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Interfaith Assembly Aug 2010

Middle East Peace Programs

A Week for Peace in the Holy Land

Jerusalem, Israel - UPF-Israel recently the latest in the series of more than 40 Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI) trips that began back in 2003, bringing together religious and community leaders from throughout the Holy Land and as far away as Europe, the United States and Korea. At the conclusion of the August 20-24 program, a “Rally for Substantial Peace” took place, following events held in Seoul and New York in July.

The conference began on Friday, August 20, with dinner, held each day at 7:20 pm to correspond with the time for Muslim participants to break their Ramadan fast. The orientation was given with special greetings by Dr. Thomas Walsh, Dr. Masatoshi Abe, Dr. Shelley Elkayam, Dr. Shuki Ben Ami, and Prof. Eliezer Glaubach. There was also an orientation about the following day's events. Because the hotel observes the strict rules of the Jewish Sabbath beginning from Friday evening, we couldn’t use any sound system until Saturday night, so everybody had to listen carefully!


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On Saturday, we began the day with an interfaith service led by Dr. Michael Jenkins, who called on several guests from different faiths to offer prayers and share readings from their holy scriptures. Immediately following breakfast, all the participants boarded buses and headed east towards the Jordan Valley. The green scenery of Jerusalem changed rapidly to the arid dryness of the wilderness/desert graced by occasional Bedouin camps with their sheep and goats. We descended below sea level and could see before us the shimmering Dead Sea, the distant mountains of Jordan, and a number of neatly laid out date plantations. Then we turned north and entered Jericho, which is under the control of the Palestinian Authority. The Jericho “oasis” is so different from the surrounding barren land and is filled with fruit trees and streams of water. We stopped for a short break at the ancient Jericho ruins.

Following north along the Jordan Valley we headed towards the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret), and the scenery changed again to green, with orchards, plantations, and fields of grains and vegetables on both sides of the valley. Beyond Tiberias we climbed up to the Mount of Beatitudes and stopped to hear an explanation about the site and enjoy the scenery. After lunch we visited the Druze holy site at the tomb of Jethro and were warmly welcomed by Sheikh Samich Natur, who filled us with fruits, sweets, and refreshing drinks. Sheikh Natur graciously gathered us all in the main temple and shared how the Druze love Rev. Sun Myung Moon and have many similarities in their teachings on marriage. Dr. Jenkins then introduced many of the leaders present; photos were taken, and an offering was collected for our hosts.

Next, we moved on to Nazareth’s Church of the Annunciation, where we had a guided tour followed by prayer outside the building above ancient ruins. We returned to Jerusalem for dinner and a briefing chaired by a passionate Dr. Eliezer Glaubach, who introduced the former Knesset member Mr. Ran Cohen and Dr. Bernard Sabela, a member of the Palestinian Authority. Both spoke very optimistically about the upcoming peace talks between Israel and Palestine and the fact that the large majority of people both in Israel and the West Bank want peace. Prayer was offered by Rev. Betty Tatalajski and special words given by Mr. Dawud Assad.

At the 7:00 am interfaith service the following day, Rev. Hod Ben Zvi introduced UPF International Chairman Rev. Hyung Jin Moon. In keeping with the occasion and setting, he offered some thoughts about how to pray, using the “Lord’s Prayer” as an example; his insights were well received by the interreligious audience. After breakfast, a small group visited Gethsemane and a "holy ground" dedicated by Rev. Sun Myung Moon during a visit in 1965, when he placed three nails in an olive tree near the spot where he intuited that Jesus spent the night in prayer before being crucified.

Rev. Hyung Jin Moon’s group next travelled north through the Jordan Valley to the home of Druze Sheikh Mowafaq Tariq in Yirka. He had invited several faith leaders to attend the gathering. Speeches in support of the Universal Peace Federation’s work for peace were offered and gifts were exchanged, including Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s autobiography. Next the group travelled to Acre (Acco) on the opposite side of the bay of Haifa; they visited the old city and Crusaders' citadel before going to the beautiful El Gazar Mosque, where they were welcomed by the Imam Sheik Samir Asi. After warm conversation they were shown around the brightly decorated mosque and led outside into a courtyard, where a sumptuous iftar meal was served as the sun set, breaking the Ramadan fast. Before leaving, gifts were exchanged, including Rev. Moon’s autobiography. After this the group returned to Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the MEPI group began their day of conferences at 9:30 am in the Dan Jerusalem Hotel with a session on the “Vision of UPF and the Interreligious Council at the UN.” The speakers were Dr. Thomas Walsh, explaining the history and development of the interreligious council proposal, and Mr. Taj Hamad, speaking about the role of NGOs in relation to the UN. Comments were offered by Dr. Eldad Prado and Dr. Drora Ben Dov, creating an upbeat and positive mood. The next session was on the “Teachings of Dr. Sun Myung Moon.” Dr. Masatoshi Abe spoke about the significance of marriage and family, and Dr. Michael Jenkins gave an overview of his key insights, with comments by Mrs. Miri Kamar and Mrs. Nurit Skupinsky. In the afternoon session there were short presentations by Mr. Michael Ghouse, Mr. Subodh Sharma, and Dr. Rosilyn Carroll. Then the floor was opened for reflections, questions, and recommendations. After dinner, the group departed for the Western Wall, a remnant of the ancient temple courtyard wall and the most sacred site of Judaism.

The main program on August 23 was transmitted by Internet throughout the world. The UPF Secretary General introduced a session of prayers for peace by different religious figures followed by an address by Rev. Hyung Jin Moon. Afterwards, Sheikh Mohammad Kiwan was invited to pray to end the Ramadan fast, and dinner was served. After dinner Dr. Shuki Ben Ami served as master of ceremonies for an Ambassador for Peace awards ceremony, followed by the signing of “the Jerusalem Declaration for Peace.”

Photographs by Edwin Vanoverschelde, Takahiro Morita, and Koral Shmueli
For a map of sites visited, click here.

Excerpts of comments by a participant, received August 3: "I can't stop thinking or talking about the peace program that MEPI hosted in Jerusalem. What a joy it was for me to be a part of such a great and lofty peace initiative goal! I believe that one of the most important times was when the entire delegation walked around Jerusalem and prayed for peace. The Western Wall—what a special anointed place of prayer! At the wall I truly felt the presence of God; I also felt that I was standing on Holy Ground. I believe that it would have been good to have prayed in the Upper Room and at the Garden of Gethsemane; perhaps even a short service at one of those places would have been appropriate. I believe that the more the different religions get together and pray in one accord and in that region, the more effective it will be in terms of transformation." - Bishop Dr. Ebony Kirkland, New York, USA

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