With its 21 member nations comprising more than half of humanity, the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace (ACRP), now generally known as Religions for Peace Asia, will hold its Ninth Asian Assembly in Tokyo on 19 – 22 October 2021 online. This will be preceded by the Youth Pre-Assembly and the Women’s Pre-Assembly events.
The overall aims of the Assembly are to approve a new constitution, appoint the office-bearers for the next five years, approve the Assembly declaration and, lastly, to approve a series of recommendations as part of an Asian Conference of Religions for Peace action plan that would guide the organization and the Tokyo secretariat until the next Assembly, probably in 2025.
In dealing with the Pandemic, almost every country has had to take unpopular measures such as lockdowns, curfews and physical and social distancing. Religious communities have been directly impacted with the deaths of religious leaders, the need for protection of religious health workers, the crisis in funeral services, the decline in financial income and the pressure on their welfare services in feeding hungry people, helping them to be properly housed and dealing with the spiritual and psychological consequences.
Asian Religious Communities in Action: Moving towards an Inclusive, Healthy, Prosperous, Peaceful Asia.
The central theme has been chosen to reflect the need for Asia’s religious communities to work together for a more inclusive, healthy, prosperous and peaceful Asia. Asia with the adjacent area of the Middle East is the birthplace of all the world’s major religions and their various traditions. The Asian Conference of Religions for Peace was formally founded in 1976 soon after the foundation in 1970 of Religions for Peace International, known also as the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP), in which year it held its first World Assembly at Kyoto. Hence, the Tokyo Assembly will mark 50 years, though it was delayed a year, since the foundation of WCRP and the Kyoto Assembly.
The foundation of WCRP was mostly inspired by the atomic bomb attacks in 1945 and the need for religious communities to work collaboratively in the cause of global and regional peace and national cohesion. After the painful memories of World War II in the face of the threat that a new war would end in nuclear annihilation, in the words of Dr William Vendley, the Secretary-General Emeritus (1995-2019) of Religions for Peace International, “Independently of each other, religious communities and some of their leaders began focussing on the idea that global challenges demanded a global alliance of the different religions”.
Trees are seen by most religions as symbolising hope, and the revered survivor trees of Hiroshima point to the hope that peace can be achieved by the religious communities working together. The Asian landscape is dotted with temples, mosques, churches and gurdwaras such as the holy city of Varanasi in India, the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon, the Mt. Putuo island monastery in China, the St Mary MacKillop holy shrine in Sydney and the Puchong Perdana mosque in Malaysia, reflecting the many Asian spiritualities and the spiritual genius of the peoples of Asia.
Asia as Prosperous
The Asian Assembly wants to include a prosperous Asia as one of its key objectives. Research shows religious communities contribute to a nation’s social and economic capital in many ways, including to national value systems and social and economic cohesion. In recent decades, the Asia-Pacific region has been an economic success story. The Asian Development Bank has continued to argue for inclusive growth through creating opportunities (investing in growth) and broadening access (investing in people). Religions can assist governments in developing an enabling environment for public and business investment and private entrepreneurship through investing in infrastructure and human capital, building institutional capacity, adopting just and market-friendly policies and maintaining rigorously the rule of law. There has been a strong reduction in multidimensional poverty, led by China and Indonesia, over the past two decades.
There is much that is uncertain and ambiguous about Asia’s prosperity and about any gradual re-opening and introduction and the calibrating of health and economic policies and programs. Pope Francis has argued, “It is time to decide to live differently, to live better, to love more and to care more”, calling for debt reduction, even debt forgiveness, and adding that “we must cure a greater virus, that of social injustice, inequality of opportunity, marginalisation and the lack of the protection of the weakest”.
The Impact of Religious Communities
Hence, the main theme of the Ninth General Assembly in October 2021 is directed towards mobilising religious communities, diverse and different as they are across Asia, to action and more action to make Asia more at peace and more inclusive and to be physically and spiritually healthy. According to the Pew Research Center, 84 per cent of the world’s people have a religious commitment. Hence, at both the grassroots and the national levels, religious leaders and their communities can have a powerful impact, not least in achieving the UN’s five Ps of sustainable development, namely People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership, and the 17 goals of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The Asian Conference of Religions for Peace wishes not only to be a partnership of member nations but also a movement for building peace and inclusiveness as well as providing for the spiritual, psychological and physical health needs through activating the religious values of love, care, hope and connectedness.
Asian Conference of Religions for Peace and its Objectives
The objectives of the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace to be approved at the Ninth General Assembly are:
(a) to work with faith traditions and religious organisations for interreligious understanding and harmony in the Asian-Pacific region and across the world, including the right to freedom of religion and belief and in the pursuit of peace, justice and human dignity
(b) to promote the salience of spirituality and religion in the multi-religious Asia-Pacific region, highlighting its resources and the importance of religion and spirituality and combating the false and negative aspects of religion
(c) to work with other religious and interreligious organisations in bringing about peace, interfaith understanding, interreligious harmony and religious freedom
(d) to work with intergovernmental, governmental and civil agencies in achieving global, regional and local peace and harmony as well as social stability and cohesion
(e) to work positively and cooperatively with Religions for Peace International and other regional and specialist organisations
(f) to create social wealth for the countries of the Asia-Pacific, ensuring that the role of religious bodies is positively appreciated
(g) to sponsor activities, events and special initiatives into the multicultural and multi-religious aspects of the region and individual nations
(h) to work with educational bodies to educate the different levels and sectors of the region and its individual countries about religion itself and the many faith traditions
(i) to organize meetings for dialogue between religious leaders at global, regional and national levels and with political and civic leaders
(j) to encourage and implement interreligious activity and projects and the formation of interreligious organisations among particular groups
(k) to work through its networks for the well-being of vulnerable groups, including women and young people, and the well-being of the environment
The Conference is open to all members of Religions for Peace, and the public. Registration information may be found here