On October 11, 2014, roughly a dozen diverse religious leaders gathered at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) student center in order to discuss the relationship between peace and their respective religious scriptures. Hosted by not-for-profit organization Heavenly Culture, World Peace, and Restoration of light (HWPL), a various spectrum of religious leaders, ranging from Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Sikhism, Cao Dai, and Baha’i, represented their faith that afternoon in the presence of approximately 40 college-age students, who were also invited to attend the panel session, titled A Dialogue on Scriptural Interpretations of Peace.
“Today’s event was great, wonderful, I learned a lot” remarked Sarbjit Singh, “We just go to our own churches and temples and gudwaras and synagogues, and that’s it. We don’t get the opportunity to go to other people and learn about them, and it is so beautiful.”
The dialogue began with a brief introduction of HWPL and media coverage of its various international peace work. The program then entered into a period of discussion within the religious leaders, moderated by each leader delivering an individual 5-minute speech explaining his/her faith and the relationship their scriptures have with the idea of peace.
As the presentations were given, each leader shared how each viewpoint of faith imagined peace to occur with direct quotes from the respective Holy Scriptures. For example, Reverend Kham Uai Pham, CEO of the International Cao Dai Delegation, referred to section October 27, 1926, of one of Cao Dai’s holy texts of The Collection of Divine Messages when saying “evil must happen, but we must unite as one and spread the teachings of harmony throughout the world.” John Gremer, Director of Adult Faith Formation at St. John Neumann Catholic Community, and Pastor Jim Schibsted of First Congregational Church of America in Anaheim, both referenced the Holy Bible and Jesus’ teachings, such as Matthew 5:9, John 16:33, and 1 John 4:20-21, when claiming humanity’s calling to become active peacemakers. President Waqas Syed, President of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Los Angeles Office, and Islam/Sufi Mystic Ayshegul Ashki, Director of the OC Interfaith Network, both quoted the Qur’an (Qur’an 112:1, 2:115, and 5:8) when explaining Islam’s foundation in peace and a oneness of God. Sarbjit Singh, Sikh representative and teacher, explained how the first words in the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib are that there is but one universal God.
Ending the discussion between the religious representatives was a panel discussion, which gave the opportunity for the young adult participants to ask and engage in discussion with the religious leaders. A Southern California local asked the representatives ways to encourage his colleges in peace activism, with Dr. Hum Bui, Director of External Affairs of the Cao Dai Center in Anaheim, advising the power of education and exposure to peace works, as well as sharing a noble heart and goal to serve. A UCI undergraduate student also asked avenues and ways to become a representation of peace on a college campus, with Singh reminding that no religious scripture promotes violence, and to become a representation of the reality of peace as a result.
After the religious representatives delivered their speeches and answered the panel questions, there seemed to be a unanimous realization that although religions may differ, all hold onto the same spirituality and desire for love and peace to withstand, encouraging many of the leaders and participants to continue their efforts towards interfaith dialogue and peace. The remainder of the peace dialogue flourished with a lively atmosphere of laughs, friendly conversation, and genuine empathy between the religious leaders and youth participants, an illustration rarely seen with such diverse members of society and faith.
“It’s nice to hear so many speakers and come to an understanding that most speak the same language of peace” mentioned President Syed.
Barbara Tebyani, Director of the United Nations Assocation of the USA Pacific-Los Angeles Chapter and Baha’i representative, also came to the realization that “we all believe in the same thing. All religions came from God.”
Mr. Singh referred to the dialogue as “…all different fragrances becom[ing] one fragrance. This is the beauty of it. I’ve met so many angels of God today.”
Much anticipation for the peace dialogue was expected, especially running off the energy of HWPL’s most recent peace event, World Alliance of Religions: Peace Summit 2014 held in Seoul, South Korea, in September, 2014.
“It was a great one” explained Dr. Bui with a smile, a participant of HWPL’s peace summit. “It was a gathering of over 200,000 people in the [Seoul] Olympic Stadium. It was a lot of religious leaders, country leaders, and everyone was working for peace in the world… The love here probably transferred from the peace summit in Seoul… I am very happy to see HWPL today.”
HWPL is one of the largest international non-profit organizations to date, containing branches in all major continents. Its mission is mainly driven by actively pursuing a new era of world peace through the cessation of war. Due to the significance of wars motivated by religious intolerance, HWPL therefore addressed this issue through not only the aforementioned peace summit, but also through inviting Southern California local religious leaders during the dialogue.
Although only mere weeks were spent planning A Dialogue on Scriptural Interpretations of Peace after their most recent international event, HWPL still managed to organized productive conversation pertaining peace, religious understanding, and scriptural dialogue, all while creating a warm and bright late-summer atmosphere for the religious leaders and participants.
“I think it’s very important to have a dialogue together and share what we believe in,” Director Tebyani shared. “Everyone was smiling [laughs].”