Rome: report by Maria Caterina Putignano
We held an SOPP ceremony in central Rome on May 9, ahead of the SOPP at Fuji Sanctuary. The ceremony was organized together with Guru Inder Kaur and Bhai Hari Singh Khalsa of the Yoga Dharma Community, who led the Sikh prayer at the 2007 SOPP at Fuji Sanctuary. A group of about 180 students attended the ceremony, and their presence brought the attention of hundreds more people on the street, many of whom joined in, especially during the flag procession.
The ceremony was held on a stage at the Imperial Fora. It began with a welcome address from Taira Tanaka, former President of Byakko Shinko Kai. Next, three prayer leaders from Tibetan Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, and Sikhism offered prayers for peace. The Buddhist prayer was particularly powerful, while the Catholic prayer was not a prayer per se, but a softly voiced call for love in the heart of every human being.
After this, we began the prayers for peace in each country, spoken in Italian, and we also spoke the word ‘peace’ in all the official languages of the world. The students were the flag bearers, and they were organized by continent. Before we began each continent, a musician named Oscar performed live musical ‘poems,’ setting a perfect tone for the prayers.
After the prayers, music by the Greek composer Vangelis was played, and we began a procession to the Coliseum. The Coliseum is a place where thousands of people lost their lives, often because of religious beliefs, and much of that painful past still remains. The students walked so gracefully with the flags, and many people in the surrounding area spontaneously joined in. There were people with children, inviting them to hold hands for peace, and so a wonderful little chain of children formed in front of the lead banner. The students seemed very surprised by what was happening, and they became even more focused, and several were crying. I believe that it was a powerful experience for them. The procession turned back and returned to the stage with the same solemnity and joy, and many more people still joining in. The ceremony was then crowned by a magnificent dance performed by Sama, a woman from Egypt who lives in Italy. Her dance came from the Coptic (Egyptian Christian) tradition. She danced like a goddess to Oscar’s music!
Prior to the SOPP ceremony, on May 8, an interfaith round table was held in a hall at Campidoglio, a prestigious place in Rome where the government also meets. Representatives from ten religious and spiritual traditions joined leaders from three secular peace organizations, and about 80 people attended to listen to the speeches and discussion. The aim of this event was to get the interfaith community to focus on working for world peace and to introduce the SOPP as one way of doing this. In this sense, it was highly successful. It was a new kind of event for many of the religious leaders, and as such it represents a big step forward. I am sure that the Yoga Dharma Community will follow up on all that took place, inspiring the vision to develop even further.