2 events: Lahore (Peace Center) and Lahore (URI)
Lahore, Pakistan (Peace Center)
report by Fr James Channan OP and Faisal Ilyas
The Peace Center Lahore and United Religions Initiative (URI) organized their 12th Symphony of Peace Prayers at Peace Center in Lahore on the 19th of May. Interfaith religious leaders representing Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism were invited to offer prayers for world peace. Fr. Younas Shahzad, Vice Provincial of Dominicans in Pakistan was the Chief Guest. Several more honorable guests, along with over 100 women, men, and children from the Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and Baha’i faiths participated in the program.
Mr. Asher Nazir, Executive Secretary of URI Pakistan, formally welcomed all the honorable guests and thanked them for sparing time in their busy schedules to celebrate humanity and feel the divine spark in today’s program. He also introduced all the honorable guests seated on the stage. He especially thanked two guests, Ms. Erika Lynn Partenheimer and Mr. Michael Shannon Crowe, who came from the United States.
Fr. Patrick OP and Mr. Iqbal Sani offered peace prayers according to the Christian and Muslim faiths. Bro. Nabeel OP shared a message from Masami Saionji. In her message, Mrs. Saionji wrote, “There is a profound meaning in your presence here today—100 peace-loving people joining together at the Peace Center in Lahore, coinciding with the prayerful gathering of thousands of participants in Japan. Each one of you, individually, is serving as a connecting point between the lands of Pakistan, Japan, and all parts of the world. Like Fr Channan, each one of you is making an enormous spiritual contribution to peace on earth through your earnest prayers. As this Hand-in-Hand grassroots movement continues to expand, peace and harmony will definitely reign on Earth, and the role of Pakistan will be essential… Along with all the participants in Japan, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. We are all thinking of you and wishing you a joyful celebration today.” Her message was received with great joy and appreciation.
After the message, all the honorable guests came to the front and lit a candle of peace. The candle of peace is the message from Pakistan that we would like to bring peace in the world, especially to the areas of war and conflict. We wish for a peaceful atmosphere for all religions in the world, so that there will be no more discrimination.
After this Mr. Ashir Nazir announced and shared the joyful news that the Government of Pakistan presented Fr. James Channan OP with an award for “Exemplary Services for Promoting Interfaith Harmony and Peace”. This award was given by His Excellency, Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony. This announcement filled the guests with positive energy, and they applauded Fr Channan for his countless efforts. A video created jointly by the Peace Center and URI Pakistan was played, showing pictures, activities and initiatives for building peace and harmony in Pakistan and in the world.
Fr. Younas Shahzad OP, Prior Vice Provincial of the Dominican Order in Pakistan, congratulated Fr James Channan and the entire Dominican community on receiving the Exemplary Award from the Government of Pakistan. He said, “When we pray for others’ progress, prosperity, happiness, peace and health, ultimately, God Almighty blesses us with all the blessings that we want to have for others. Our Lord answers our prayers that have been offered today. God bless you all.”
Ms. Erika Lynn Partenheimer and Mr. Michael Shannon Crowe from the United States also had a chance to address participants. Ms. Lynn talked about the Biblical parable of the Samaritan. In this story, a Jewish traveler is stripped of clothing, beaten, and left half dead along the side of the road. First a priest and then a Levite come by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan happens upon the traveler. Samaritans and Jews despised each other, but the Samaritan helps the injured man. Jesus told this parable in response to the question from a lawyer, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus explained that the neighbor figure in the parable is the man who shows mercy to the injured man—that is, the Samaritan. We should implement the same to the people around us without pointing out their religion, caste, or creed.
Dr. Munawar Chand, a Hindu leader, expressed his great joy in participating in this annual SOPP. He said this celebration for peace helps us to be even more united with each other and the world. “There is a great need for peace in our country and in the rest of the world. Let us do our level best to promote peace.” He also expressed his thanks to Mrs. Masami Saionji for her very inspiring message and the peace work she is doing, and he acknowledged the struggle and devotion of Fr. James Channan OP in building peace and promoting interfaith harmony. “The peace prayers in today’s program are an opportunity to ask God Almighty for world peace,” he said.
Sr. Sabina Rifat, Women’s Coordinator for URI Pakistan, shared her poetry on peace and congratulated Fr. James Channan OP on his award. “We own this award for all who have contributed and who support Fr. Channan on his journey towards peace and interfaith harmony. On behalf of the Soul of WoMen movement in Pakistan, I would like to share the divine spark, especially with all women in our circle who have attended these SOPP programs. I pay my heartfelt regards and best wishes to Masami Saionji for sending us a very moving and spiritual message here in Pakistan.”
Mrs. Shabnam Nagi, Muslim leader and High Court Advocate, said, “Peace prayers are very important, as we see on a daily basis news regarding the violation of human rights and child abuse. This is something very serious for our society, and we should raise our voices along with offering peace prayers.”
Rev. Dr. Marqus Fida, Chairman of Star TV Channel, and Fr. Roccus Patras OP also shared words of thanks and congratulations. A group of Dominican student brothers sang peace-building songs, with all participants joining in. We also held an Iftardinner for our Muslim guests, as they were in the midst of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. The Muslim participants offered prayers before breaking their fast.
Towards the end of this beautiful program, all participants prayed for world peace by holding hands and waving the flags of all the countries. It was a very moving and heavenly experience seeing the flags of all countries being waved under one roof, with everyone praying for world peace. The Dominican Brothers sang a moving peace song, which mesmerized the audience. Towards the end of this celebration a sumptuous dinner was offered to all.
Lahore, Pakistan (URI)
report by Waheed Mukhtar
The URI Pakistan Women’s Wing and WAKE (Women and Kids Education) circle organized an additional celebration of the SOPP and Soul of WoMen on May 21, with different religious communities gathering at Peace Center Lahore. The event was held with the collaboration of the COPE Pakistan, Helping Hands Foundation, and Paras Welfare Foundation cooperation circles. 35 Muslim and Christian women, men, youth, and children were present. They shared their views on tolerance, peace, and interfaith harmony. Prayers for world peace were offered.
Helping Hands Foundation Coordinator Pastor Waheed Mukhtar shared Masami Saionji’s message to SOPP participants in Pakistan. Then, the ceremony began with prayers from the Christian and Muslim traditions. After this, the guest of honor, Sister Sabina Rifat, prayed for peace. She shared the activities taking place in different fields for the empowerment of women, through the URI Women’s Wing and Women’s Initiative. She also shared the wisdom and insights of Masami Saionji, through which she has taken inspiration for uplifting women. Sr. Sabina shared video clips of world peace prayers held at Fuji Sanctuary. After watching that, everyone in the hall applauded the work of Masami Saionji and her organization.Sister Sabina saidin her speech that men and women have an equal status in society. Only if both men and women work together can our society progress, and only then will peace come to our world. She explained that this is the vision of Masami Saionji, to create an equal status for men and women, and this is why we celebrate Soul of WoMen.
Other distinguished guests also shared their messages of peace and greater equality for women. Then, at sunset, the program was interrupted for Muslim participants to break their fast, after which more guests addressed the participants.
Asher Nazir, Executive Secretary of URI Pakistan, said, “If we wish to see God, we should see a mother, as a mother is another form of God. Woman is the tower of love, and she is in the form of mother, sister, wife, and daughter.” Other guests expressed their appreciation to Sister Sabina for her work for women in Pakistan.
At the end of the program, Sister Sabina thanked all the honorable guests from the bottom of her heart, and an Iftar dinner was shared with all.