Religious Leaders Share Views
At Second World Forum
And Jinrui Aizen Conference
By Bill Roberts
Thirty-five leaders from more than a dozen religions around the globe committed themselves to peace through interreligious understanding at the Second Prayer Offering and World Religious Forum in Kyoto.
In a declaration adopted unanimously at the end of the one-day conference, the leaders promised to promote cooperation not only among religious organizations, but also in politics, education, science and other fields. => the declaration
Specifically, they voiced enthusiastic support for the International Criminal Court and the establishment of a world federation based on global law. “We religionists will encourage and promote the realization of this world federation,” the leaders said in their declaration.
The meeting, held Nov. 4, 2002, was sponsored by the Oomoto Foundation and attended by leaders of the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Shinto faiths. It led off a week of interreligious activity celebrating the 110th anniversary of the founding of Oomoto and the 77th anniversary of Jinrui Aizenkai (Universal Love and Brotherhood Association), which was founded by Onisaburo Deguchi, the co-founder of Oomoto.
Other events during the week included the 4th Asian Delegates Conference of Jinrui Aizenkai, held in Kyoto on Nov. 5, and an interfaith prayer session held in Ayabe on the afternoon of Nov. 6 following Oomoto’s Autumn Grand Festival. Ayabe is the birthplace of Oomoto, its main spiritual center and in 1950 became the first Japanese city to declare itself a World Federation Peace City.
Terrorism a Key Topic
The terrorist attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism in the Middle East and the chain reaction of violent retaliation in the world overshadowed the proceedings, and infused them with a sense of urgency. The cycle of violence was spelled out as a major concern in the final declaration of the World Religious Forum, alluded to in the Jinrui Aizenkai conference, and mentioned often by speakers at both meetings.
Characteristic of the remarks were those made to the World Religious Forum by Dr. Ron Kronish, a rabbi and director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, who stressed the importance of education, especially of youth, in the quest for peace in Israel and throughout the Middle East region.
“Since Sept. 11, we have become one human family. We are interrelated and interconnected as never before,” Kronish said. “Not only Americans were attacked on Sept. 11 and not just Jews. But people from around the world of every religion and race, of every creed and color.”
Those comments were echoed in a speech prepared by Prof. Dr. Hamid Bin Ahmad Al-Rifaie, president of the International Islamic Forum for Dialogue in Saudi Arabia, who was unable to attend at the last minute.
In his speech, distributed to the forum participants, Al-Rifaie called upon Muslims and non-Muslims alike to work for peace, saying it is important “to recognize that cultural and religious diversity should encourage a real coexistence among human societies.”
In keynote addresses to both the World Religious Forum and the Jinrui Aizenkai meeting, Rev. Yasumi Hirose, president of Oomoto and honorary president of Jinrui Aizenkai, urged religious leaders to work together. “However different our rituals, doctrines and interpretations, I believe all religions have the same ideal,” he told the World Religious Forum. “That is, a world full of love and mercy, a place where people find comfort, safety and peace.” => brief excerpt of the Keynote Address
Education Seen As One Solution
In welcoming remarks to the World Forum and the Jinrui Aizenkai conference, Mme. Kurenai Deguchi, the Spiritual Leader of Oomoto, emphasized the importance of education in combating world violence and other problems. “When I look at the world I am convinced that it is essential to promote education that values each life as a precious one that cannot be replaced,” she said. => Greetings of the Spiritual Leader of Oomoto
Her sentiments were echoed in Kronish’s report about specific activities his organization has undertaken in Israel to promote dialogue between Jewish and Arab youths. Several Jinrui Aizenkai delegates also reported on youth-oriented activities in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
One of Oomoto’s central missions is to work for world peace through various programs and activities.
Interfaith prayer services like the one held Nov. 6 in Ayabe, underscore Oomoto’s doctrine that all religions come from the same source and that all gods are one god. The service was formally known as the 8th Prayer for World Peace and Memorial Service for Victims of War and Natural Catastrophes.
Oomoto sponsors conferences like the World Religious Forum to foster interreligious dialogue on such issues as war, violence, religious fanaticism, famine, poverty, the environment and other obstacles to world peace. The First Prayer Offering and World Religious Forum was held in November 1993 in Ayabe.
Through organizations like Jinrui Aizenkai, Oomoto translates its ideals into a practical grassroots approach to its goals, sponsoring programs to educate, feed and provide health care to others.
Good Works In Asia
Other highlights at the World Religious Forum, attended by 500 people and viewed on the Internet by an additional audience at Oomoto headquarters in Kameoka, included three major speeches in addition to Hirose’s keynote address.
Prof. Kazuo Murakami, professor emeritus at Tsukuba University north of Tokyo, talked about the importance of the dignity of life, using the recent decoding of the human genetic code as evidence of man’s connection to all living things.
Archbishop Joseph Pittau, Secretary of the Holy See Department of Catholic Education at the Vatican, discussed the need for reconciliation and solidarity among religions.
Prof. Tadaakira Jo of Shudo University in Hiroshima, discussed progress being made toward a world federation.
Whereas the speeches at the World Religious Forum had the tendency to offer big, thought-provoking ideas, the reports given by branch delegates from Asia at the Jinrui Aizenkai conference contained concrete details about projects and programs that are helping people in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Thirty 30 representatives of Jinrui Aizenkai and 300 total attended that conference.
Characteristic of reports from the Asian delegates was the one offered by Udaya Lal Shresthra, general secretary of the Jinrui Aizenkai Youth Wing in Nepal. He reported on the activities of a free clinic established in 2000, which to date has served more than 1,500 patients.
In a summary of the Jinrui Aizenkai meeting, the delegates vowed to continue their work, to strengthen the regional organizations and to establish more branches throughout Asia. => Summary and Appeal of the 4th Asian Delegates Conference
Visits To Kameoka
Many of the official guests at both conferences, including Kronish, Shrestha and several other Jinrui Aizenkai delegates, also attended the Autumn Grand Festival in Ayabe, which was followed by the interfaith prayer session. Each religious leader present offered a formal prayer.
Most of the Jinrui Aizenkai delegates spent several days afterward at Oomoto headquarters in Kameoka, exchanging ideas with each other and with Oomoto members on topics as diverse as education and organic farming. Kunihiko Shimamoto, chief director of Oomoto, has spent his life as an organic agriculture innovator and has worked to spread those techniques to Asia through the Jinrui Aizenkai branches.
Kronish also spent several days at Kameoka, and later gave a talk on Jewish-Arab relations to an audience of about 30 in Ayabe. The rabbi’s wife, Amy Kronish, also made a presentation. A film historian, Mrs. Kronish gave a speech, illustrated with film clips, about how the Israeli cinema reflects Israeli attitudes toward themselves and their Arab neighbors.
In Ayabe, the Kronishes also met with Mayor Yasuo Shikata to explore various ways they might work together on inter-faith and cross-cultural exchanges. Ayabe and the city of Jerusalem signed a joint declaration of friendship in 2000.
Pray and Act For Peace
Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish
Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI)
The ICCI has been promoting peaceful relations between people in Israel and Palestine for the past 12 years. In his brief remarks to the World Religious forum, Kronish urged people not to despair or lose hope despite the current situation in the Middle East.
“We must continue to pray and act for peace,” he said. “This current impasse [between Israel and Palestine] will end—sooner or later—and we will return to the path of dialogue and negotiations. Ultimately there will be no other reasonable choice.”
In the future, Kronish said the key is how to move from any eventual peace agreements to peaceful relations between Jews, Muslims and Christians living in Israel and Palestine. The ICCI is involved in practical programs to foster dialogue among these people in the hope that they will learn from one another and learn to respect each other.
He gave several examples:
A Jewish-Muslim dialogue, which is in its third year, brings together Jews and Muslims once a month to discuss each other’s religious traditions and controversial issues such as war and peace, jihad and martyrdom.
A Jewish-Christian dialogue group brings together Palestinian Christian clergy and educators and Israeli Jewish clergy and educators to study each other’s sacred texts and “to form a network of caring and compassion on issues of common concern.”
A new monthly dialogue group of Palestinian and Israeli women—Muslims, Jews and Christians—was recently formed. “Each month more women sign up,” said Kronish. “It is a small sign of hope for the future.”
Africa Is a Test For The World Community
Ven. Gijun Sugitani
Tendai (Buddhist) International Peace Foundation for Religious Cooperation
In brief remarks to the World Religious Forum, Sugitani said there is an atmosphere of pessimism since Sept. 11 but urged religious leaders to continue to work through dialogue.
“After Sept. 11, many times we heard the question: Has the season of dialogue come to an end? What is the use of dialogue among cultures, peoples, and religions?” Sugitani said. “Sept. 11 would definitely see to have buried the climate of hope.”
He said it is only natural for some people to become more pessimistic during difficult times. “Pessimism can find many reasons to spread. It conquers confused hearts that do not have spiritual points of reference, but are prisoners of a consumer’s logic: to live is to have and to consume.”
Sugitani offered evidence he argued goes against this atmosphere of pessimism. He referred specifically to the various grass roots activities of the Rome-based Community of St. Egidio and the now 15-year-old interreligious Assisi dialogue, which was started by Pope John Paul II and is organized and run by the Community of St. Egidio.
For three decades, the Community of St. Egidio has worked toward world peace through efforts to help cloth, feed and educate the less fortunate, first in Europe and now spreading to branches worldwide.
“Today along with the problem of peace there is the problem of widespread poverty, deteriorating environmental conditions, which are tragedies for many and will be so for everyone in the future,” he said
He singled out the Community’s efforts in Mozambique, where under its auspices warring factions came together and reached a peace agreement over a two-year period, giving that country a chance for democracy. “Dialogue is a proposal that goes beyond the religious world and becomes a method for the creation of peace.”
In closing, Sugitani said Mozambique should be just a beginning for interreligious activity and dialogue. “Africa represents a test for the international community: we cannot accept that such a large part of this continent is left at the margins of the world, abandoned to wars and diseases and at the same time called to find an answer to economic problems that it is not prepared to face.”
Dr. Kazuo Murakami
In one of the three major addresses at the World Religious Forum, Murakami recounted some of the research done over the past decade into the human genetic code.
In a speech entitled “Dignity of Life,” Murakami, a biochemist, said the genetic code offers scientific evidence that a great power exists in the universe because the code is clearly too complicated for a mortal human being to have invented.
“I have been studying the research done to decode the human genetic code, he said. “I was fascinated by the splendid technology that enabled us to do this research. However, one day I became aware of a much more amazing fact.”
He continued: “It is this: The genetic code is equivalent to the information contained in thousands of books yet it is written in an infinitesimally small space. And still, it can be decoded accurately and ceaselessly by a cell for the purpose of making a living body maintain a life.”
Murakami concluded that what makes this possible is the power of nature or what he calls “something great.” Murakami’s “something great” could be considered a scientific version of the teachings of Oomoto that all life comes from the same source—the great origin.
He also pointed out that we know enough about the human genetic code and the genetic code of all living beings now to understand that all cells have a similar form. Hence, life in any form—human, animal, plant and even an individual cell—deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.
All Alike On The Inside
Archbishop Joseph Pittau S.J.
The Holy See Department for Catholic Education
Pittau delivered in fluent Japanese one of the three major addresses given at the World Religious Forum. He was a professor at Sophia University in Tokyo from 1963 to 1981. Concurrently from 1968 to 1981 he was also president of Sophia, which is a Catholic university.
In his address, Pittau urged reconciliation and solidarity among religions. He said all religious have more in common than they have differences and suggested they focus on what is similar rather than what is different. To illustrate his point he told the following story.
A teacher told her students she was thinking about an apple and asked them to guess what color it was. One student said red. Another said green. A third student said yellow. Then one child chimed in: “Teacher, every apple is the same color on the inside.”
So it is with religions, Pittau said. However different they may look from the outside, they are all the same on the inside. They all pray to the same God.