United Religions Initiative Europe

URI Europe Dialogue Letter

Issue No. 15          ***         January 2011 - April 2011 


Dear friends,

This Dialogue Letter once again brings you beautiful interfaith stories from URI's   global network, which has now over 500 interfaith Cooperation Circles in almost 80 countries worldwide. May their stories inspire you and give you joy.

Join us! You can join URI's global interfaith community for peace, justice and healing by registering your own interfaith circle: you simply need a minimum of 7 people from 3 or more religions or spiritual traditions, who work in line with the interfaith peace ideals of the URI Charter. Join us - you will find an international community: enrich us and be enriched!

On another note we are very happy that Brussels will host the 2014 Parliament of the World's Religions. This will inspire and give a boost to the interfaith movement in Europe. May it bring much good to Brussels and the Earth Community. Congratulations to all – including those in URI Europe - who have worked hard to make this happen. 

Special congratulations go to Martin Gurvich (Convictions in Dialogue CC and URI Europe board) who has been very active in promoting the Brussels bid for the Parliament and has worked on it consistently over several months! Sr. Marianne Goffoël (Convictions in Dialogue CC) was also very active in this effort. Various URI members, including Patrick Hanjoul (Bond zonder Naam CC, Antwerp, and URI Europe President) and Elisabeth Lheure (UNESCOCAT CC, Barcelona, and URI Europe board member) have supported the bid.

We see more and more intercontinental encounters flourish:  Mussie Hailu - URI's African Coordinator from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - has visited Denmark thanks to the great work of Lone Klemmensen from the URI Aarhus CC. Lone is a Tai Chi teacher and strong interfaith leader and pioneer. Together they led a one-day-event on the Golden Rule at a school, involving 120 students, parents, teachers, staff and the public.

Father James Channan - URI's Coordinator in Pakistan - is visiting Finland and Sweden at the beginning of April for a series of lectures and visits. Heidi Rautionmaa, who is a URI pioneer in Finland, journalist and interfaith expert, has done fantastic work to make this series of events happen. Gratitude also to the URI Forum of Religions and Convictions in Helsinki with its Coordinator Lars Silén.

Now, good wishes and enjoy!



URI news

URI Europe welcomes six new CCs

With great joy we announce that six new Cooperation Circles have joined the URI Europe family. A warm welcome to

- the EECC - East-European Educational Centre College in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

- Evropress Club of Journalists in Plovdiv, Bulgaria


- Saint Apostel Hermas Center for Ecumenical Dialogue in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

- Help the Needy Foundation, Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

Father Petar Gramatikov connected these excellent organisations to URI and is their international coordinator; 

- the PRISMA Group in Antwerp, Belgium.
Rita Bouwman made the connection between the group and URI.

- the Euro-Asia CC in Novisbirsk, Siberia, Russia. 
Galina Ermolina is the Coordinator and shares the article below about Siberian culture. We will introduce the CC in the next Dialogue Letter.

It is wonderful that these six groups have joined our "circle of circles" - they are fantastic organisations. 

Please find more information about them below and have a look at the pictures and flyer.

A very WARM WELCOME to EECC,  the Evropress Club of Journaliststhe, the Saint Apostel Hermas Center for Ecumenical Dialogue, the Help the Needy Foundation, the PRISMA Group and the Euro-Asia CC !



East European Educational Center (EECC), Plovdiv, Bulgaria

The purpose of the East European Educational Center Private Professional College is to offer short term and long term qualifications. The college programme has existed 10-12 years and has proved very successful. It has been registered for 2 years now. The programme which focuses on cinema and sports is very innovative. The College gives scholarships to disadvantaged students and students coming through institutions. Our education lays emphasis on reconciliation and conflict resolution. Currently it has a membership of one hundred and eighty seven people from the traditions of Islam, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

You can download the informative flyer here: part 1 part 2

.
Evropress Club of Journalists

PURPOSE:  promoting human rights, freedom of speech

CURRENT MEMBERSHIP: 27 (twenty-seven)

TRADITIONS: Eastern Orthodox, Armeno-gregorian, humanists

DESCRIPTION OF ACTIVITIES: Professional Organization of Journalists from printed and electronic medias educating journalists in interfaith dialogue and cooperation. The members cover a lot of conferences, topics e.g. including human rights issues.

They are very much used to ethnic and religious diversity. For example recently they reported on an event by a Turkish Muslim association. The Evropress Club of Journalists is the local branch in Plovdiv of the national Bulgarian association of journalists.

Help the Needy Foundation  

PURPOSE:  support of marginalized persons and families

CURRENT MEMBERSHIP: 375 (three hundred and seventy five)

TRADITIONS: Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Muslim, Protestant Christianity

DREAM: implementation in life of religious and moral values

VALUE: Global human values

DESCRIPTION OF ACTIVITIES: The Help the Needy Foundation is a social association. It was established almost fifteen years ago.

It was the first official partner for UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees), as at that time there was no state body, which took care of refugees. They organised a lot of social programmes. They are registered as a foundation for public benefit. Since there are now government agencies doing work for refugees, the Foundation’s focus or trend is now to work with the gipsy community. There are more than 100,000 gipsies in the city of Plovdiv which has approx. 400,000 inhabitants. On December 17, 2010, the Foundation organised a conference on ethnicity and globalization. Topics included “society against violence”, “Plovdiv a city of ethnic and religious diversity” and others. They also organize the International Film Festival “BALFEST” against violence and terrorism.

 

 Saint Apostel Hermas Center for Ecumenical Dialogue




 

PURPOSE:  to promote ecumenical bi-lateral and multi-lateral dialogues

CURRENT MEMBERSHIP: 34

TRADITIONS: Eastern Orthodox, Roman- Catholic, Protestant, Atheist

DESCRIPTION OF ACTIVITIES: The Apostel Hermas Center for Ecumenical Dialogue is a center for ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. Its people  are very open-minded and very interested in interfaith dialogue. It was officially registered in the summer of 2008. They regularly collaborate with people of various faiths (next to people of various Christian traditions). - In Plovdiv there are minority communities of Muslim and Jewish background. There are rarely people of other faiths in Plovdiv. Representatives of the Jewish community are often invited to and take part in the events. Likewise for the Muslims. In summer 2010 the Center organised a first international ecumenical conference in partnership with the European association of religious men and women. Participants came from all across Europe, and some of the photos in the application come from that event, as just one example of the Center’s activities. They are used for speaking up for interfaith and ecumenical work.


PRISMA Group, Antwerp, Belgium

The purpose of the Prisma Group is to build bridges through dialogue. Members from the traditions of Roman Catholic, Bahai, Ahmadiya Muslim, Sunni Muslim, Hinduism-Vainavism, Vrye Christian meet once a month and take turns to bring a text of our different religions and explore it together. They have been meeting for three years and a half. 

 

URI Coordinator in Pakistan visiting Finland and Sweden  

Dear friends,

Father James Channan, URI Coordinator in Pakistan and a Dominican, has visited Finland and Sweden for 12 days, from March 31st – April 12th in order to attend the Social Forum and to give some lectures at universities there. The theme of the lectures at universities and at the social forum were also linked to the dialogue in Pakistan that Fr. James promotes as a URI person. 

Father James is a Pakistani Christian and Catholic priest, the head of the Dominican Order in Pakistan. At present, he is also serving as Director of the Peace Center in Lahore, a Catholic establishment of the Dominican Order in Pakistan. He is the Regional Coordinator of the United Religions Initiative Pakistan region. Pope John Paul II appointed him as Consultant for the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, at the Vatican from 1985-1995, and later on Pope John Paul appointed him as a Consultant to the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims from 2000-2005. His aim in life is to promote peace, social harmony and dialogue among believers of different religions.

Heidi Rautionmaa and friends have arranged the visit. The programme can be downloaded
here

Congratulations to Heidi Rautionmaa for her good work. And gratitude to the URI CC Forum of Religions and Convictions in Helsinki which is coordinated by Lars Silén.

 



Interviews 


 
Interview with Vjekoslav Saje (Balkan as a Soul- Bridge CC, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina)



Vjekoslav Saje (right) and Will Richard (left) from the Balkan as a Soul-Bridge CC


1) Could you please say a few sentences about your CC and the activities in the region?

As the situation in Bosnia is still undefined and tense, the economy is fading, corruption is blooming, tribal passions are growing. All these factors are creating a difficult environment for normal citizens, young people, and intellectuals. The struggle for human rights has been reduced only to ethnic/religious issues, and the protection of their constituent aspirations. Minorities and others, including myself, have been marginalized. Democracy has been hijacked by the nationalistic (Nazi) parties. To that end, our CC tries to bring people of all ages together, to organize some training workshops in problem solving and communication skills, direct them to certain projects and initiatives, including URI, give them recommendations for different universities, help them find jobs. We are happy to do this within our CC, at this point.

A few months ago the youth of Sarajevo, Banja Luka, and Brcko, gathered in Bihac for training in conflict transformation skills entitled “Hope for a Better Future: Transforming Attitudes and Building Society.” The young people came as representatives of their religious communities—Muslim, Roman Catholic, Serb Orthodox, Jewish, Protestant, and Agnostic.

After long discussions the young adults brainstormed a list of possible future projects. As they were interested in all the ideas presented, they chose to combine projects rather than dismiss one or more of the projects. The areas in which they chose to work were: 1. Broadcasting a Youth radio program, 2. Organizing a meeting of the youth of Kosovo and ex-Yugoslavia with young people from Bosnia, 3. Visiting monasteries and religious cultural sites; 4. Having a meeting with religious leaders, 5. Helping people with special needs, and 6. Developing a Youth website.  They chose to combine the visits to the religious cultural sites with the meeting with the religious leaders. To develop a work plan for these projects, the young people divided up into teams and presented their vision for the projects and what would be needed.

Also we developed a network of volunteers to assist young adults with special needs to participate in our inter-religious activities. We have organized visits with them to different religious buildings and communities in Sarajevo, Mostar, Zenica, Banja Luka, Rama and Srebrenica. One trip was organized to Serbia with a help of EU. We plan to do something similar with our friends in Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Croatia. We are keeping it a low profile at this point, as fund raising is in a real crisis at the moment.

2) Could you tell as a few sentences about your background?

I was born and brought up in a multi-cultural family of Christian and Jewish tradition in Sarajevo, a city where Jews, Christians and Moslems have lived in harmony for five centuries. I am married to a woman from the Muslim tradition and I was here with my family and friends during the siege. Even so, I did not lose hope for better days, mutual respect, and understanding to come.

To that end my main struggle has always been to cherish the best from the values of each group, and enjoy our diversity. This precious social tissue was jeopardized during the recent war, and I find it very important to engage reasonable people, teenagers and young adults in particular, in restoring these values. That is the only way to discourage evil and to try to prevail again, in future.

 

3) What inspired you to participate at URI?

The energy that I felt at our first gathering in Budapest, and the honest, open, unbiased and embracing approach to all traditions, religions and cultures in the world gave me hope that my country and my region had a chance to restore the same values, as we used to have many centuries ago. I also realized that our experience of multi-religious society and its survival during the war could inspire other people to try to build the same.

 

4)How do you evaluate the importance of interfaith activities and the impact it can have to improve mutual respect andunderstanding for one another?

I am working on projects in developing civil society in my country. I am concentrating mainly on working with young adults, providing them training in problem solving, conflict resolution and transformation, inter-religious dialogue, and on improving their communication skills. I also work with the American University from D.C. in organizing Balkan study visits for students who will be working in the fields of International Relations, conflict resolution and peacemaking.

So, this is giving me a chance to connect people from different cultures, with different experiences, and let them communicate and create some new ideas and projects. To that end many of our young people were able to participate in URI events, and also many of the young adults from different countries were able to join our interfaith initiatives, and become familiar with URI ideas. The end result of all this would be in changing attitudes, learning from each other, mutual respect, and enjoying diversity.

 

5) What is your motivation and inspiration?

During and after the war I was engaged in different conflict resolution workshops for religious communities in Bosnia, and the Balkans, and facilitated in the formation of an Inter-religious Council in the country. My motivation is to connect people who believe in the idea of co-existence and mutual respect and expose them to different challenges and experiences.

I have been traveling a lot, inside and outside BiH, meeting, working and enjoying contact with people of different ethnic, religious, or cultural backgrounds, sex and race. This is giving me inspiration to continue in networking with people with new and fresh ideas.

That is how I got in touch with people who had an idea of forming URI. I was asked by Karimah to form and bring a team of people of different religious backgrounds from Bosnia, to Budapest, to have the first joint meeting. Since then we have stayed in the same stream of building peace together, with different means.

 

   Read the full interview here

 

Interview with Josef Kral and Blana Czerna who participated in the Istanbul Conference last year and is currently planning to found a new CC in the Czech Republic

     

Josef Kral (left) and Blanka Czerna (right)

     

 
Josef Kral: 

1) Could you please say a few sentences about your background and about how you came to URI as well as a few sentences about your experience at the Istanbul Conference and what an impact it had?


If we could divide URI people in to three categories: (1) "old dogs" who have known URI for a long time, and who  meet many CC/s around them, (2) "regular CC practitioners" who have got to know URI somehow and have CCs in  their home towns, and (3) "pioneers" who are now getting into the URI family and know no CCs around them, then we come under number 3. We don’t know any CC here, and we are always looking around to see if we will get to know someone. I will describe what I feel about my past. I was born into a truly religious family and I was brought up under such good circumstances that I had the chance to be in contact with many people practicing different religious during my childhood. M mother is Catholic and my father an (esoteric) humanist with a strong commitment to selflessgiving. One day in my last year of elementary school I found my father's hand transcript of the Basic Buddha's Word book at the top of the house-. (It was also quite interesting because at those times there was still communism in our country.) I read the whole book and thought about it many times when I met people of different religious practices. Life in a neighborhood of different religious people seems to be my life’s destiny. My best friend from university is Protestant, and our best friend in our volunteer-centre is Bahai. But during my life I have also met those of different spiritual orientation, I have also met many propagating xenophobic and frightening people, who argue that all "false-believers" will go to hell. Because I stepped into the Buddhist-perspective early on this seemed to me to be even much more like a horrorparody. I have never understood such xenophobia, but in daily life I have had to meet it frequently.

As I grew up it came into my mind that like any spiritual-guidance there must be some organization which offers the warm glow of non-xenophobic inter-religious "tolerance". (Friendship). I had summary experience, that (maybe only in the Czech Republic) only individuals have the energy to promote non-xenophobic friendship, and when someone needs to prove his/her searches for orientation, then such inspiration from individuals doesn’t have enough power for him/her. I was searching with my own small means for a long-long time; and after around (let us say) 10 years, I found URI on the internet. I contacted URI by email, and something like a miracle happened: Karimah welcomed me pragmatically and precisely. I should like to say a new life started –!

In Istanbul  we were lucky to be welcomed there. The journey had two main goals for me: to verify my opinion about URI as an organization of real quality and to understand organizational details. I discovered both there. (I had two personal side-goals: to meet URI-oriented Buddhists there and to step into any international action-plan if it could be possible.) These side-goals did not come to fruition, but even as such, I made progress in both. In Istanbul I achieved the  next goal which I had not thought about much before the quest started: to set up an own action-plan for my-local Brno. I started to think about that seriously and it is progressing, too. So as such we can say in "action-plan" terms. But in my personal daily life - my heart received some "non-action" input, which is much more important:for me it was like an oasis for me. We work with Blaniczka volunteers in a hospital for old people. There with other volunteers we feel something which one can sometimes feel in happy homes In families where  unconditional love prevails: the – acceptance of the heart’s fragility. This impression is most important for us. We are little bit hungry for that in meetings in the "spiritual communities" which we sometimes meet. But there we too frequently meet that xenophobia. In Istanbul I personally met a living community which goes forward towards this heart’s fragility and to humanity of heartswhich seems sustainable and strong. It is so important in comparison to what I have described.  Individual people "encourage" what it is like if we want to use lightning-flashes instead of sun-shine : that is too weak in the encounter with organized xenophobic propaganda).

I returned from Istanbul with the experience that organization focused on inter-religious friendship can exist. It is so different from my previous state where I was able to tell both friends and opponents that "I hope I am not alone in feeling non-xenophobic friendship as a spiritual call". (One says, ‘oh, Joseph, you are nice but my priest said "be careful, you will go to hell if you meet those others"’.) Now, it is very different. The second thing is support. I must say I got many important quotations, addresses and contacts with URI engaged organizations, and this helps me regarding details, and can also help me in progress.

2) Could you please give us a few sentences about your current activities and the plans and activities you plan in the future? Maybe you could also tell us about the first event you organized?

From the beginning when I started to think about the Czech action-plan, I saw "Czech specifics"; I will summarize it in terms of atomistic "own-yard" propaganda. (In Buddhism it could be called "my-me-mind".) It is not accidental that only  in the Czech Republic there is no CC yet. So my vision is to work patiently in the long-term and on more domains in parallel. I am slowly contacting people around Brno who are interested in inter-faith and my goal is "to stay in touch with them until some strong inspiration, or chance comes". We had something like an "Istanbul exhibition party" in our home. We were around ten people and the goal was to talk about that personally from the heart. I think it was very good and it opened a chance to be in contact with people who were really interested enough. There were many very interesting people there. (Usually the most hopeful and helpful ones are those whose time is most filled). One of them is planning to organise a small talk in a summer ‘philosophical’ camp. We are both very much looking forward to this. For now we are actually about five, and the "chance" which I see in the nearest future is the great offer of Karimah, that she could come to the Czech Repbulic. I'd like to treat it here as a chance to "organize something together" - to make a program together for such a workshop with those five people in cooperation. We will see what will grow from that. 

 

3) How do you evaluate the importance of interfaith activities and the impact it can have to improve mutual respect/understanding for one another?

I feel "interfaith activities" as a possible principal resource for what is now so much happening in the Western world: the " integration fault of minorities ". We must all understand that non-integrated enclaves occur because of xenophobia. We must understand that particular folklore traditions are different from understanding and practising humanity. It is so important and clear. Any tradition (spiritual or even materialistic) is a technique to access wellness ("Peace"). Some do it in some aspects more effectively, some less. Of course we should mainly respect techniques of the hosting country. But what we must understand is that one tradition meeting a different tradition in the field where both respecthumanity, then there is no more need for fear. The principal of "tolerance" has been distorted. (The propaganda of everywhere-rivalry has distorted the term tolerance - to the meaning of "to ignore violence and imperialism". The interfaith activities which I encountered in URI  are very pure. The principle of secure trust and appreciation in the field of humanity is very well cared for there. This principle could be very helpful in our intimate daily lives, but only setting-up CC-like long-term projects can help to make it visible to people who are outside. I must add that interfaith activities (as I saw at the Istanbul meeting) are not only "spiritual" in nature. Those could also be such "worldly" occupations (as cooking), or "entertaining" (like movies and camps) – those can all make visible that spirituality is not for imperialism but to encourage selfless kindness, an open heart, humanistic appreciation. (No-one could believe any spiritual evangelist if s/he does not reject a taste for dominance and xenophobia (or even violence). Spiritualitiy must do something real to show their “real” label quality" otherwise they will be legitimately criticized as fakes.)

"Impact to mutual respect"? It is impact towards this because it is the practice of mutual respectandunderstanding for one another. Furthermore; my opinion is that the only way to improve mutual understanding is to practise it. So interfaith activities are an important choice for that.

 

   Read the full interview here

 

 

 Blanka Czerna: 

  

Blanka Czerna (right) and Josef Kral (left)

My background: 

During my childhood I spent most of the time in a Christian (Catholic) context but I have never felt it was my true way. - - I feel the heritage of Jesus is very inspiring - to help other people, compassion, forgiveness,  but I didn't see it in the real community life of my town.

When I got to the university I started to volunteer in the hospital (first for children, now for old people). It filled my soul and heart so much, that now I can call it my way – as a volunteer and humanist. During the same time I met Pepa and he showed me the world of engaged Buddhism and meditation. So this has had a big impact on my life, too.

The conference in Istanbul:

 It was a great time: a lot of people with the same priorities in one place. The possibility to share feelings, get feedback, inspire myself through the activities of others. It is extremely hard to find people who understand, here in my country. Usually they are just caught by their religion and they don't want to share anything, or they don't feel any spirituality in their life. And in Istanbul I spoke with Chrisitians who say: “Do what you do, that's right. It was nice”.

It was very inspiring for me to hear about so many types of activities which are happening. I saw a lot of them as an inspiration for our Republic (I hope one day we will succeed )

Our future plan:

 A very future plan is to create an inter-generation center - for sharing experiences, humanity, spirituality, diversity.

A not so far away plan is to have public talks, or to make "invitation lunches" a few times a year - for example, people from some tradition invite people from another tradition to their home for lunch. They can talk, share and later we can share all the lunch-time stories through the website.

Our first event:

Our first event was a meeting of interested people in our flat. We said everything about our URI experience, we shared our history and spiritual way and we made a quick brainstorming about potential future activities of our CC.

Interfaith activities: 

I feel it so very important for peaceful living on our Earth. Because when people meet and break the barriers it slowly moves towards the place where there is only overall rigidity. As if later someone starts a speech against another faith, the one who has living experience with that one can say “You are wrong! I know these people and they are as human as we are”. This is so needed in our country. And interfaith activities can increase what we share - help to the poor, compassion, wisdom, peace.

Inspiration and motivation: 

Regular meetings of Long Term Care Hospital where you can see real life (without any games, money, falsehood, fighting.) - the basics of humanity, which show me the way of peace and understanding every time.

I believe in a world full of tolerance (but not tolerance/intolerance!) and sharing. And through the experience in Istanbul I see it's not just a silly dream. It will happen somewhere, I would like to join.

The biggest challenge: 

To find people who will be interested. Find the kind of activity which will be the right one (how to find it?)

The nicest experience: 

I had a very strong meeting three years ago. It was with my great friend who is a Catholic. I mentioned about Pepa, that he is a Buddhist. And within a few moments her face, her whole behaviour changed. She started to tell me something about the danger of this, about hell, the devil, about all the stories she had heard about it. Our situation became very uncomfortable. I was very sad. There was no understanding, no sharing, no touching of reality. There was just propaganda against everything which is different. We said goodbye with our souls shaken to the very core.

During the night she wrote me an sms: You are my very good friend and Pepa (Josef Kral) is a very kind man. Our friendship cannot die on the difference between our beliefs.

From that time I feel this person as the nearest to me from a spiritual point of view. She didn't become Buddhist and I didn't become Catholic - we can stay next to each other with understanding - we are going along another path, but we go along it with an open and warm heart, open eyes and hands prepared to help.

 

 

Activities of URI Co-operation Circles

Unescocat/URI world interfaith harmony week

By Elisabeth Lheure

 


 

 

The event took place at Unescocat in Barcelona with almost 70 participants who reflected and discussed the effective role of the religions for the development the Millennium Objectives. We presented a recent public action – elaborated by one of our interfaith groups, who worked for almost two years with regular meetings; each member of this group identified Sacred Texts of his/her religious tradition related to each of the eight goals that the UN and the international community has set itself for this millennium.

It has been very interesting to see how believers from different traditions (in this case, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Muslims, Sikhs and Bahá’ís)  and also “non believers”, taking advantage of the World Interfaith Harmony Week, demonstrated once more that they are willing to work for the  recognition of “ the imperative need for dialogue among different faiths and religions in enhancing mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation “.





URI UK CC celebrating its tenth anniversary

An extract from an email by URI global's Executive Director, Charles Gibbs, about an event hosted by URI UK CC  

 

....

Wednesday, 10 February 2011,....was the center of my trip – a day hosted by the URI UK, bringing together members, current and potential partners, and representatives of URI Europe and the global URI to receive an extended briefing on URI UK’s innovative work as it renews itself with seven new trustees, average age 34. In addition, we heard about the good work of the others present.

......

After breakfast, we traveled through rainy, clogged London streets to the site of the URI UK convening – St. Ethelburga Church, which in its not too distant past was bombed by the Irish Republican Army and then rebuilt as a place to promote peace and interfaith harmony.  

 

 

After welcoming remarks, we were paired up for appreciative dialogue. I had the privilege of being paired with one of the URI UK’s new trustees, an inspiring young woman named Anita Nayyar. Anita, who runs her own consultancy company focused on promoting positive collaboration, is a one-woman interfaith movement. Her father is Hindu; her mother Christian. Anita grew up Christian and, after a period of spiritual seeking, ended up converting to Islam. She brings a bright and deep spirit, as well as impressive professional expertise to her role as trustee. If Anita is an example of the quality its new leadership, URI UK has an exciting and effective future ahead. Since Matthew Youde, URI’s interim director of our Young Leaders Program, is also one of the new trustees it seems clear that this group will inspire and be inspired by our global youth network.

 

URI UK founder, Malcolm Stonestreet, and Anne Vance, another remarkably competent woman who serves as the chief executive for URI UK, provided a compelling picture of URI UK’s future, based on an innovative program called Faith in the Community, in which the URI UK works with a partner organization, such as a housing association or local authorities, to help the partner organization meet government mandated requirements aimed at weaving new social fabric to promote social cohesion in increasingly diverse communities.

 

The program has five stages:  

An in-house assessment with the partner organization
An in-house diversity workshop/training
A program called “Seeing is Believing” that takes key community stakeholders on a bus tour of diverse local faith communities
A “Faith Evening” program that creates a structured appreciative encounter among members of diverse faith communities
A program called “Spirit of the Nation” in which young people document the community’s diversity in photographs, which leads to a photo exhibition, often opened by the mayor of the local community and leads to a book of photos that is shared broadly in the community
 

    Read full article on the URI Europe website

 

International Women's Day

by Kiran Bali, coordinator of Faith2Faith CC

 

                                                                                   

 

Women of all faiths staged a procession through the town centre in
Huddersfield to mark International Women's day
Chairman of the Huddersfield Interfaith Council and member of Faith 2 Faith CC, Kiran Bali said  "The event endorsed the role of women towards creating a healthy society and securing a bright, safe and
rewarding future. Whilst recognising that inequalities and
discrimination still persist, our focus was to celebrate the
contribution that women make to daily life.
As women of faith, we are empowered by our spirituality which emanates
positivity and healing throughout society."

The event concluded at the Huddersfield Parish church with discussions
and prayers for the victims of the natural disasters in Japan.

 


Ammerdown - Three Faith Summer School

 

Note: The Jewish Christian Muslim Summer School has taken place every two years since 1991.

               

With the support of the URI Bill Bowes Award the DMLB CC could financially enable nine young leaders to attend the event. Their presence was mutually enriching and very enjoyable. The young leaders came from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Turkey and the UK. 

Deep gratitude goes out to URI and the Bowes family for making this project possible.

 

 

The Three Faiths Summer School takes place at Ammerdown, near Bath, in the UK and is co-organised by an interreligious leadership team: Rabbi Dr. Michael Hilton, Prof. Ursula King, Sheikh Bashir Ahmad Dultz, Benedicte Scholefield and Jane Ozanne - all of them wonderful people who are contributing on many levels. The sponsoring organsations for the event are the Ammerdown Centre, the Kol Chai Hatch End Jewish Community and the German Muslim-League Bonn (DMLB).

 

 

All leaders and participants expressed how enriching they found the inter-generational, international mix - and are committed to continuing to support young people to participate.

 

The next Three Faiths Summer School will take place on July 3 - 9, 2012, at Ammerdown. The topic will be “Pilgrimage in the Three Faiths”.

 

 

 

Three Faiths School Ammerdown, July 7-13, 2010

by Ema Smajic, Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, URI Youth Ambassador 2011

Ammerdown Summer School will always be something that I’ll remember with a smile. That beautiful school, placed in beautiful woods in England, a perfect place for learning, and gaining new experiences. It truly is a place of spiritual growth and relaxation. I could go on and on, on just how peaceful the centre was. As I said a perfect place to meditate and think about spirituality and interfaith dialogue.

 

Every day started with  meditation in the chapel and  breakfast, and then all participants were ready for lectures and debates. Every morning we had lectures about places of worship in those three religions, buzz groups and just enough time to ask everything we wanted. And it was always interesting to compare places of worship in all religions. On the first day we had sacred dancing, which really inspired me, because I am a dancer, it was so peaceful. That was followed by a little break for lunch, and then some singing sessions, art workshops etc., and everything to help us to get to know each other and to prepare to learn about our, and others’ religions. The programme was designed wonderfully, just enough time for everyone to rest and work. I was mostly impressed by our small outing to Bristol where we were able to see religion in “action”. It was nice to see how people respect religion in different ways and try to cooperate with other religions. It was nice to see what difficulties they’re facing, how they deal with them, and compare it to the situation in our community.

 

This conference really gave me enough time to think about my doubts, and what’s more important to share them with others and not feel ashamed, because this conference was full of great people working together without discrimination, and all in one goal- for peace.

 

Friendships I made there will last a long time, I am sure. It didn’t take long to make them and it was such a beautiful change from the rush of the 21st century where we don’t have time to meet new people and think about what we can do to make a difference. Of course this conference didn’t solve all problems, but it sure is a start.

 

I am delighted and honored that I was part of this beautiful gathering, I hope I contributed, but I can say only one thing: if the goal was to make friends with different backgrounds, learn about differences, respect them and think about what we can do to make a change, then this summer school is a great –SUCCESS!

 

Special thanks to the Sheikh Bashir, Chadigah, Sabri, Aminah and Karimah who made sure everything was in order.

 

 

Ammerdown – Three Faiths Summer School

by Ilva-Lisanne Goltz, Langenfeld, Germany

The time at the Ammerdown Three Faiths Summer School was one of the most valuable experiences in my life. It was the cooperation of many elements during this week to make it so precious for me.

Our accommodation was one of the best I have ever seen. The Ammerdown Centre is placed in the middle of the idyllic country in Western England. The countryside was lovely and you were always able to find a place of quiet and peace. The centre took perfect care of us on every level, including clean and comfortable rooms, the most delicious food and kind and warm guidance through the whole week. For that reason, with all possible needs covered, I was able to concentrate on the thing I came for: the interfaith dialogue.

I learned so much in the Summer School about the three Abrahamic religions, including my own. All our faiths are rooted in the same point, they have just all developed differently. This year’s topic “Places Of Worship” helped me to understand that. For this topic presentations were prepared from one person of each faith introducing their place of worship. We visited all of them on a trip to Bristol which we made close to the end of the week. It was a nice highlight. The different places of worship underlined the difference between these three faiths. We all see God differently, pray to Him differently and adjust our everyday life differently to Him. Still we all believe in the same God.

That was all that mattered to the participants. I met so many great people of every age and every religion.
Because of the URI Bowes Award grant the spectrum of the participants grew much wider because it enabled many younger persons to join the conference, which has mainly been visited by older people during the last years. Also the conference has become really multicultural, because the young people there came from all over Europe. Still I experienced a sense of community in the Summer School. Everybody was friendly and always open for a conversation. Young and old from different countries and with different backgrounds exchanged experiences in small groups after the presentations, during lunch or in the free time outside in the beautiful gardens of Lord Hilton, the owner of that beautiful property.

 

I really took part in a lot of new experiences, which ranged from joining the Islamic Dhikr and thedaily prayers to making bread for the Shabbath celebration. At workshops offered by the centre I discovered I had unknown capabilities of painting, dancing and singing songs which I had never heard before. And I made many new friends.

I am very grateful that this opportunity to participate was given to me and I would like to support the interfaith dialogue now myself.

    

 

Brussels to host the Parliament of the World's Religions in 2014



Brussels - the capital of the Belgians and of 500,000,000 Europeans - has been chosen as the host city of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 2014. The selection of Brussels was made by the Board of Trustees of the governing organization at its March 13, 2011 meeting in Chicago. 

Special congratulations go to Martin Gurvich (Convictions in Dialogue CC and URI Europe board) who has been very active in promoting the Brussels bid for the Parliament and has worked on it consistently over several months! Various URI members, including Patrick Hanjoul (Bond zonder Naam CC and URI Europe President) and Elisabeth Lheure (UNESCOCAT CC and URI Europe board member) have supported the bid.

 

 

More than 10,000 people from diverse religious, spiritual and convictional traditions will participate in the 2014 Parliament, which will last for 7 days and will comprise more than 500 programs, workshops and dialogues, alongside music, dance, artistic exhibitions and related events hosted by religious communities and cultural institutions. Since the historic 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago, modern Parliaments have been held in Chicago (1993), Cape Town (1999), Barcelona (2004) and Melbourne (2009). These periodic Parliament events are the world’s oldest and largest interreligious gatherings.

As the capital of the European Union, Brussels is a microcosm of the challenges and possibilities present in an increasingly multi-religious and multi-cultural continental society. Historical and geo-political dynamics connect Brussels and Europe to the rest of the world in powerful ways that have far-reaching implications.

 

The compelling global case for a Parliament in Brussels was amplified by the urgent need to address the issue of social cohesion in Europe and other regions experiencing religious, cultural and ethnic diversity. The role of Brussels as the capital of the European Union provides a regional and international reach, and taps into widespread dynamics that ultimately impact every corner of the world. The potential for social unrest or social transformation, at this pivotal moment in history, was the final determining factor in answering the question: Why Brussels? Why now?

Mr. Miquel Mesquita da Cunha, chair of the bid committee noted that “…although the established name of Parliament of the World’s Religions is to be cherished, the process involves not just religions but also in a wider sense spiritualities and convictions. Similarly, although senior leaders and thinkers from diverse traditions will speak at the event, the Parliament is very much for people from all walks of life – a feast for everyone!”
 

In the three years ahead, the 2014 Parliament program will be developed in close consultation with religious and convictional leaders and communities in Brussels itself, across Europe, and from around the world, so that the event reflects the perspectives and priorities of all faiths and persuasions.
 

The Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belgium, the Government of the Brussels Capital Region and the Brussels City Hall, as well as a number of religious, social and academic leaders and communities in the country, supported the Brussels Bid.

In making this selection the Council emphasized its commitment to continuing a relationship with the other two finalists to host the international gathering.  The Council will work with local organizers to extend the reach of Guadalajara as a bridge for the interreligious movement to all of Latin America. The Council will approach Dallas-Fort Worth to consider developing together a dynamic model for fostering social cohesion in the US context.

The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions is an international, non-sectarian, non-profit organization, established in 1988 to host the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions. The office of the Council is located in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

 

Galina Ermolina: impressions about the Altai Region, Russia

 

Galina Ermolina from Russia is currently planning to register a new CC called “Northern Asia” in the Altai region in Russia.Galina Ermolina lives in Novosibirsk. She is a Doctor of the International Slavonic Academy and a member of Living Ethic group. She studied at the Institute of Foreign languages (teacher, interpreter) and has a Diploma of Journalism. She has stopped her teaching career and has devoted herself to the activity of “spiritual bridge Altai-India” and the world around.

 

Galina Ermolina (left)

 

 

              Kizhi Kizhile Bai ( A man is rich in a man)

               

“From Altai- White Faith will spread and will overwhelm the minds of half of humanity.”

                                                                       (from Nostradamus predictions)

 

 

" It is strange and  mysterious - wherever you go the people praise Altai. They say that the mountains are beautiful here, the cedars are mighty, the rivers are impetuous and the flowers are amazing. Some say that in spring, a particular kind of red lily blooms in Altai. Where does this general worshipping of Altai come from?"– these words  Nikolai     Roerich, the world famous Russian painter, writer,  philosopher, whose Initiative “Pact of Peace”, known as “Pact of Roerich” was signed in 1935 in Washington, -wrote after his International Trans Siberian expedition.

    Realizing that in spite of the great popularity among some people, Altai is still not much known to the rest of the world, I decided to give a summary about the main characteristic features of this region and its people.

    Republic Gornyi Altai (High land Altai) is situated in the Southern part of Siberia, it has borders with a few countries: Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Tuva, Khakasia. It attracts and surprises. Nowadays it is rapidly becoming a place of pilgrimage. The people from all over the world come here and each one finds his/her place of attraction here. Some come to Altai to honor Mother-Nature, “to recharge the batteries”, to relax in beauty, to be purified in the most pristine energies, the others want to experience extreme sports. 

Hymn to Altai has been sung in thousands of stories, poems and songs.

      Altai has been inhabited from ancient times due to it’s geographical position on the crossroads of many nations. Archeologists claim that the territory was inhabited from 690 thousand up to 1.4 million years ago. In the later Stone Age the banks of Katun river used to be the most densely inhabited places in Siberia. By the way, the name of the sacred river  “Katun” means “woman”. The people of the so called" Afanasyevskaya culture"( at the end of the 2nd-beginning of the 3rd millennium B.C.) were Europeans and till the invasion of the Turkic, the native people looked more like Europeans. (Scythians period). Actually the people's appearance depends on the local geophysical conditions. The Russians, for instance, after 2-3 centuries of life in Siberia got typical Siberian broad cheek-bones, even without  cross-marriages.

     Altai was both -a cultural periphery as well as a center. Original "Pazyryk" culture of Altai(5-2 century B.C.) stands out from all the others. Rather recently it became the place of an archeological sensation, when well-preserved mummies were found in permafrost kurgans. A Nomadic life style with the main principal of not being attached to anything,- became the dominating one.

Nomads were changing themselves and renewed life around them very rapidly. Starting from the 6th century Gorny Altai became a part of Turkic Kaganat.

   In the course of time Altai people have forgotten their Turkic written language. The Altai-Turkic people today seem to be unaware of the fact that their ancestors considered a she-wolf to be their fore-mother. Heavenly Ulgen is recognized to be the Father.

    Uigur Kaganat followed the Turkic state in the 8th century, and in 840 the Uigurs were conquered by Kirghiz people from Yenisey. Oguzy contributed their input in the cultural development of the Northern Altai in 8-10 century. Then there were Kidani-tribes, who were drawn from Altai by Naiman tribes, defeated by herds of Tatar-Mongols in 1207.The Altai territory used to belong to the Golden Horde, then-to the White Horde and to Siberian Khanate. In the middle of the 17th century, Altai was ruled by Dzhungaria. This brought crisis to the Altai nation which was on the verge of disappearing, when the Chinese people of the Manchurian Dynasty killed almost all the population of Dzhungaria Khanate. The Altai people were saved only due to adhesion to Russia in 1756 (the Northern Altai people did it earlier, in 1625).

 

According to the language and some other features Turkic can be considered to be ancestors of Altai people. Besides those from above, some other tribes of Northern Altai, such as Tubalary, Chelkantsy, Kumandintsy have a lot in common with ancient Northern Siberian tribes (Ugro-Finnish, Camodiyiskiy and Ketskiy) on a genetic and life-style level. They were mostly hunters. As for the Southern tribes (Altai-Kizhi, Telengity,Tyelyesy and Teleuts), they were horse-riders, breeding cattle; the Mongolian tribes during their rule changed them on the genetic level. Actually there is one language and one nation. In the past differences happened mostly due to migration of some tribes or part of tribes to remote places. The historians revealed that almost all the Southern Altai people considered themselves to be one tribe "Altai-Kizhi", which means nothing more than "a man from Altai".

        Old-believers were the first Russian people to come to Altai in the 18th century to settle there. They taught Altai nomadic people how to live a settled life, to work in fields, to breed cattle and to keep bees. Russian peasants were not allowed to settle in Gornyi Altai until 1818 ,because for a long time Altai territory was a kind of neutral territory between Russia and China. Nowadays 50 % of the population is Russian here.

 The Altai written language was created on the base of Cyrillic alphabet. The fact of its absence for more than one thousand years was compensated by the oral tradition. It was considered as obligatory to recollect the family ancestors till the 7th generation. There were outstanding poets even without a written language.

 

From this observation one can get an idea that Altai really is a “melting pot”- a place of the greatest diversity in Oneness, where people of different minorities, tribes/syoks, beliefs and ways of life manage to live together for a long period of time. Even nature reflects this diversity, so different are the ten regions of Altai. One of the possible translations of the word  Altai is “ my multi-images God”.

 This all-levels diversity has affected  the religious beliefs of the people here. During the Soviet time religious issues were under restrictions, but I wouldn’t say that it was a severe restriction, we had churches only in big cities, and who says that spirituality lives only in churches? People have never forgotten their spiritual roots, I spent my young years in Zabaikalye (a region behind Baikal) and remember that in childhood  we celebrated old pagan Festivals, combined with Russian Orthodox Christianity; for us children especially it was a great fun, and nobody prohibited doing it. Many of us, Russians, learnt about Altai due to the ideas of Agni Yoga Teaching, given through the Roerich family, which is actually a Synthesis of Science, Religion and Culture. I started to visit Altai in 1992 and since then go there very often, have many friends on the personal and social levels. One of my friends there is Nikolai Shodoev-the former school teacher in a small village of Altai; he created a unique village Museum of Altai Bilik (wisdom) and Ethnography, which comprises a great number of ethnographic exhibits along with material on Spiritual research. He has written a few books on “Bilik”, and I helped him to have them translated into German, an English variant, but which have not yet been published.

      Read more here
 

 

We thank you for your interest, participation
and for your good work for peace, justice and healing!                  


Karimah Stauch
URI Europe Co-ordinator

and the URI Europe Executive Committee:
Kiran Bali , United Kingdom
Sheikh Bashir Ahmad Dultz, Germany
Martin Gurvich, Belgium
Patrick Hanjoul, Belgium
Louis Mentens, Belgium
Elisabeth Lheure, Catalonia/Spain
Deepak Naik , United Kingdom
Patrick Nickisch, Belgium/Germany

 


Contents of this edition:
 

URI News
*URI welcomes new CCs:
*EECC, Bulgaria
*Evropress Club of Journalists
*Help the Needy Foundation
*Saint Apostel Hermas Center for Ecumenical Dialogue, Bulgaria
*PRISMA Group, Belgium
*Euro-Asia CC, Siberia, Russia

*URI Coordinator in Pakistan visiting Finland and Sweden

Interviews 
*Interview with Vjekoslav Saje (Balkan as a Soul-Bridge CC, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
*Interview with Josef Kral and Blanka Czerna

Activities of URI Co-operation Circles:
*Unescocat/URI world interfaith harmony week
*URI UK CC celebrating its tenth anniversary
*International Women's Day
*Ammerdown - Three Faith Summer School
*Galina Ermolina: impressions about the Altai Region, Russia

Join URI 
Interested in Interfaith Peace Work? Become a URI Member!
You can register an interfaith Cooperation Circle:
you just need a minimum of 7 members from 3 religions, spiritual expressions or indigenous traditions and support the URI Charter.
Individuals can become supporting or affiliate members.


Quick links:
URI Europe Homepage
Plans and Activities
European Interfaith CC News
Global Interfaith News
URI Charter
Join URI
Why join URI?
Found a Co-operation Circle


URI Europe Executive Committe:
Kiran Bali, United Kingdom 
Sheikh Bashir Ahmad Dultz, Germany 
Martin Gurvich, Belgium 
Patrick Hanjoul, Belgium 
Elisabeth Lheure, Catalonia/Spain 
Louis Mentens, Belgium 
Deepak Naik, United Kingdom 
Patrick Nickisch, Belgium/Germany
Karimah Stauch, Germany  

Coordinator: 
Karimah Stauch

Assistants to the Coordinator:
Aminah Bach
Ahlam Elyassir




European Co-operation Circles (CCs):

Basque Country/Spain:
* GUNE, Gipuzkoa

  Belgium:
* URI Europe CC, Antwerp
*
Bond zonder Naam CC, Antwerp
* Convictions en dialogue CC, Septon
* PRISMA Group, Antwerp
*VPiD (Vlaams Partnership voor Interlevensbeschouwelijke Dialoog - Flemish Partnership for Inter Religious Dialogue)

Bosnia and Herzegovina :
* Balkan as a Soul-Bridge CC, Sarajevo

Bulgaria :
* EECC (East-European Educational Centre College), Plovdiv
*Evropress Club of Journalists
*Saint Apostel Hermas Center for Ecumenical Dialogue

Catalonia/Spain:
*
UNESCOCAT - Centre UNESCO de Catalunya / AUDIR - Associació UNESCO per al Diàleg Interreligiós CC

Denmark:
*
URI Aarhus CC, Aarhus

Finland :
* Forum of Religions in Turku CC, Turku
* Religious Forum in Helsinki, Helsinki
* URI's Christian-Muslim Circle of Helsinki CC, Helsinki

France :
* Pacific Teams CC / PISEF, Moissy Cramayel

Germany :
*
German Muslim-League Bonn CC / DMLBonn CC, Bonn
* Unitheum CC, Bad Zwischenahn
* URI Berlin CC, Berlin
*
URI Germany CC, Bonn

Italy : 
*
Building Real Interfaith Dialogue through Glocal Encounters (BRIDGE), Rome

Netherlands:
* Interfaith Dialogue Utrecht CC, Utrecht 
*
Steering Committe URI the Netherlands, Amsterdam
* SNTL - Procesbegeleidersgroep Samenwerkingsverband Traumahulpverlening, Amsterdam
* Women’s Group IJsselstroom Zwolle and surroundings, Zwolle

Romania:
* URI Romania - Int'l Ecumenical Center CC, Bukarest

Russia :
* Euro-Asia CC, Novosibirsk

* Religions for Humanity CC, Moscow

Tajikistan  :
* Center for Peace and Dialogue of Cultures, Dushanbe 

Turkey:
* Society for Intercultural Research and Frienship (SIRF), Ankara

United Kingdom:
* Ahimsa for Quality of Life CC, London
* Faith2Faith CC, Huddersfield
*
Minorities of Europe CC, Coventry
*
URI-UK CC, Keswick, Cumbria


URI Recognitions and Awards
:

*The United Religions Initiative (URI) has a consultative status at the United Nations (DPI and ECOSOC)

*URI's "Travelling Peace Academy" was chosen by the Rio Forum (28-29 May, 2010 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) of the UN Alliance of Civilizations as one of the ten most innovative and successful grassroots initiatives aimed at promoting mutual understanding among people and cultures

*In November 2007 URI Europe was awarded with the "Golden Stars Award" of the European Commission, Directorate-General for Education and Culture. The award was handed to URI by EU Commissioner Ján Figel in Brussels.

 

 

We unite to provide a global opportunity for participation by all people, especially by those whose voices are not often heard.

 

Nos unimos para ofrecer una opoortunidad mundial de participación a todas las personas, sobretodo aquellas cuyas voces pocas veces pueden oírse. (Spanish)