3 December 2011
That the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit had become a place of refuge for everyone from every spiritual faith tradition, was the essence of Maru Karatea-Goddard’s karanga, as she welcomed people to Palmerston North’s Assisi Prayer for World Peace on October 27.
Maru referred to sacred spiritual traditions from the lands, seas and countries of the world – she spoke of Te Puna o te Maungarongo in relation to a pool of peacefulness and aligned these to te huarahi o te tika, te pono me te aroha –the pathway of faith that breathes forth – which referred to a saying shared by a kuia of weaving – that there are many ways to the summit.
As Maru called them forward, the celebrants processed down the aisle to stand together in the sanctuary united first as people, as members of the human family praying for world peace and social justice, the foundation for peace.
After Bishop Peter Cullinane’s brief history of the Assisi Day each celebrant lit a candle, presented a prayer or reflection from their faith tradition followed by a moment of silence. Each statement was a kind of crescendo that culminated in a joint proclamation of the Decalogue of Assisi for World Peace.
Gen Kelsang Demo from the Amitahba Buddhist Centre led a meditation – that peace in the world could be achieved only by each person first becoming peace within.
Nirmala Nand from the Palmerston North Indian Cultural Society shared the wisdom of her guru, Maharishi Swami Dayan and Saraswati (1824-1883) and challenged people of all faiths and ethnicities to find a way to embrace each other’s differences, ponder the underlying causes of today’s conflicts and encourage efforts aimed at addressing these complexities.
Hadassah bat Avrohom oo Vatsheva (Helen Chong) from the Council of Jewish Women gave a blessing in Hebrew and an interesting twist to Isaiah 2:4. Inspired by Isaiah’s swords into ploughshares, she articulated a vision of creation based on the power of music to transform human life.
Iraqi Dr Ibrahim Al-Bahadly from Massey University Islamic Centre, implored us not to ‘let our differences cause hatred and strife between us, [but] to vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. If the people of faith are not at peace,’ he said, ‘the world cannot be at peace. With the terrible weaponry of the modern world, with many faiths intertwined as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict.’
In his homily on the Gospel of Luke 6:20-31, Bishop Peter spoke from the Catholic tradition of social ethics to critique the relentless exploitation and depletion of our planet’s resources. ‘Our planet was never meant to be just a quarry for raw materials; it is our human habitat, capable of providing us with the experience of beauty, wonder, humility and solidarity.’
Presbyterian army chaplain Padre Chris Purdie called us to acknowledge the attitudes and behaviours that make us complicit in establishing structures of injustice in the world – ‘Choosing riches over poverty, insulating ourselves from hunger and conflict and seeking out only those who look and think and pray as we do.’
Anglican deacon for Manawatu David van Oeveren asked to read together the Decalogue with its common commitment to condemn every recourse to violence and war in the name of God or of religion and to encourage all efforts to promote friendship between peoples, [because] in the absence of solidarity and understanding, technological progress exposes the world to a growing risk of destruction and death.
While people reflected on the power of what had been heard, Dr Alistair Carr played on the flute the Celtic ballad, ‘Amhran A Leabhair’ (‘The Song of the Book’) – only when words touch the soul can conversion and transformation occur.
The service ended with a sign of peace and the hymn ‘Make Me a Channel of Your Peace’ which Frances Siddle played on the piano.
Afterwards Maori, Pakeha, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Catholics, Presbyterians, Anglicans chatted happily as if our histories did not matter, or perhaps history’s painful lessons had given us perspective to see the present new.
The event in Palmerston North which the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Interfaith Relations organised, did what the first Assisi event achieved in Italy. It brought together inspiring people to pray for peace, and engendered good will, which is the beginning of trust, the foundation of peace.
Mary Eastham is a member of the bishops’ committee for interfaith relations.