2 events: Lahore Peace Center, Lahore URI
Lahore, Pakistan (Peace Center): report by Fr James Channan OP
Peace Center Lahore held its annual gathering on May 20. More than 100 people—Muslims, Christians, and Hindus—attended the ceremony, which was held in connection with the SOPP at Fuji Sanctuary and events all around the world. May 20 was also a very significant and important day for the Christian community, as they celebrated Pentecost, the descending of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles of Christ and other Christian believers. The day also brought great news for Christians in Pakistan, as the Archbishop of Karachi, Joseph Coutts, was named by Pope Francis to be a new Cardinal from Pakistan.
Our Muslim brothers and sisters also had a special reason to celebrate, as they are going through the holy month of fasting called Ramadan. A special place was set for them to offer their evening prayers, and an Iftar meal was arranged for them to break their fast in the evening. It was a heavenly scene to see Muslims, Christians, and Hindus offering their own respective prayers on the same premises of the Peace Center.
The ceremony started at 5:30 pm, with prayers offered by leaders from each of the three faiths. Fr James Channan OP, Director of the Peace Center and URI Regional Coordinator for Pakistan, welcomed all the guests and explained some of the history and significance of the SOPP. He remarked that interreligious programs like the SOPP are of prime importance in the world, so that divisions, violence, and hatred may diminish, and we can learn to respect each other’s religions and work jointly for a better and more humane world. “All of you,” he said to the participants, “are gathered here as ambassadors of peace, and our longing and manifestation of peace will bring a positive change in the world.”
After this, Sr. Sabina Rifat, Coordinator of the Women’s Wing of URI Pakistan, read Masami Saionji’s message to participants in Pakistan, which was very well received. Fr Pascal Paulus OP, Prior Vice Provincial of the Dominican Order in Pakistan, discussed the celebration of Pentecost and the announcement of Joseph Coutts being named Cardinal. “The coming together of such a large number of people in the Peace Center is a significant sign that the people of Pakistan long for peace and harmony,” he said.
Fr Francis Nadeem OFM, Executive Secretary of the Catholic Bishops National Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism, expressed his immense joy at this celebration of the SOPP, and extended greetings on behalf of the interreligious dialogue commission. He said that much more work is still needed to achieve lasting peace in Pakistan. Allama Zubair Abid, a Muslim religious leader and Chairman of the Peace and Unity Network of Pakistan, said that each one of us needs to be sincere with ourselves and with our neighbors. Interfaith celebrations, he said, create unity, so that we can fight the evil around us together.
Dr. Munawar Chand, a Hindu leader, said that programs like the SOPP help us to build bridges of trust, love, and acceptance among us, and will bring significant and positive change in our society. Fr Inayat Bernard, Rector of the Catholic Cathedral in Lahore, commented that the SOPP should be celebrated in different cities throughout Pakistan. Hafiz Muhammad Nauman Hamid, a Muslim interreligious dialogue activist and Executive Director of World Council of Religions, lauded the ceremony and said he took great pride in being part of the SOPP.
Next, Sr. Sabina Rifat recited two poems on the theme of lasting peace and caring for one another. A group of Dominican students sung two very moving peace songs with music and melodious voices.
Mufti Ashiq Hussain, a Muslim religious leader, said that both the Holy Bible and the Holy Quran place emphasis on the wellbeing of humanity and caring for each other. This month of Ramadan, he said, also teaches us to take care of others and to become instruments of peace and harmony.
Towards the end of this grand ceremony, prayers were offered for all nations while participants held the national flags. The Dominican students led participants in melodious songs of peace while everyone waved the flags of different countries, with a heartfelt desire for peace on earth.
Lahore, Pakistan (URI): report by Asher Nazir
On May 21, the Women’s Wing of URI Pakistan celebrated the SOPP and Soul of WoMen at Bashart-E-Ibn Maryam School. Several cooperation circles of URI Pakistan gave their support to the event, which was attended by 26 Muslim and Christian men, women, and children, who together shared their views on tolerance, peace, interfaith harmony, prayer, women’s empowerment, and equal rights.
Mr. Asher Nazir, Executive Secretary of URI Pakistan, welcomed all the guests. After prayers from different faiths, Sr. Sabina Rifat talked about the SOPP and the Soul of WoMen movement. She said that we are here today from different religions because we strongly believe that, through our interfaith prayers and through love and kindness, we will overcome those who believe in evil and inhuman acts.
The district of Youhanabad, where the event was held, is the largest majority Christian area in Lahore, and is a very poor and underdeveloped part of the city. The people of Youhanabad have faced great pain, sorrow, and hatred in the name of religion. Sr. Rifat said that today, we are here from different religions, so that Youhanabad will become a source of peace, love, tolerance, and interfaith harmony.
Asher Nazir shared Masami Saionji’s message to SOPP participants in Pakistan, and then Sr. Sabina Rifat was presented with a peace award for her admirable work to establish peace and empower women, especially those living in poverty. Asher Nazir was also presented with a peace award for his work to build strong relationships among the cooperation circles of URI Pakistan.
Ms. Thamina Rana, a well-known journalist in Lahore, spoke briefly to say, “As a woman, I feel proud that we are part of URI Pakistan and promoting the message of Soul of WoMen. As women, we have equal rights in society and we should raise our voice when we see any injustice. Men and women are equal and have an equal spirituality.” Mr. Khalid Anjum, a peace activist and URI member, remarked that it is a powerful symbol of interfaith harmony to see an Iftar dinner (to break the Ramadan fast) arranged by Christians for their Muslim brothers and sisters. “We should be a light for each other,” he said, “a hope for the hopeless.”
At the end of the event, all participants prayed together for the peace of the world and for people of all different religions. Sr. Sabina Rifat said, “I feel tremendously proud of each one of you, and I respect you and thank you from the bottom of my heart.”