Manila: report by Mario Fungo

In Manila, we joyously celebrated the seventh annual Symphony of Peace Prayers at the Environmental Science Institute Conference Hall of Miriam College. More than 80 people from different faith groups, organizations and institutions participated in the event, which was synchronized with the large-scale SOPP at Fuji Sanctuary.

For the fourth consecutive year (since the SOPP was first held outside Japan in 2008), the SOPP in Manila was organized by the Mandala Peace Arts Initiative, in partnership with the Peacemakers’ Circle Foundation, Inc. (TCPFI), the United Religions Initiative in Southeast Asia-Pacific (URI-SEAP), and several other peace groups and faith organizations.

Returning to the same venue in which our SOPP was held two years ago, this year’s celebration had a less formal and more intimate tone. At the center of the space were the flags of the world’s nations, rose petals and candles encircling a unique peace pole. The two-meter high peace pole was unique in that it was wrapped in newspaper pages that highlighted the significant current events in the world, especially the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

As participants arrived and registered, they were asked to write individual peace prayers on a big cloth mandala, as well as to write on a piece of paper their personal prayers for Japan and other regions in the world that are currently experiencing serious challenges. After we engaged in an ‘ocean breathing’ exercise and performed a prayer without words for all humanity, these personal prayers were offered by each participant, by placing them at the center, around and on the peace pole. This was done while everyone sang a community song entitled, “Ruah” (Hebrew for ‘breath’).

This contemplative mood was then deepened by a guided mediation and commentary from the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (represented by Bro. John Dowling) to start off the prayers from the different faith traditions. This was followed by a soul-moving doxology performance from the Muslim-Christian Youths for Peace and Unity (MCYPU). Interpreting the song, “You Raise me Up,” the heartfelt dance prayer conveyed the scenes of veiled young Muslim girls, palms open, side by side with young Christian girls, palms together, posing in their respective prayer gestures—moving, although differently, in oneness of spirit, harmony and grace.

Without interruption, each prayer leader then offered his or her own traditional prayers, one after another in a flowing sequence, with just the sound of a bell chiming in between. Among the other faiths represented were: Earth-based spirituality (Mr. Ishilta Pinlac, URI-SEAP Youth Ambassador 2010); Hinduism (Dr. Shakuntala Vaswani, URI-SEAP Regional Coordinator); Tibetan Buddhism (Mr. Reimon Cosare, TPCFI & SangHabi); Christianity (Sr. Vida Cordero, SFIC—Franciscan Sisters); Islam (Mr. Alan Berguia, TPCFI & MCYPU); and the Baha’i faith (Ms. Raquel Castillo, National Spiritual Assembly of Baha’i).

Immediately following the prayers from different faiths was the second highlight of the program, the prayer ceremony for peace in each country. For almost 40 minutes, the entire hall was still and focused on acknowledging each country, mentioning its name as its national flag was displayed on screen, and praying for peace to prevail in each one. Although feeling a bit of strain in their arms (due to holding the prayer position for so long), everyone in the hall seemed to feel uplifted and lighthearted toward the end of the ceremony.

After the reading of the special global prayers—the prayer for a world free from conflict and the prayer for harmony between humanity and nature that were first offered at Fuji Sanctuary—the program was capped off with harmonious communal singing of “Amen/Amin,” led by Mr. Ding Reyes of Saniblakas Foundation, and “Sama-samang Naglalakbay tungo sa Pag-Ibig” (Journeying Together toward Love). With some percussive accompaniment by the indigenous music group SangHabi, the crowd sang and danced hand-in-hand in a circle to a celebratory finale. We then closed the ceremony by greeting each other with an indigenous gesture of oneness, and we concluded the morning with some simple snacks, music, and warm conversation.

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