By Joyce Gan
SINGAPORE - Nine religious leaders - Hindu, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Taoist, Jain, Muslim, Sikh, Baha'i and Christian - were at the Church of St. Mary of the Angels on Friday Oct 27 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the first Assisi gathering of different religious representatives called by Pope John Paul II in 1986 to pray for world peace.
Right, this is a 1986 file photo of the interfaith prayer gathering in the Italian town of Assisi, which brought world religious leaders together to pray for peace in the face of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. From left are Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, Orthodox Archbishop Methodios of Thyateira/Great Britain, Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama. CNS file photo
The Jewish representative in Singapore was absent because it was the eve of the Sabbath but more than 300 other people joined the religious leaders to pray for world peace. This event was organized by the Franciscan Friars "who have a tradition of ecumenical dialogue", said Franciscan Friar John Wong.
The nine religious representatives led prayers according to their own religious traditions - some with hymns and others with chants.
Carmelite Father Thomas Curran, who represented Christianity, prayed that God would "take away human division and take away our hearts of stone" to pave the way for peace.
Giani Ranjit Singh from the Central Sikh Temple said that "Sikhs in our daily prayers always seek good health and happiness for everyone â€¦ [and] on behalf of Sikhs worldwide, we join our Catholic friends in our prayers for world peace".
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Ameerali Abdeali, President of the Muslim Kidney Action Association, observed in his address to the gathering that "each party in any conflict feel that God is on their side". "I believe that there are good and bad people on every side and God is on the side of the good people," he said. All peace-loving people want wars to end, though that, alone, does not bring peace either because we soon get caught up in day-to-day anxieties, worries and fears, he added. "There are many ways to experience peace but mainly through surrendering ourselves to the will of God."
In Islam this internal discovery is "jihad", he said. "Jihad" is commonly misunderstood as war but that is only "jihad" on a small scale, he explained. The greater "jihad" is the internal struggle within, he continued. "Jihad" embraces all kinds of striving towards God; it could be the fighting of evil in our own hearts or standing up for justice, said Mr Abdeali. He advised the gathering that "we can learn from each other and, most certainly, care for each other".
Toward the end of the gathering, the different faith representatives were invited to light up eight lighting points in the "Garden of Peace", the park area that faces the main church, the idea being "to work together to bring the light of harmony and God's goodness into the world", explained Friar John Wong.
Then the rest of the people lit their tealights and placed them into a pool as a sign of their commitment to bring peace to the world. Even after the ceremony ended, people lingered at the pool to watch the flickering flames reflected in the water, a pleasing symbol of interfaith harmony.
At the end of the prayer gathering, those present lit candles which they placed in a pool of water as a sign of their commitment to bring peace to the world. Photo by Xavier Chung