3 events in Lahore: Ghafoor Park, Kanwal School, Peace Center
Lahore, Pakistan (Ghafoor Park): report by Sr. Sabina Rifat
On May 18, a seminar for college students (men and women) was organized in Ghafoor Park, Lahore. The seminar was on the topic of ethics and responsibility, and it introduced the youth and some administrative people to the SOPP and the Soul of WoMen campaign. 42 people of various faiths attended the event. The idea was to help youth in this neighborhood understand how they can take more responsibility for their own lives. Ghafoor Park is a very poor area far from the center of the city. It has very narrow streets and life conditions are very tough there. Most of the children don’t go to school and are involved in child labour. Some of the children and youth work and then also study. There is often a shortage of electricity, so many men are out in the streets in the evening.
The seminar began with a prayer reflecting the duty of human beings to respect each other. Pastor Riaz introduced Sr. Sabina Rifat, Coordinator of the URI Women’s Desk, and Ms. Tasneem Saeed, URI Youth Trainer. Farhan Joseph, youth leader and administrative officer of the URI Women and Kids Education Cooperation Circle (WAKE) gave a brief introduction of the URI (United Religions Initiative).
Pastor Riaz mentioned that the Bible states that one should be a good example for others in good faith, as well as promote good deeds and think well of others. The most important thing, he said, is that we should learn to love one another.
Ms. Tasneem Saeed began with a quote from Immanuel Kant: “Man’s duty is to improve himself, to cultivate his mind, and when he finds himself going astray, to bring the moral law to bear upon him.” She gave some background on the philosophy of ethics and responsibility. She mentioned Steve Meraboli’s quote: “Your life begins to change the day you take responsibility for it.” Responsibility, she said, mainly comes from: practice and self control, being accountable for your choices, doing your best and always trying, and finishing what you begin. She also mentioned the responsibility of representative governments and corporations.
Sr. Sabina Rifat started her talk with an introduction of the SOPP and the purpose of the Soul of WoMen campaign. She mentioned the participation of Fr. Channan and Maulana Abdul Khabir Azad as keynote speakers and prayer leaders, and also as early endorsers of the Fuji Declaration. She noted that Pakistan has been holding SOPP ceremonies every year in major cities.
Sr. Sabina asked Misbah Ashraf to read the special message sent to us from Masami Saionji. When she asked the youth what they liked most about it, most of them liked this part: Each one of you gathered here today is exerting a powerful influence on your country and the world. The world peace prayers that you are praying today will re-kindle the shining spark that resides in each human being—not only in Pakistan but throughout the world. Your prayers will serve as a source of light, love, and bright hopes for the future.
Sr. Sabina said that if one wants to eat good fruit, then one should learn to plant a tree and prune it. She said that it is important for young people to communicate with colleagues. She also conducted an exercise where the students were asked how youth could be more responsible for bringing peace to the world around them. The participants came up with a list of ways that youth can gain more awareness of responsibility, such as helping elders, teaching younger children, and promoting equal rights for men and women.
Pastor Riaz, Inderyas, Mrs. Razia Younas and a few other young girls and boys expressed their views about this program. Peter and John led the group in some peace songs and patriotic songs, which filled the group with joy and spirit. The whole group took an active part in the program, and resolved to help improve the environment, education and respect for women. All had a festive meal together in celebration of SOPP 2016, and offered their prayers for all the participants at Fuji Sanctuary, sending their gratitude to Mrs. Masami Saionji.
Lahore, Pakistan (Kanwal School): report by Sr. Sabina Rifat
A program was organized on May 13 at Kanwal High School in Lahore, by Sr. Sabina Rifat and others from the URI Women and Kids Education Cooperation Circle (WAKE) and the Women’s Wing of the United Religions Initiative (URI) Pakistan. We arranged this program in solidarity with the Soul of WoMen campaign and the SOPP celebrations on May 15. 80 school children and their parents, mostly mothers, participated in the event. These are very poor children, who manage to continue their education while facing many hardships.
The program went from 10 am until 12 noon. The children, between 4 to 14 years, sang songs of peace, performed skits about peace and harmony, and recited poems and speeches in favour of equality between men and women. The program started with a welcome song presented by schoolchildren, after which the nursery and prep class children acted out a play. A fourth grade student presented a poem called “Here Begins Peace.”
Masami Saionji’s message to SOPP participants was read out loud, and it was well received. The women found it very inspiring. They expressed their joy for her vision and wisdom in launching the Soul of WoMen campaign, and they vowed that they will work harder to promote peace and to raise their children well. Some parts of the Fuji Declaration were also read in Urdu for the staff and parents.
Pastor Younas Inderyas gave a brief introduction of Sister Sabina Rifat and talked about her mission and her contributions for the empowerment of women and children. In her address, Sr. Sabina welcomed all parents and guests, and explained the importance of the Soul of WoMen campaign. She said that the equality of women needs greater recognition, especially in Pakistan. God has made men and women equal. God has put equal spirit in both of them. Today, we have to promise that we will give proper respect and equal rights to the women in our society. She also thanked Masami Saionji and her team at Fuji Sanctuary for their bold efforts to promote peace.
Then, the second grade students presented a poem about peace. The Sunday School children acted out a peace play, which gave the very inspiring message that with our small acts of kindness there can be big changes in the world. To close, Pastor Inderyas thanked the children and parents of the school, and everyone shared some refreshments.
Lahore, Pakistan (Peace Center): report by Fr James Channan OP and Sr. Sabina Rifat
A very inspiring and spiritually uplifting Symphony of Peace Prayers celebration was organized at Peace Center Lahore on the 15th of May. This program was jointly organized by the Peace Center and the United Religions Initiative (URI) Pakistan. Over 150 Christians and Muslims participated in the event, including professors, lawyers, religious leaders, human rights activists, social workers, promoters of peace and interfaith dialogue, and representatives from about 25 different NGOs, as well as students from various schools and universities.
The Peace Center was very elegantly decorated with flowers and banners, and was filled with a spirit of joy and peace. We felt united with the entire globe in celebrating this event. Moreover, it was a splendid coincidence that Christians around the world were celebrating the great feast of Pentecost—the descending of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and other followers of Jesus Christ.
The program began with leaders from different religions offering prayers for peace. The Dominican brothers performed a beautiful peace song. Ms. Tasneem Ortt Saeed read the message from Masami Saionji, in which she expressed her appreciation to Maulana Abdul Khabir Azad and Fr James Channan for their roles in the SOPP ceremonies in Japan and in Pakistan. The message was highly appreciated and lauded by all. Mr. Hafiz Nauman, one of the guests of honor, remarked that the music of peace can only be heard from within when we live in carefree environments, and not in this stifling environment where we are experiencing terrorism. Regarding the Soul of WoMen campaign, he said that we should give all women their just rights. We then showed a six-minute video introducing the SOPP, and participants expressed their joy when they saw Maulana Khabir and Fr Channan in the video.
Next, we held an official launching ceremony for the Urdu translation of the Fuji Declaration. Maulana Abdul Khabir Azad and Fr James Channan led the ceremony, with Rev. Dr. Marqus Fida, Fr. John Tanveer and Pastor Emmanuel Khokhar also taking part. Some sections of the Fuji Declaration were read in Urdu, and were applauded by all participants. The great vision of the Fuji Declaration was highly admired. Ms. Mahwish Obaid, Admission Officer at Foreman Christian College presented her views on the Fuji Declaration, saying that it is greatly needed in this time, and that it invites everyone to play a role for the betterment of the world, and to avoid violence, wars and hatred and sow the seeds of peace and healing.
Following this, the Soul of WoMen Global Campaign was introduced. A special message from Masami Saionji, expressing gratitude to Sr. Sabina Rifat as organizer of the Soul of WoMen campaign in Pakistan, was read by Fr James Channan. Sr. Sabina presented in detail the vision, aims and objectives of Soul of WoMen. She asked everyone at the gathering to pledge to respect all human beings, especially women. It was really wonderful to see how all participants expressed great joy at the launching of this much needed campaign, in which women are encouraged to play their full role for the betterment of society. Young girls from Kanwal School, where Sr. Sabina does education work, presented a very moving tableau. Many young women and their mothers were also present. Mrs. Samina Ashraf, a lady with whom Sr. Sabina trained illiterate women in slums for two years, talked about her experience and her joy for the Soul of WoMen campaign. She never had a chance to go to school, but after working with Sr. Sabina to be trained in tailoring, she felt she could now express herself with confidence.
Maulana Abdul Khabir Azad, the chief guest at this event, stated that there is an urgent need to spread the message of peace. He said we are motivating people to come towards peace as the Holy Prophet and the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, both devoted their lives to peace.
Sr. Sabina also thanked Asher Nazir, the new Executive Secretary, for helping with the program. Fr Channan thanked all the guests for coming to the program, which ended with a song and all participants waving the flags of different countries. This colorful program lasted for about two hours, after which all the guests were served a festive and delicious meal.