“The longing for peace and well-being is the
central message of all religions;
it is the essential good that all men and woman
must strive for peace across the
Asia-Pacific region and the world....”
THIS was part of the Declaration of the Seventh Assembly of the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace (ACRP) held in Manila on October 17-21, 2008. The ACRP gathering was the largest inter-religious event in the Philippines since the start of this millennium. Over 400 delegates from 20 countries came for the opening ceremonies at the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas. They represented the principal religions of Asia—Buddhist, Baha’i, Christian, Confucian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Islam, Shinto, Sikh, Tao, Zoroastrian and others. The Seventh ACRP Assembly was co-hosted, by the ACRP-Philippines chapter and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, with the generous assistance of many Focolare friends.
Founded in 1974, ACRP now also known as Religions for Peace Asia, held its first Assembly in 1976 in Singapore. This was followed by Assemblies in New Delhi (1981), Seoul (1986), Katmandu (1991), Ayutthaya (1996), and Jogjakarta (2002). The member countries are Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, North and South Korea, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Newly admitted were Iraq and Malaysia. Observers also came from Iran and Kyrgyzstan.
“Peacemaking in Asia” was the theme chosen for this assembly to highlight the role of religious communities in a world that has witnessed the rise of secularism on the one hand and religious extremism on the other hand. Terrorism with religious overtones, continuing militarization, and the threat of nuclear warfare among developing countries cast their shadows across the Asia-Pacific region. “Faith traditions betray their authentic messages,” continue the ACRP Declaration “if they do not commit themselves to making and building peace.”
Before the main conference at the Manila Hotel, a pre-Assembly Women’s Conference was held at UST attended by 70 participants from 11 countries representing seven faith traditions. They stressed the distinctive role of women in nurturing life and forming families as the bases of peaceful societies. Oftentimes too, women and children are victims of hunger, poverty, and war.
“Women are the bearers of human life,” stated Ms. Midori Sanada of Japan “Just as we give birth to boys and girls and foster them to grow,” she continued, “let us foster a peaceful world in which all human lives are respected.”
Also preceding the assembly was the Asian Religious Youth leaders Summit in Mindanao. This was held in Davao. This was attended by 90 young people from 16 countries representing nine faith traditions including that of the indigenous people. The delegates listened to local spokespersons like Archbishop Fernando Capalla and Datu Michael Mastura explain the current situation in Mindanao. They appealed in their final statement for the resumption of peace talks in Mindanao and the setting up of a multi-religious platform to unite the various youth organizations working for peace and development on the island.
After the opening speeches and reports, the ACRP main Assembly broke up into five commissions to examine peacemaking in Asia under various perspectives:
(1) Shared security and conflict transformation. Peacemaking in Asia can be realized through joint sharing of security concerns and through measures that transform the causes of conflict into developmental goals. The situation of refugees and internally displaced persons in particular calls for the sharing of security measures at the regional and global levels.
(2) Human rights and responsibilities and peace education. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Peacemaking in Asia is premised on the recognition of these human rights as well as the collective human obligations and responsibilities associated with these rights. In particular, the obligations to protect life and property, minority groups, women and children, and other vulnerable groups rest with governments and all social groups. In this regard, Archbishop Felix Anthony Machado, former undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, reiterated the Second Vatican Council’s recognition of religious freedom which he describes as “a condition for peace in a pluri-religious society.”
(3) Common values and community building. Building community can only be sustained by articulating common values that cut across religious traditions. Starting with the Golden Rule, which is found in practically all religious teachings, the Global Ethic framework developed by theologian Hans Kǜng and associates was discussed as a viable means towards forming global citizenship.
(4) Sustainable development and social justice. Care for the earth, economic activities within the framework of morality, and the fight against corruption are interrelated concerns that have an impact on sustainable development. Religious groups have a counter-cultural and prophetic role to play in pointing out the ethical imperative of social justice for political and business leaders.
(5) Healing the past and building the future. Peacemaking in Asia involves healing of the past through mutual forgiveness and reconciliation. In the context of the current Mindanao conflict, building the future means promoting a culture of peace in its six dimensions—personal and family integrity, promotion of human rights and democracy, poverty eradication, intercultural understanding and solidarity, disarmament and cessation of hostilities, and environmental protection. Six operative values are also needed: spirituality, justice, compassion, dialogue, active non-violence, and stewardship.
The ACRP Assembly ended with recommendations coming from the four commissions. Among these are: the need for centers of dialogue, formation of local interfaith bodies; the immediate banning of cluster bombs and the abolition of all nuclear weapons by 2020; and education towards a global ethic.
Newly elected chair of the ACRP Women’s Committee was Dr. Lilian Sison, UST Graduate School Dean. Dr. Sunggon Kim of Korea was re-elected as ACRP Secretary General, while the post of ACRP Moderator went to Dr. Din Syamsuddin of Indonesia.
Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, S.J.