United Religions Initiative

A United Religions is not another international interfaith organization, but, "A global hope, that underneath the great religions and the modern spiritual movements is the word of God, the breath of God, the spirit of God, that has to do with peace. We have got to start with peace-making among religions. We are talking about a global hope, where we ask the entire world of faith in God to come together on behalf of discovering peace among ourselves, for the sake of the entire created order. "In these words, Bishop William E .Swing, Episcopal Bishop of San Francisco, founder of United Religions Initiative, expressed his vision.

The United Religions Initiative seeks to create a world-wide dialogue to develop the vision of a global assembly where the religions and spiritual movements of the world would gather on a daily, permanent basis to work together for peace, the good of all people and the healing of the earth. The purpose of the four day URI European Conference, from 13th to 17th April, was to develop the vision of a URI in preparation for a global summit in June 1997. The 48 participants were from many areas of human endeavour, business, education, health, journalism, religions, interfaith, from 12 countries and 14 religions. The venue was the Brahma Kumaris' Global Retreat Centre, near Oxford, where peaceful atmosphere helped participants to enquire into their innermost hopes for a United Religions and to share them with others.

The Bishop acknowledged that he stood on the top of the shoulders of a lot of people who had had a similar dream. His dream started in1995 when the United Nations called to say they wanted to hold a service in Grace Cathedral for the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, because San Francisco was where the charter was signed. "We're going to bring 185 ambassadors of 185 nations and we would like you to bring all the religions." The Bishop thought, "Are we only being asked to have a service for one hour, and that's it, or is something more being asked for? Countries had moral courage to meet for peace, a higher good, but there is no similar forum for religions.

"After a sleepless night, he decided to commit the rest of his life to seeing that something akin to a United Nation was created, but for religions. "At the top ought to be the spiritual values that come out of the great religious traditions, the treasure chest of gifts that God has poured into all the religions. "Then underneath that, "A Council of those with spiritual wisdom, people from various religions and spiritual movements who come with integrity ,without an axe to grind ,and a sense of humility and a willingness to share." Thirdly, "Hospitality, the religions dealing creatively and lovingly with each other."

Young people took to idea of a United Religions, so did the United Nations, He and his wife went through India, Pakistan, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Turkey, France, Germany, Italy, England, Japan, Korea, all over the world, just talking with religious leader to see if the time was right.

Bishop Swing found that, "We need to work not only with the great religious traditions, but we also need to work with modern spiritual movements. When you are dealing with the great religions of the world, you are dealing with men. When you are dealing with modern spiritual movements you are dealing with women and men."

At the opening of the public presentation given the Conference, Dadi Janki, Additional Administrative Head of the Brahma Kumaris, told the invited audience, "We need to accumulate the power of truth, so that ego finished and it's very easy to bring about unity.With honesty in our heart and interaction with each other, nothing is difficult, Religion means to understand the truth. In this task, our hearts are filled with truth, the Lord is pleased and so success is guaranteed."

Rev. Marcus Braybrooke, Chair, World Congress of Faiths, described how, "We have been dreaming about what the world would be like if religions could come together in a united religious body, in some sense paralleling the work of the United Nations, working together for peace, for moral values and for justices. "Of Bishop Swing, he said, "His dream fills me with enthusiasm, his energy and commitment with boundless admiration."

Charles Gibbs, Executive Director of the United Religions Initiative, is traveling to Oxford, New York, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, for a series of the regional conferences to ground and broaden the United Religions by creating it "in the hearts, and minds, and lives of people of all faiths, all over the world," so that "people can join at an early stage to add their hopes, their vision, their energy to helping to make this possible." After the Summit in June 1997 in San Francisco there will be further regional conferences in India, New Zealand, Kenya, Egypt, maybe Japan and other locations in United states.

He pointed out, "Always, at every gathering, there are people who should be there and aren't. Each gathering is incomplete but each gathering is a beginning and the people who come are able to reach out and touch some of the people who should have been here." Rev. Gibbs thought the European group had produced a pretty wide range of possibilities; from dialogue to helping break down barriers if religious separation ,to work with women's experiences and views on religion and spirituality, work on education, ways to begin to create a new way of being together.

He invited everyone to be a part of the Initiative with, "This groundswell of hope will lead over the next three years into an increasingly clear vision of what is possible and deepening commitment by people all over the world to give themselves to help make that possibility real. For that to happen will require the hearts, the minds, the souls and the bodies of people all over the world."

Gurudev Khalsa and Mary Finney from SIGMA at Case Western University, Cleveland, Ohio, provided the framework of activities for the participants, who worked in six heterogeneous groups.

The spokesman for one group, Szabolcs Sajgo, a Jesuit and head of a retreat centre in Hungary, noted that "Religion no longer means the religious authorities but all the mature members of that specific religion also count, to reach the goals of UR." "Humanity lives more and more in a world which is created by himself or herself and this world reflects the human being as a creator. " "Our main problems are to find each other's hand and each other's spirit, to come together and overcome these divisions. The real spirit of UR is to overcome any kind of division."

Annie Imbens-Fransen, from the Netherlands, a theologian particularly concerned with the pastoral care of women, introduces an initiative from her group of women , "to meditate daily at high noon for three minutes for humanity and for the earth", and invited everyone else to join them.

For Jehangir Sarosh, Zoroastrian and Chair of the World Conference and Religion and Peace in UK.

"UR is a child, it has just been conceived, not yet been born, a child so many wanted and want." It needs support, parents, brothers and sisters. Its aunts and uncles are " the current interfaith organizations and spiritual centres and centres of the self-realization, the centres that you are all aware of working on spiritual basis. We need to include the indigenous people, the faith of minority communities, humanists, etc."

Charanjit Ajit Singh, of the Sikh Education Council, provided some beautiful images of the United Religions concept; "garlands of a variety of flowers and jewels," "every day a day of celebration ", "unity in diversity". "loving acceptance ", and " respecting the uniqueness of every tradition ".

By the end of the Conference, "the feeling of the unity was so strong that it felt like being in Heaven already ". A European Co -ordination Committee and communication links and had been established.

Participants left, inspired to further and enhance the work of the United Religions Initiative. As the Founder President of the Jain Samaj Europe and Chairman of the Jain Academy UK, Dr.Natubhai Shah confirmed, "We are different people, from different languages different background different religions, and we have all made friendships and have come to one conclusion. With the help of everybody, we will achieve the destiny of spiritual values, moral values for the welfare of the world. If we are united, the influence of the religions which is much more than that of the politicians or anybody, will be able to achieve what we want to achieve."

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