’s special envoy for interfaith relations and intercultural dialogue, Professor Syafiq Mughni, about ways in which his country seeks to promote peaceful cooperation among followers of the six officially recognized faith groups. Local leaders from some of those groups attended the session that focused on the five principles, known as Pancasila, upon which the nation was founded following independence in 1945.

Noting the huge diversity of ethnicities, languages and religions in his country, Mughni stressed that “peace can never be taken for granted”. Since he took up the post last year, he has organized conferences to foster good relations between the different faiths and to promote “a culture of peace” in schools and universities. As a Muslim leader, he has also met with Islamic leaders around the world to promote ‘Wasatiyya’, a term meaning the ‘middle way’ or moderate Islam, as the nation’s majority religion

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Question related to this article:
 
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LWF partnership with Islamic Relief Worldwide

Engaging in interfaith dialogue and cooperation was identified as a key point of the LWF’s strategic priorities  for the coming years and is particularly relevant to the Asian context where Christians form just a small minority in most countries. From India, where growing Hindu nationalism has led to attacks on Christian and Muslim communities, to Myanmar, where hard line Buddhism has fed persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority, to Malaysia where the ongoing Allah controversy continues to cause problems for Christian media, religious tensions are never far away from the news headlines.

Highlighting the importance of interreligious cooperation as a way of increasing understanding between different faith communities, LWF Area Secretary for Asia, Rev. Dr Philip Lok noted that the LWF partners with Islamic Relief Worldwide and last year launched a manual on faith sensitivity in humanitarian responses to disasters and refugee crises. The guidelines, which were piloted in field work in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, cover medical, psychological and social issues, as well as practical aspects such as food, shelter and meeting places. Rev. Lok said the LWF “hopes that this kind of cooperation with other faith communities can help promote peace in the world.”

Dialogue at leadership and grassroots level

The Asia region of the LWF includes 55 member and associate member churches in 17 countries, from the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) in the South Pacific to The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL). Delegates at the meeting heard about efforts of churches in many of those countries to promote dialogue at both leadership and grassroots level, despite many challenges stemming from the politicization of religion, as well as colonial histories and ongoing attempts at conversions by some Charismatic groups.

Speaking on the opening day  of the conference, LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge praised the commitment of churches in Asia to peace building, despite the difficulties they face. “The task of peace-making,” he said, “begins within ourselves, within our own churches, seeking to live in peace with each other.”

Participants also heard about the current political unrest in Hong Kong and efforts by churches there to provide a space for rest, counselling and reconciliation within a deeply divided society. Hong Kong delegates noted how Protestant and Catholic churches are supporting each other in this work and they urged people around the world to continue to pray for peace in their country.

Kashmiri students run out of essentials, money; Khalsa Aid, J&K Students Assn extend help

TOLERANCE AND SOLIDARITY .

An article from Indian Express

As Kashmiri students are running out of essential items and money, in the consequence of two months of lockdown in Kashmir, the Khalsa Aid and J&K Students Association provided 150 Kashmiri students with groceries, money and other necessary items on Tuesday.

The organisations provided a 25-kg kit of essential items including rice, flour, cooking oil and soaps, among other items to Kashmiri students in Banur.

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Question for this article

Is there a renewed movement of solidarity by the new generation?

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Spokesperson of the association, Nasir Khuehami said, “We are in touch with Kashmiri students and in collaboration with Khalsa Aid, we are providing them with every necessary assistance. Since students have run out of money and are not getting any help from their parents and families in the Valley, they are barely able to pay their college and university fees, and are struggling to meet the expenses of other basic needs. Today, we distributed packets containing around five kgs of rice and 10 kgs of flour, along with sugar, cooking oil, salt and some other basic spices to the students, besides some other essential commodities.’’

Khuehami said, while Khalsa Aid was providing groceries and essential commodities to the students, the association was giving them monetary help. ‘’In most cases, it is only around Rs 1,000 a student, but in cases where the student is ill, we give more. Everyone here is facing financial issues following the restrictions imposed in the Valley. Students are not able to pay their room rent and are running out of money for day-to-day commodities,” he said.

Expressing his gratitude to Khalsa Aid, for helping the Kashmiri students in distress, Khuehami said, “These bravehearts showed real humanity by providing groceries and other essentials to hundreds of students in Banur and other areas of Punjab. Humanity is beyond communal differences.’’

(Thank you to Shreya Jani who called this article to our attention.)

Australia: Antony Loewenstein wins the 2019 Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize

TOLERANCE AND SOLIDARITY .

An article from Jerusalem Peace Prize

Australians for Palestine and the Australia-Palestine Advocacy Network are thrilled to announce that the winner of the 2019 Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize is journalist, author, and film-maker Antony Loewenstein

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Question for this article

Presenting the Palestinian side of the Middle East, Is it important for a culture of peace?

How can a culture of peace be established in the Middle East?

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Antony’s best-selling book “My Israel Question” generated a storm of controversy because of his forensic discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the intimidatory way Zionist lobby groups have affected political discourse and news media to shape their version of Middle-Eastern politics. 

His foray into this veritable minefield saw him personally attacked and even shunned by his community and relatives.

He co-founded Independent Australian Jewish Voices and has said that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement “is a logical and non-violent response to human rights abuses in Palestine.

The award will be presented by last year’s prize winner Professor Emeritus Stuart Rees AM at a black-tie dinner in Queen’s Hall, Victorian State Parliament [Melbourne, Australia] on Friday  22 November 2019.  In response to the award, Antony will be in conversation with the celebrated journalist and television news presenter, Mary Kostakidis.

Libby and Len Traubman on Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue

TOLERANCE AND SOLIDARITY .

Excerpted from an article in Elders Action

. . . The compelling year-long meal sharing and earlier Soviet-American successes prepared Libby and Len to begin facilitating dialogue between Jews and Palestinians, thus catapulting the couple into another of the world’s serious communal conflicts. Libby explains, ‘By the late ’80s and early ’90s we were meeting some Israeli and Palestinian citizen-leaders who aspired coming to the United Sates for talking with each other—illegal where they lived. We, with others in the Beyond War community and Stanford University said “yes.” ’


See video of “Twenty years of the Palestinian Jewish Living Room Dialogue”

The Israeli and Palestinian women and men were brought to the California redwoods for a powerful week-long conference resulting in writing and signing the historic 1991 Framework for a Public Peace Process. Len cancelled his patients and the Traubmans travelled to Jerusalem to help gel the new team. They assisted participants circulating their Framework document to their individual governments and peoples.

Back in the USA, the couple promptly applied the new strategies. Len recalls: ‘Libby said, “You know we’ve done this globally, now we have got to figure out how it works where we live.”‘ The year of interracial dialogue in their home had laid the groundwork for the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue beginning in July 1992 in their home.

Len recalls early difficulties: ‘Libby spent a year looking for brave local Jews and Palestinians—Muslims and Christians—willing to sit together. It was not a popular thing to do.’ Libby agrees about their biggest hurdle. ‘We searched tirelessly for people willing to face one another. It was almost unheard of. They’d say, “This is the enemy, are you kidding?” The Arabs and Jews were taking a risk by just sitting together, a taboo for many.’

Len explains that the Living Room Dialogues revealed that ‘the real fear is often not of the other side, but of one’s own people’s rejection as naive, sympathizer, unfaithful. That’s where the terror is: “What will people say?”‘

Libby adds, ‘So some feared their own people. Some feared the Other. And many questioned what good dialogue would do. Some said, “I’ve moved to America, and I don’t want to think about it anymore.” Palestinians’ and Israelis’ lives had become so comfortable in America.’

At first participants came to vent and then left. Later arrivals exhibited more dedication to deep listening and empathy. After 18 months a reliable core of respectful yet passionate women and men were dedicated to quality communication. ‘That was twenty-two years ago,’ says Libby. ‘Now eager would-be participants must be asked to wait until a rare opening occurs and the group needs a new member to restore balance.’

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Question for this article

How can a culture of peace be established in the Middle East?

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Len remembers key ingredients for Living Room Dialogue success: ‘We were dedicated and didn’t give up. Always there for the people, we kept respecting that at first most people dearly want to be heard. So the participant with the will and skill to listen is really the one with the power to transform the relationship. Listening dignifies both listener and the person whose story is being heard. Again, “An enemy is one whose story we have not heard.” We experience story as the shortest distance between two people. It is story and not information that goes to the heart and is best remembered. With this connection of hearts then brains, people experience each other’s equal humanity and begin wanting the best, not only for self but for the other person equally. Magic results from being together and connecting at the heart that then messages the brain that it is safe and the relationship is working properly. This face-to-face connection is simple yet the most effective human experience to redirect relationships.’

Libby continues, ‘At first we didn’t appreciate story as an entry point to Dialogue. We’d begin with political issues and hot topics, provoking ranting, blaming and battles over versions of history. Yet we failed to discover the personal and family stories of the human beings in the room with us. Slowly we discovered the primacy of personal intimacy and spending generous time with people telling their own narratives – sometimes bottled up inside a whole lifetime until then. That is really what we did that first year together of going round and round telling our own histories, ever more deeply learning more about each other. Familiarity, trust, and friendship grew. In time we could begin to approach more difficult issues.’

If listening ensures dialogue, then what makes someone a good listener? How can you make someone into a good listener? Len says simply, ‘You first listen to them.‘

‘You provide them that experience,’ explains Libby ‘And when they come into the dialogue circle, you have to be clear about the rule – what dialogue is and is not.‘

With skills from the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue, Len and Libby then facilitated and filmed Dialogue at Washington High in which Miriam Zimmerman, a Holocaust Jew, and Elias Botto, an original 1947 Palestinian refugee from Jerusalem, shared their poignant stories. Used for instructional purposes ‘…that film then touched hearts and passed on skills to citizens in Africa and worldwide, helping people to relate differently’ explains Len. ‘It reminded us not only to enact the dialogues but to also tell the story of it. The power today is in story and the choice of stories. Today people are fed mostly human failure stories that we see on the five o’ clock news. Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and teacher, says: “People become the stories they hear and the stories they tell.” We have to decide what is for life and what is for death, what is for relationships and the health of the planet, then tell the stories of people who live exemplary lives.’

[Note: Long-time readers of CPNN will recognize Len and Libby Traubman from their articles reprinted in CPNN:

Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue: Turning enemies into partners


Planting Peace Seeds on the Road to Jerusalem


Two Free Videos for Relationship-Building Worldwide

Yehezkel Landau: Can Zionism Be Redeemed?

TOLERANCE AND SOLIDARITY .

Excerpts from an article by Yehezkel Landau* in Tikkun (abbreviated by CPNN)

. . . The decades-long war between Zionism and Palestinian nationalism (each with secular and religious articulations) has pitted two national stories of heroic striving against each other, competing for validation. This zero-sum equation is shared by the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians who experience the conflict from within. But a fair-minded observer, especially one who wishes to promote inclusive justice and reconciliation, should be able to adopt a dual- or multi-narrative perspective and see the conflict as a profound tragedy rather than a dualistic morality play. The conflict is often seen as one of villains against victims, or oppressors against the oppressed; such a judgmental outlook favoring one side over the other contributes to the ongoing strife and to the widespread suffering that it creates.

Protest from Israeli side of Gaza border with Israelis, Palestinians, and foreigners. Image by Cat Zavis.

In my own approach to the conflict, I am adopting Hegel’s definition of tragedy: a clash between two rights, not right versus wrong. In this case, it is also a case of two peoples with painful histories forced to confront each other as they seek to be separately and mutually healed, but so far inflicting more traumatizing wounds on each other. The horrors of the Holocaust, on the Jewish side, and the searing trauma of the Naqba for the Palestinians, only deepened the tragic dimension of the conflict. The Palestinians’ national identity crystallized in the process of resisting Zionism and the influx of Jews into Mandatory Palestine after World War I.[15] And just as there are various forms of Zionism, Palestinian nationalism has exhibited a range of positions (e.g., Islamist or secular, Marxist-Leninist, or democratic). The common denominator on the Palestinian side is to view Zionism as illegitimate and immoral.

The perception of Zionism as an unjust, oppressive, colonialist ideology, demonstrated in practice by the expulsion and dispossession of a large part of the Palestinian people from their homes, fields, and orchards, would probably have been mitigated had more Jews been living in the land before the Zionist movement began. Since most of world Jewry was living outside Eretz Yisrael, and most Palestinians did not perceive Diaspora Jews as a nation but, instead, saw them as a religious community akin to Christians or Muslims, the Zionist claim to even part of Palestine seemed bogus, even fabricated. Had there been appreciable numbers of Jewish residents outside the four cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias, and Safed—recall that Tel Aviv was inaugurated in 1909 and over time came to engulf the ancient city of Jaffa—then the conflict between Jews and Arabs in the land would have looked more like the Hindu-Muslim intercommunal strife on the Indian subcontinent that gave birth to the separate states of India and Pakistan. (Pakistan later devolved into two separate states, with Bangladesh breaking off from West Pakistan). Even in South Asia, at the same time that the Jewish-Palestinian conflict reached its explosive climax in the late 1940s, the implementation of an agreed-upon partition was accompanied by large-scale intercommunal violence.

There have been many ironic twists during the course of this tragic conflict. One is the role reversal that transpired between 1947 and 1988. When the Palestinian Arabs were the demographic majority, they did all they could to prevent a Jewish state from emerging in even part of Palestine. The Zionist leadership, for its part, accepted the United Nations partition resolution of November 29, 1947. Then, when the Jews were the empowered majority, they joined with Egypt and Jordan to deny Palestinians an independent state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. It was only in 1988 that the Palestine National Council under Yasir Arafat’s leadership, meeting in Algiers, accepted the 1947 partition plan. But by then the Israeli Prime Minister was Yitzhak Shamir, who had always rejected any form of territorial partition. It took the election of Yitzhak Rabin in 1992 to launch the negotiations that produced the Oslo Accords. Another irony has been that, over the course of the last century, the two peoples have experienced complementary transformations in both symbolism and practice. For the Jews, the Zionist enterprise transformed a symbolic homeland suffused with dreams of messianic return from exile (see Psalms 137 and 126), but with very few geographical coordinates outside the aforementioned “holy” cities, into a functioning state with localized reference points. Some of those cities, towns, kibbutzim, and moshavim had ancient Biblical names like Beersheva or Ashkelon. Others were new creations, some with poetic names like Petach Tikvah, Rishon LeZion, or Tel Aviv, while others were development towns built later for immigrants, primarily from Arab countries, with names like Sderot and Carmiel. For the Palestinians, the process was reversed. Most of them began the 20th century with identities centered on their clan-based ancestral villages, which they retained even in exile. Over time these localized identities were supplemented by a collective sense of distinct peoplehood, as Palestinian national consciousness evolved. Now both peoples have dual identities, each combining an umbrella-like nationality that is reinforced by a shared narrative and symbolism, together with a sense of rootedness in a particular locale and community.

SEEKING A JUST PEACE

If we return to the moral dilemma at the heart of this conflict, we are faced with the challenge of finding a single standard of justice that can be the basis of genuine peace. To the extent that Zionism and Palestinian nationalism are conceived and lived out as self-referencing ideologies creating exclusivist identities, they remain impediments to reconciliation. And as long as that remains the case, the liberating vision of the Zionist pioneers will be even more corrupted, in both its ends and means, than it already is. Is there a redeeming alternative? I submit that if both Zionism and Palestinian nationalism can be viewed through more wide-angled lenses, they might yet become complementary rather than mutually exclusive. In that way, polarized psyches, hearts, and spirits can mutually nourish each other; they need not be seen as inherently hostile. As history has shown, shifts in consciousness need to occur in order for there to be shifts in behavior.

Zionism, in all its variations, has always had two aspects. One is the physical aspect rooted in, and driven by, an existential Jewish need for safety and security through an independent state with armed forces for self-defense. In the wake of the Holocaust, this aspect has been given disproportionate emphasis. The second aspect of Zionism, at least as vital as the first, is the metaphysical aspect, the longing for belonging rather than alienation, the yearning to be free and to feel at home, the psychological and spiritual need for independent selfhood that is not a defensive reaction to the harmful intentions of others. Jews, as human beings, deserve both security and spiritual liberation. So do Palestinians. A compassionate and just peace process based on mutual acknowledgement of those common human rights, needs, and aspirations can yield the practical fruits of reconciliation. That process would have as litmus tests three very practical criteria, based on emotional investments that can be changed if leaders choose to guide their communities away from antagonism and toward partnership: (1) Is fear being transformed to trust? (2) Is anger being transformed to mutual acceptance and forgiveness? and (3) Is grief being transformed by empathy into compassion for the suffering of others, before the grief turns into grievance and the desire for vengeance, fueled by bitterness and rage?

The national anthem of Israel is Hatikvah, “The Hope.” It expresses the yearning of Jews for Zion and the willful determination to be, once again, a free people in the ancient homeland.  This two-thousand-year-old hope was never lost, the song proclaims. Zionism, in whatever form, is the practical expression of this hope. But the Zionist revolution will not be complete, or truly fulfilled, so long as Israelis feel threatened by their neighbors, which means that the Palestinian people need to have its own hope of return and freedom fulfilled also. The Palestinian national anthem, Biladi, Biladi, “My Homeland, My Homeland,” expresses the love and longing for the Palestine that was lost but not forgotten. How to honor and realize both hopes, both dreams of return and renewal, remains the supreme challenge for anyone who cares about this tragedy and its global ramifications.

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Question for this article

How can a culture of peace be established in the Middle East?

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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not simply over a common homeland and who exercises political control over it. At a deeper level, it is also about personal and collective identities that have developed in mutual antagonism rather than complementary creativity. In order to transform the political and spiritual dynamic from opposing struggles for independence to a common struggle for interdependence based on equity, the two national anthems need to be supplemented by other songs. Those additional songs need to put the collective yearnings for freedom and security within a wider context, one that frees both peoples from the shackles of alienation, existential dread, and recrimination.

One common goal that can help Israelis and Palestinians transcend their myopic notions of what best serves their interests is a shared commitment to safeguarding the land which they share from ecological calamities. In this regard, I think of a conversation I had with the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead several decades ago. We were talking about the Middle East, at a time when her daughter was living in Iran. Dr. Mead lamented the emphasis throughout the region on control over territory, based on strong attachments to a particular land, at the expense of environmental concerns about shared air and water. The shift in consciousness she was advocating could be a powerful force for shifting the bilateral focus on Israel/Palestine to a wider, regional perspective. There are already some commendable joint initiatives, like the Arava Institute at Kibbutz Qetura in southern Israel, that bring together Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians to work together on ecological sustainability. There are also hopeful signs of a growing environmental awareness among both Jews and Arabs. For example, on March 29, 2019, an annual Climate March was held in Tel Aviv. When it was first organized five years ago, some 200 people took part. This year over 5,000 people marched, Palestinian and Jewish citizens from all over Israel. They carried banners proclaiming mutual solidarity in the face of environmental threats and the need to work together to ensure a common future.

We need more signs of hope like these to boost our spirits and motivate action, within our respective communities and across boundaries. As a long-time grassroots activist in the arena of Jewish-Arab peacebuilding, I am confident that, over time, these micro-models of mutuality and solidarity will impact the macro-political situation. And one of the blessed fruits of these labors will be a conversion of hearts and an expansion of minds, so that Israeli and Palestinian national identities will be experienced as mutually enriching rather than as mutually exclusive and threatening. Let us all work toward that day and that outcome.

POSTSCRIPT: As I was writing this reflection, another round of lethal violence erupted between the Israeli government and the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaderships in Gaza. The Egyptian government worked to bring about another cease-fire, while the underlying conditions that inflame passions and perpetuate the no-win state of war remain unaddressed. In 2008, during the first of three wars between Israel and Hamas over six years, I wrote the following appeal, which was disseminated through the internet:

IF ONLY…

An appeal addressed to Jews, Arabs, and concerned people everywhere
in response to the wars between Israel and Hamas

by Yehezkel Landau

If only our empathy and compassion were as strong as our capacity for self-justification;

If only we could protect ourselves in ways that do not inflict harm on others;

If only we could see ourselves as interdependent, rather than isolated and threatened;

If only we could see the Image of God in one another, rather than projecting mythic images of Arab Nazis or Jewish Crusaders;

If only our leaders were committed to transforming conflict nonviolently rather than too often using military means to achieve political aims;

If only peace education were a part of school curricula throughout Palestine and Israel;

If only political agreements outlawed incitement and demonization in public speeches;

If only the Israeli and Arab media conveyed multiple perspectives, along with humanizing stories and images, rather than reinforcing prejudices;

If only we could address the core issues and grievances, rather than reacting to the latest round of violence or the fear of further violence;

If only the Arab perception of the state of Israel (in its pre-1967 borders, with mutually accepted adjustments) was of a people coming home and exercising the right of self-determination, rather than of a colonial conquest by outsiders;

If only Arab and Muslim leaders could acknowledge the existential fears of the Jewish people following the Holocaust and reinforced by subsequent wars, bellicose rhetoric, and the prospect of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Israel’s adversaries;

If only the Jewish people, in Israel and elsewhere, could acknowledge the deep, unhealed wound of the Palestinian people, displaced and dispossessed in large numbers in the war of 1948 and under prolonged occupation following the 1967 war;

If only Israel would join the Palestinian people in developing democratic institutions rather than destroying their civic infrastructure in the name of self-defense;

If only we could see the problem as a regional crisis, with multiple, interrelated challenges, rather than a bilateral conflict between Israelis and Palestinians;

If only a spiritual dimension to peacebuilding—drawing on the practical resources in  Judaism, Islam, and Christianity—were included in Middle East diplomacy, so that religious extremists would be countered in their own terms and political arrangements would be grounded in mutual repentance, the healing of trauma, and sustained hope for the future;

If only we could envision a future of cooperation and shared blessing, rather than a no-win war lasting generations;

If only the children on “the other side” were as precious to us as our neighbors’ children;

If only our young people were exposed to their peers on “the other side” early on, so that they could build friendships that transcend the “us-vs.-them” dichotomy;

If only we could build Shalom/Salaam together, with a Jewish-Arab peace corps constructing homes, schools, and hospitals in a state of Palestine alongside Israel, and with expanded cross-border initiatives in the areas of health, education, culture, the environment, and sports;
…then perhaps, with God’s help and courageous leadership on all sides, both Israelis and Palestinians could experience genuine peace and security, with fear transformed to trust, anger to forgiveness, grief to compassion, and narrow self-interest to mutual solidarity.

Dr. Yehezkel Landau, a dual Israeli-American citizen, is an interfaith educator, trainer, consultant, and author active in Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations and Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding for more than 35 years. While in Israel he was executive director of the Oz veShalom-Netivot Shalom religious peace movement and then co-founder and co-director of the Open House peace center in Ramle. From 2002 to 2016 he was a professor of Jewish tradition and interfaith relations at Hartford Seminary and holder of the Abrahamic Partnerships Chair.