In my Report #2, I mentioned an open-to-the-public seminar we were hosting in conjunction with one of the local CCs. The Seminar was titled International Seminar on Interfaith Action for Peace and Harmony and it was attended by a bit more than 200 from the local community.
Because there was a representative from the government as the first keynote speaker, there were a number of the press covering the event – the government basically controls the press in Malaysia. But, as a result, Predeep Nambiar, the young journalist from the New Strait Times who we met several days earlier, was able to cover my talk, too. After the customary welcomes and thank yous, I talked about the founding of URI and its mission, gave some examples of the work of several of the CCs in other parts of the world to emphasize that we have created a world interfaith community, and ended with the following:
“URI is about people of different religions working together to improve their communities and in doing so they are learning to cooperate with, understand and accept each other and respect each others’ religious beliefs. Talking with people involved in URI I hear stories of the work they are doing. They are inspired knowing that by being involved in URI they are making positive changes not only in their local communities but in the world community.”
I think that, because the message of URI’s work around the world was coming from a member of URI’s President’s Council and an American, it was well received by the audience and, more importantly, it received some media coverage. Numerous people requested copies of the talk, which may have been superficial flattery but we are providing copies to anyone who asks!
As I also mentioned in an earlier report, later that evening the URI CC representatives from around the region performed what we called an International Cultural Night at the new Shantanand Auditorium Temple of Fine Arts as a free interfaith program open to the public. It was sold out with almost 500 attendees. The event lasted 2 ½ hours included 15 performances by about 30 of our group – music, songs, dances, chants, prayers from many different religions, and faith traditions around the region and was greeted by about a 5 minute standing ovation at the end followed by the entire audience and the URI performers linking hands and singing a long chorus of “We are together”.
While it is not a big deal in America for performers to be of different religions, in many parts of the world that is almost extraordinary. The fact that the multi-talented URI CC leaders who performed were both from many of the different countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific and of numerous different religions/faiths – Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian, indigenous, etc. – is somewhat unique in this part of the world. From my perspective, that the program was conceived of, orchestrated, and rehearsed in 3 days while also in intense meetings about URI’s vision for and execution of growth in the region is extraordinary.
In many ways, what happened here is what URI is all about - people from different religions coming together, cooperating to achieve a common goal and in doing so learning to accept and respect each other as people no matter what the respective religious beliefs are.