Father Antonio Eguiguren, OFM, listens on as participants dialogue within the group.
Photo by Joyce Gan

SINGAPORE – Saturday Nov 21 was a day when voices across different religions and cultures spoke on a unified theme – peace.

That was the day Church of St. Mary of the Angels held their inaugural interfaith event, Voices of Peace 2009, with the support of the Taoist Federation Youth Group and Harmony Centre from An-Nahdhah Mosque.

The event aimed to provide an engaging platform or “voice” for an intensive day of dialogue and activities focusing on peace as presented from both interfaith and secular perspectives across individual lives, community, and the world-at-large, said organisers.

Speakers included faith leaders giving their religious perspectives on peace, non-government organisations like World Youth Alliance and Mercy Relief sharing their peace-building efforts, as well as interfaith organisations like Explorations Into Faith (EIF).

There was also a photographic and artistic exhibition that used visual arts to express peace.

About 90 participants from various religious and cultural backgrounds shifted from room to room at St. Clare Hall, moving through the day’s schedule of talks.

Charlene Sim, main organiser at Church of St. Mary of the Angels, said they wanted to “entice participants with variety and diversity in exploring the topic of peace as shared from as many faith perspectives and even from the perspective of organisations involved in social justice”.

However, Voices of Peace 2009 is not meant to be a “one-off, feel-good” event.

The organisers hope that the event can “gain enough momentum to self-generate more smaller-scale but regular activities to delve deeper into an interfaith dialogue of peace” because, as Ms Sim described, “peace is a topic common to all faiths”.

When asked if the event attracted only like-minded people with common interfaith interest, participants said dialogue remained important as the first step towards unity.

Said Karen Teoh from EIF: “Actions always stem from ideals; if we can get the ideals formed, then we can move forward. One person cannot do very much but more is an arm.”

A believer in the importance of interfaith dialogue, Pat De-Souza said because “religions come from different perspectives, it can be divisive; but if we come from the ethics of doing good for others, we can move forward together”.

Peace-building via interfaith dialogue also includes the work of social justice. Father Antonio Eguiguren, OFM, spoke on this topic in his session, “Many Poor, Many Religions, World Liberation and Religions”.

He said that “religions can inspire us towards social movement with values” and that “for the first time in history, religions are realising they can pool together to solve the problem (of poverty in the world)”.

This work of unifying as one to ease poverty is what he called a “universal mission”.

The parish of St. Mary of the Angels is evaluating the day’s conference for sustainability and follow-up for future interfaith initiatives.

By Joyce Gan
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