Prf. Des Cahill provides an account of the meeting of the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace held at the Muhammadiyah University at Malang in East Java, Indonesia on 7th – 10th, June, 2013. Fifteen nations were represented at the meeting.
ASIAN CONFERENCE of RELIGIONS for PEACE
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEETING 2013
Report prepared by Professor Des Cahill, Chair, Religions for Peace Australia
The annual executive meeting of the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace was held at the Muhammadiyah University in Malang in East Java on 7th – 10th June, 2013. Member nations in attendance were Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand as well as Dr Peow, an observer from Malaysia. Especially welcomed for the first time ever was a representative in observer capacity from Timor Leste, Arif Absullah Sagran.
The opening ceremony of cultural dances and songs was lauded by the presence of the Governor of East Java, Dr. H. Soekarwo and by the Rector of the University. Dr Soekarwo spoke of his keen appreciation of the interfaith movement, emphasizing the importance of dialogue. Professor Din Syamsuddin, moderator-general of ACRP, spoke of the need not only to have interfaith dialogue but also intrafaith dialogue. He said, “It is God’s love for diversity in nature that can also be seen in human beings. It is God’s decision to have diversity”, adding that ultimately “behind death, there is God’s examination”.
The actual meeting commenced the following morning. In his welcoming remarks, the moderator, Professor Din Syamsuddin, emphasized the importance of the Religions for Peace movement in working together for peace and harmony across Asia, now the most dynamic area on earth. But the era also brings dangers such as globalization, secularization and modernization. But there has still been conflict, even within the same religion. Hence, firstly, we need to actualize the value of religion and its spiritual and ethical values. Secondly, we need to bring spiritual values to the workings of the free market economy. Thirdly, we need to prepare the cultural base of our religions so that they work harmoniously with the agencies of the state. Lastly, we need to prepare ourselves and transform ourselves into becoming problem solvers He added, “frankly, many times religions are not problem solvers, they may even be the problem”.
Professor Syamsuddin suggested that we must believe in the power of dialogue, and interfaith dialogue needs to be comprehensive; it also needs to be geared to outreach, reaching out to others, even to the religious radicals. Such dialogue must be transformed from conversation to action. As part of this, each chapter ought to be revitalizing itself and its organizational activities.
2013 World Assembly
Details were given about the next World Assembly to be held in Vienna at the Hilton Hotel from 19th – 22nd November 2013 on the theme, “Welcoming the Other: Action for Human Dignity, Citizenship and Shared Well-Being”. 600 delegates were expected to attend with another 150 – 200 observers. It will be sponsored by the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue and opened by His Excellency, Mr Heinz Fischer, President of Austria. There will be three commissions examining the themes of (i) Welcoming the other through conflict prevention and transformation (ii) Welcoming the other through just and harmonious societies and (iii) Welcoming the other through human development that respects the earth.
2014 Annual Assembly
The main discussion of the annual executive committee meeting of ACRP centred around the staging of the next General Assembly of ACRP, particularly the location. Four national bids were presented to the meeting and the Committee decided that the preference would be accorded in the following order before a final decision is made in November 2013:
- List items
- Joint North Korea and South Korea bid: after much discussion, the two national chapters of North Korea (KRC) and South Korea (KCRP) had previously agreed to co-sponsor the Assembly to be held somewhere in North Korea. North Korea has agreed in principle but no agreement has been reached. Whilst discussions have begun, the two governments have yet to agree – this process will take place over the next several months and the South Korean delegation noted that very significant changes were occurring in North Korea but these may not yet be apparent to the world. Meeting delegates led by the Japanese made it clear that freedom of expression would have to be guaranteed.
- Pakistan bid: Mr Imramullah Khan argued the case for Pakistan to stage the Assembly. The country was now a lot safer and the election of the new government was giving a greater sense of the direction to the country. He noted that an Assembly had never been held in Pakistan.
- India bid: Mr Vasudevan argued the case for India which had not sponsored an Assembly since 1981. While one problem were the elections to be held next April, “we are more than willing and capable”.
- South Korea bid: The South Korea chapter also offered to stage the Assembly if the joint North Korea and South Korea failed to materialize.
The meeting also determined that the bid teams should make a formal submission based on criteria determined by the co-presidents in liaison with the secretary-general. Based on this data from these submissions, the co-presidents together with the moderator and the co-presidents would make a formal recommendation to be approved online by the members of the executive meeting. Some co-presidents would visit the competing countries to assess each bid. It was noted that there was no provision in the constitution as to who actually decides the location of the General Assembly.
The Preparatory Planning Committee has chosen as the theme of the Assembly: Harmony and Unity in Asia.
Reports were presented by the following chapters:
Australia: Professor Des Cahill, after outlining the 2011 religious profile showing the growth in the non-Christian religions as a result of migration, related how the Canberra Interfaith Forum had joined the family of Religions for Peace Australia. In Tasmania, a march of prayer and peace had been held after the Dunalley bushfire and the South Australia chapter had held a prayer service for all those drowned as refugees on the high seas between Indonesia and Australia. Its website had become very popular, attracting 300,000+ hits during 2012. Australia had been implementing its new constitution but more changes were required following new government legislation.
Cambodia: Venerable KhySovanratana related how the Cambodian chapter had been established by the late Prince Sihanouk in 2002. It has been developing plans to help the poor in a country trying to move forward after its disastrous internal war. He noted that freedom of religion was well-established with Evangelical Protestants and Mormons operating freely in a predominantly Buddhist country. There also had been an emphasis on environmental conservation because it was a very serious issue after the war. A meeting had been held with the king and the prime minister with religious and NGO leaders in attendance.
China: Venerable Tang Cheng Qing said that all religions are equal in China and show each other deep respect. They had received delegations from Germany and Italy, and the Chinese delegation had also gone to Italy and Rome itself on a very successful visit. CCRP had also sponsored a Buddhist forum and there had also been cooperative work with Turkey.
Japan: Because of changes in the civil law, the Japanese chapter had had to adopt a new organizational framework and become a Public Interest Incorporated Foundation. It had chosen a new theme for its activities, “Joining Together for Prayers and Actions to Protect All Life”. Priorities have been given to (a) support for the reconstruction of eastern Japan by religious groups after the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake through establishing a special task force (b) creating an enduring consciousness amongst religious groups about the issues of atomic energy and modern civilization through a task force to help eliminate nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament and (c) sponsoring interfaith and exchange with religions in East Asia and the Middle East
As well as its participation in ACRP, the Japanese chapter had participated in a seminar of the International Peace Corps of Religions, held dialogue with the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and cooperated with the King Abdullah Center in Vienna .It also cooperated in the 25th Religious Summit on Mt Hiei in a gathering to pray for world peace. On the MDGs, the Committee had cooperated with the Stand Up! Take Action! Campaign as well as creating awareness of the Millennium Development Goals. The Committee was also engaged in meeting with journalists, especially with the religious press club in Kyoto amongst its many activities.
India: Dr Vasudevan began his report by noting that most of the work of the Indian chapter is done through networking. Because of its own commitment to Gandhian principles, it has worked with the Campaign for a Violent-Free India, due to the increasing tensions within the country, such as the Maoist insurrection and the socio-economic backwardness associated with the gap between rich and poor. Part of this had been the formation of a Peace Corps as a kind of unarmed peace army. Also Peace Clubs were being set up among young people. The chapter was also working to facilitate the Citizens’ Commission for Justice, Dialogue and Reconciliation because of the need to increase dialogue. Also the chapter had become very involved in the anti-corruption campaign.
Indonesia: Amongst the accomplishments of the Indonesian national chapter had been the supporting of the celebration of the centenary of the large Muslim movement, Muhammadiyah, headed by Professor Din Syamsuddin. It had held the Fourth World Peace Forum in Bogor in November. Bishop Gunnar Stalsett had given a lecture on interfaith dialogue in September 2012 as well as a lecture by Professor Hisae Nakanishi on the Arab Spring and the future of democracy in the Middle East. The secretary-general had also visited the World Buddhist Congress in Bangkok in May 2012. The secretary-general had spoken to the UN General Assembly as well as in Doha, Sarajevo, Yangon, Bangkok, Istanbul, Helsinki, Coventry, Kosovo and Kuala Lumpur. Rev ElgaSarapung also gave her reflections on the dynamic situation facing Indonesia. She firstly focused on corruption, usually conducted by politicians and the government, often touching religion which is used as a camouflage or deceptive mask. Secondly was violence, both vertical violence between the state and local societies and horizontal violence of one religious community such as the Ahmadis, Christians and Shias being killed ‘freely’ by intolerant groups. Thirdly is the issue of human trafficking and HIV/AIDS, rampant in many areas of Indonesia and fourthly is the destruction of forests, involving the corrupt involvement of the security apparatus, the government and businessmen. Religious leaders and the interfaith organizations needed to reflect on confronting these issues. She also expressed grave concern about the presentation of the award of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, headed by Rabbi Arthur Schneier, to President Yudhoyono who has never spoken out against the persecution of religious minorities.
North Korea: Its leader gave his greetings to all committee members, inviting all delegates to an Assembly in North Korea. He said, in a paper circulated to the executive meeting of ACRP, that North Korea was changing and said he wanted to explain the truth behind the tensions on the Korean peninsula which can be described as a “touch-and-go” situation close to the brink of war due to the USA misleading the just and objective public opinion of the world with all sorts of deception and fabrication. In a bid to shift the blame on to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the USA has brought a huge volume of ultra-modern weapons to the Korean peninsula. From a religious point of view, it is just the same as the brazen Satan’s traits which paint a distorted picture of the truth and reverse the good and the evil. The DPRK has followed the path of possession of the nuclear deterrent as a national choice and a national right to ensure its existence and independence in the international arena. The DPRK cannot forget the lessons of the countries in the Balkans and the Middle East which failed to possess powerful self-defensive capabilities. The DPRK representatives hoped that ACRP will wage vigorous and just activities denouncing the high-handed USA and its followers as Satan’s mob of the present era.
South Korea: The South Korean chapter had been heavily involved in its developing partnership with the North Korean chapter which now extended back more than a decade. In other activities, the chapter had sponsored a symposium on world peace during World Interfaith Week whilst the women’s committee had also held a seminar. Special activities had been held on Confucianism Day, and the chapter had also coordinated such activities as a Won Buddhist monk speaking to Catholic seminarians. It continued to produce its monthly magazine as well as cooperating in publishing a journal on interfaith and peace issues.
Pakistan: Mr Ikramullah Khan related how the Pakistan members had organized a conference in Karachi on the theme, “How to achieve peace and stop violence”. Also in Peshawar it had sponsored a medial tent. It had also visited areas where Christian homes had been destroyed – this had led to the owners receiving compensation. It had also organized a function on Mothers’ Day.
Philippines: Religions for Peace Philippines through its Center for Peace Studies and Interfaith Dialogue within the University of Santo Tomas, in a joint project with UNICEF, had set up an assistance program with the Barangay Child Protection Council.
Several observers presented reports: The Malaysian observer, Dr PoeyTiangPeow, said that more work had been done on the formation of a Malaysian chapter and a new chapter had been formed on January 3rd, 2013 with the aspiration that its membership will be approved at the next General Assembly. A Women’s Division and a Youth Division had also been formed. The chapter has also made some suggestions for the General Assembly themes. The Timor Leste observer, Mr.Arif Abdallah, chief imam of Dili and chief Director of the Timor Leste Islamic Community Centre said that it was an honour to be invited. More than 90 per cent of the population is Catholic but the Catholic leadership had acted in an exemplary fashion. The major Muslim feast days are observed as public holidays. He added, “Our country is in the midst of reconstruction. The Muslim community wants to be seen as progressive.
Discussion centred around new chapters. Last September, an interfaith council has been launched in Yangon and in February 2013 a Myanmar interfaith youth network had been launched as well as an Asian and Pacific Youth Interfaith Network. This had been attended by Professor Cahill, acting as a resource person. As well as Malaysia and Timor Leste, discussion focussed around other countries with present members being asked to follow up on possible new members, including Bhutan (Nepal), Brunei (Indonesia), Myanmar (sec
retariat-general), New Zealand (Australia) and Papua New Guinea (Australia).
Discussion ensued around the new ACRP website which had now been launched by the Pakistan chapter. Whilst something had been achieved, much more needed to be done. There was concern expressed about why more could not have been achieved and there was no webmaster nominated on the actual site itself. The committee decided that, now that the site was up-and-running, a grant of $2,500 was sufficient for its maintenance.
Other Agenda Items
The Seoul Peace Center gave an account of its activities during the past year, including with migrant workers now living in South Korea. The financial report for the previous year was received and the 2013 – 14 budget was approved. The Conference noted that the balance was US$87,326 and a budget of US$193,226 was approved for the period April 1st, 2013 – March 31st. 2014, including provision for the General Assembly. As its final act, the executive committee approved The ACRP Malang Statement 2013, which, after giving a short account of the meeting, called for the world to address the continuing issue of poverty.
The meeting concluded with a dinner at the house of the mayor of Batu City outside Malang.
© Religions for Peace Australia 2013