Religions come together as one
PORT LOUIS, Mauritius — The essential unity of the world's religions was the theme of gatherings last month in places as far apart as Mauritius, Northern Ireland, Mali and Hong Kong.
Throughout the world on 19 January 2003 people of various faiths gathered to celebrate World Religion Day, an event first celebrated more than five decades ago.
The active participation of Baha'is in organizing and attending the events was in line with a message addressed to religious leaders by the Faith's governing council, the Universal House of Justice, in April last year.
In that message, the Universal House of Justice said the Baha'i community, a vigorous promoter of interfaith activities from the time of their inception, would continue to assist the movement of diverse religions to draw closer together.
The over-arching truth that had called the interfaith movement into being, it said, was "that God is one and that, beyond all diversity of cultural expression and human interpretation, religion is likewise one". (The full text of the message can be found on the World Wide Web at: http://www.bahai.org/article-1-1-0-1.html).
Examples from a sample of countries around the world illustrate the active role of the Baha'is on World Religion Day.
The celebration in the Republic of Mauritius was marked by the presence of the nation's president, Karl Offmann, who said a prayer in French, and senior representatives of the Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Islamic faiths, who read prayers to the audience of 500 and spoke on the teachings of their respective religions. All speakers presented on the same theme, that all the religions taught unity and peace.
The event was organized by the Catholic Church, at the invitation of the Baha'i community.
Baha'i youth and communities across the island also held functions.
In Omagh, Northern Ireland, more than 100 people celebrated World Religion Day at an event that included an audio-visual presentation on the theme of the oneness of religion, and a performance by the choir of the Omagh Integrated Primary School.
Encouraged by their headmistress, Lady Rosemary Salisbury, students from Drumragh Integrated College read excerpts from the Baha'i writings.
Positive comments on the celebration came from the Chairman of Omagh District Council, Pat McDonnell.
In Hong Kong, the Baha'i Community organized an event at the Cultural Center in Tsim Sha Tsui to mark World Religion Day.
Representatives came from the Anglican and Catholic congregations of the Christian community, and from the Confucian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh communities.
The speakers addressed the theme "Building spiritual strength during times of stress", emphasizing peace and tolerance for each other's beliefs.
An article and photograph about the event appeared in the Tsing Tau Chinese daily.
Events marking World Religion Day were also held in Bamako, the capital of Mali in West Africa, at both the Baha'i Center and the site reserved for the future Baha'i House of Worship.
In Portugal, too, there was a celebration. Representatives of the Hindu, Buddhist and Baha'i faiths recited prayers and read from the texts of their sacred books. A program on a national television channel, with an estimated audience of more than 100,000 viewers, dedicated 30 minutes to the interfaith dialogue, and included interviews with Baha'i and Catholic representatives.
Media attention was also given to the celebration of World Religion Day in Chisinau, Moldova, the first such event in the nation's history. A popular weekly magazine published a report of the gathering.
Organized by the Baha'is of Chisinau, the celebration attracted representatives of the local spiritual and artistic communities. It featured prayers, speeches, recital of operatic arias and discussion on the importance of inter-religious dialogue.
World Religion Day was initiated in 1950 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States. Baha'is celebrate the day by hosting discussions, conferences and other events that foster understanding and communication among the followers of all religions. In 1985, the government of Sri Lanka issued a postage stamp in commemoration of the day.
The purpose of World Religion Day is to call attention to the harmony of spiritual principles and the oneness of the world's religions and to emphasize that religion is the motivating force for world unity. As stated in Baha'i scripture: " religion should be the cause of love and agreement, a bond to unify all mankind for it is a message of peace and goodwill to man from God," and "Religion is the greatest of all means for the establishment of order in the world and for the peaceful contentment of all that dwell therein."