Three locations: Geelong, Perth, Tasmania
Geelong: report by Jenny Funston
We held a beautiful SOPP ceremony on the afternoon of May 15, one week ahead of the ceremony at Fuji Sanctuary. About 60 people from many different faiths and backgrounds gathered at the Senior Citizens Centre in Geelong. Many of the local Byakko satellite members helped prepare for the ceremony in the morning, decorating the room with plants and written mandalas, which built up a wonderful energy.
At 1:30 I opened the ceremony with a welcoming address, emphasizing that this day was all about love, the essence of all that is real in life. After this, one of the guests lit the Peace Flame, a universal symbol representing humanity’s combined aspirations for peace that would burn throughout the ceremony surrounded by the flags of the world.
We began our prayers with a session of silent prayer. As musician and composer Peter Roberts performed original harp music, participants were all given the chance to offer a written prayer, in silence. Each participant began at the prayer basket, where the words We offer the light of our prayer here to you were written. Then, continuing around the centre table in a circular motion, they could choose a flower head to go in the bowl of water at the Water element, take a stone with a positive word written on it from the Earth element, choose a dove from the Air element, and take a Peace Flame candle from the Fire element. As we individually offered prayers from the love within our hearts, our prayers radiated out to join the love in the hearts of all people. While a new part of the program, this proved quite popular; many people said that they appreciated the inclusiveness of this activity.
Following this, we invited participants to join in reciting a special prayer, composed of prayer words from many different world faiths. This gave participants a chance to say, I respect your belief, I acknowledge our sameness and our differences in oneness and I thank you for the sharing. After we had recited this prayer together, all the written prayers were rolled into one, and Shirley Carroll of the Geelong Interfaith Network placed them inside the peace pole.
Next, we enjoyed two musical performances—a song called “Let Us Walk Softly on This Earth,” and a performance by the Baha’i Children’s Choir, which has been part of our ceremonies since the first one in 2008. This was followed by our flag ceremony for peace in each world nation. The MC called out the names of the countries, fourteen at a time, after which all participants prayed, May peace prevail on Earth. All participants were invited to join the ceremony as flag bearers. When we had prayed for peace in each country, Silvana Benacchio led us in singing the word ‘peace’ in the world’s major languages.
Together, we offered a prayer for harmony between humanity and nature—an abridged form of the prayer that was first offered at the 2007 Fuji Sanctuary SOPP. While gratitude to nature is always part of our ceremonies, this year it was especially important to remember the recent earthquakes that struck New Zealand and Japan. I explained that by expressing gratitude, we can create new habits and new ways of thinking, until the resonance of love and gratitude comes streaming out from our whole being.
In closing, we joined hands around the large globe and the national flags, focusing our attention on all the countries of the world and honouring their existence, and holding a short Global Peace Meditation.
Many participants stayed after the ceremony to chat and drink tea. I received many comments expressing that the ceremony felt very relaxed, nurturing, and all-inclusive. One participant commented: “When we were in the circle holding hands, I felt all this warm, peaceful and loving energy going around the world. The SOPP was a beautiful appreciation of every soul’s pure desire for peace in their hearts. It gave everyone the chance to express this with a community spirit. Thank you.” Another remarked: “The attendance of people of many different faiths showing a commitment to peace, both personally and in the community, was most heartening. The whole ceremony gave the opportunity for reflection and promoted a hopeful, positive determination to continue contributing towards a peaceful world. The socialising which bubbled on well after the ceremony gave an indication of the will of those attending to cement links across our community and reach out further in the cause of peace.”
Perth: report by Eva Szauter
The Symphony of Peace Prayers was celebrated in Perth for the first time, held at the Challenge Stadium sports complex in Mt. Claremont, and hosted by the Brahma Kumaris organisation there. We were deeply honoured and extremely fortunate to be given the opportunity to do so, and I am delighted to report that the program was an outstanding success! Every soul I have spoken to expressed how delighted they were with the event, and spoke graciously of the SOPP’s efforts to bring infinite peace, love, unity and happiness to this troubled world.
We opened with some live music, followed by a welcoming address from Kay Hallahan, the MC for the event. Then, Heather Henderson, Mayor of Subiaco (just west of Perth), and Sue Doherty, Deputy Mayor of South Perth, lit candles representing the Peace Flame. Next, Sister Julia Della Franca played her guitar as we silently offered our own prayers from the love within our hearts, which radiated out to join the love in the hearts of all people.
Then, we began our program of prayers from different faiths and traditions. Our prayer leaders were: Sam Milani (Baha’i), Ven. Sr. Hue Can (Buddhism), Steve Goods (Christianity), Shayna Slotar (Judaism), Kathy Perkins (a spiritual medium), Sitaram Dasa (Hare Krishna), Saida Jassat (Islam), Nishant Gujarati (Vaishnava Hinduism), Sr. Julia Della Franca (Chrisitianity), Mary Sayer (no specific tradition), Carolyn Minter (Brahma Kumaris), and Mr. Singh (Sikhism).
After this, we held a flag ceremony to pray for peace in each country. Each prayer leader called out the names of twenty nations, after which we all prayed: May peace prevail on Earth, May peace be in (names of countries). Then, Christine Morrison sang a song called “Blessings” while some of us handed out blessing cards for peace. After a break with some refreshments, we enjoyed some more songs, music, and dancing.
It was an emotional experience to be present at a meeting where different faiths came together to work in unity for world peace. This is the power of the SOPP.
All the participants (including our almighty God), our gracious MC, the prayer leaders, musicians and Brahma Kumaris members were all superb to work with and I would add that I have seldom experienced such cooperation, flexibility and commitment from so many people at once. A million thank-yous for giving us the opportunity to send a ray of infinite peace, love and joy to the world. One participant commented: “Congratulations and thank you for putting together such a beautiful evening of peace and harmony. It was really beautiful to see so many people of various religious traditions coming together to enjoy and promote peace.”
Tasmania: report by Tom Teniswood
Our ceremony here at Wind Song started on Friday evening with Tatsuya Okuda lighting the outdoor fire, traditionally a ‘Welcome Fire’ and also a ‘Peace Fire,’ which we keep lit for up to five or six days after a ceremony. At this time, we invited the ancestors, our guardian deities and guardian spirits, and all in the spiritual world to join us for the SOPP.
There was a great calm as we prepared the area where the ceremony would be and we were reasonably well organised by Saturday afternoon as family and friends arrived—we had fourteen house guests and a lot of fun! I was also pleased to have quite a number of young people staying, with more to come on Sunday.
On Saturday evening we asked the children to light seven candles from the World Peace Flame that could burn throughout the night, thus preparing the field. These candles would be re-lit as part of the next day’s ceremony.
Sunday dawned a little cloudy but the sun was trying to find its way through. After introductions, we made our way onto the Prayer Field to the Welcome Fire where Harry Higgs, a Kantju woman from Cape York (Northern Queensland), and her son, Teanji Brown (Tasmanian Aboriginal), gave us a most beautiful and emotional ‘welcome’ on behalf of all the indigenous peoples of the world. This was followed by a drumming ceremony, “Honouring the Seven Directions,” with Barb and Lisa Burrell.
At this point I felt that if nothing more followed it would have been all right—but there was more to follow!
We moved to the peace pole where Tatsuya was invited to light the World Peace Flame and with his help, three boys lit the seven candles. During this time and throughout the ceremony, we were accompanied by Mandy Cruikshank playing her beautiful harp.
We prayed the prayers of different faiths in silence, led by Terry Sussmilch (Brahma Kumaris), before we all joined in reciting Our United Prayer to Honour the Sacred of Many Names, the same multi-faith prayer that was read at the ceremony in Geelong. I could feel the sincerity of all present and a deep sense of purpose and intent as we spoke these words. A number of people commented on how powerful this was and the great energy that was generated.
Teresa Drozdz played one of her new compositions which was written during the time of floods in Australia and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. It reflected her emotions of despair, then hope and celebration as people responded to support those who had suffered—again, very moving and full of energy.
Our flag ceremony was simplified, with the flags of fourteen countries presented at a time before a gong sounded and we prayed, May peace prevail on Earth. Everyone joined in carrying the flags and carefully ‘planting’ them in the gravel surrounding the peace pole. I felt people’s energy, sincerity, care and enjoyment as everyone celebrated the oneness of humanity.
During the Global Peace Meditation, we all joined in a beautiful silence in the natural environment—even the birds joined us! We offered a prayer for harmony between humanity and nature, and then closed the ceremony with a performance of the peace song “One Day,” where we all joined in the chorus. Afterward, we all shared lunch and chatted and reflected. Some took the opportunity to walk in the labyrinth or to the Children’s Circle where wallabies love to play.
I felt that this year, our ceremony had matured into one of simplicity that flowed without hesitation, and with such vibrant energy. It was fun, relaxed and sincere. It was a delight to welcome some newcomers to Wind Song and to welcome so many young people who all joined in.
One of the great things about having an SOPP on ‘home ground’ is that we can allow the ceremony to continue in its own way over a number of days—we do not have to pack up at the end. We continue to re-light the candles, to sit and take it all in and to continue our prayers for peace over a number of days.