Circles of Light 2015 - Reflections by Victor Kazanjian

Circles of Light 2015 - Reflections by Victor KazanjianGood evening, dear friends of the United Religions Initiative, and welcome to this year’s Circles of Light. It is such a joy when the URI community gathers, so often in circles like tonight, working together for peace among the peoples of the planet.

During the past year, I have had the privilege and blessing of taking part in many URI gatherings around the world: in Jordan and Cambodia, in Chile and India, in Germany and the Philippines, in Uganda and Sri Lanka and so many other places, and in the months ahead in Israel and Bulgaria. And although diverse in nationality, religion, culture and language, the people of URI are bound together by a shared vision and common values expressed in URI’s Charter and what we call the PPP’s: the preamble, purpose and principles. The preamble of URI’s Charter begins “We, people of diverse religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions throughout the world, hereby establish the United Religions Initiative to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings. 

In large cities and small villages across the world, these words and those that follow in the Charter are repeated again and again, a litany that connects a global community one to another. However these powerful words are not just words to be spoken; they are being lived daily by people like you and me: people who belong to URI Cooperation Circles in 85 countries proving that the dream of a worldwide movement of people of all beliefs and practices working together to build a peaceful world is now a reality in the growing global network that is URI. 

The problems that the world is facing are vast - and made all too visible by daily images of a world ravaged by deep divisions among people of different religions and cultures. These divisions all too often result in the violence of religious extremism, interreligious conflict, and incidents of religiously motivated hate, all of which contribute to increasing levels of social unrest, human suffering and environmental destruction around the world. It is not a pretty picture.

But there is an answer to these problems, to these challenges, an answer that was recently offered by former United States Secretary of State George Shultz, who last month while testifying in front of Congress on global threats and extremism, singled out the United Religions Initiative as the kind of positive approach we must support to deal with the rising violence of religious extremism and global conflict.

Secretary Shultz went on to say that URI brings people of diverse traditions together in interfaith coalitions to provide an alternative to violence and military intervention and pathways to peace.

Where the violence of war and military conflict is currently taking place, URI Cooperation Circles intervene by bringing together combatants into dialogue using conflict resolution and peacebuilding strategies to stop the violence, to build relationships and to create the conditions for developing lasting peace.

 

Where the legacy of violence and war has left deep scars on communities, URI Cooperation Circles are creating coalitions of people from different groups who are working together to debunk stereotypes and prejudices, restore relationships and rebuild communities and countries.

 

Where the structural violence of poverty and deteriorating social and environmental conditions are disrupting life, URI Cooperation Circles work to address issues such as economic development, education, environmental sustainability, public health, women’s empowerment, and youth leadership.

 

URI builds a network of strong connections forged of human relationships to resist the winds of intolerance and violence and to support the vision of a world at peace.

One area in which URI Cooperation Circles have been especially active is environmental sustainability: the care of the natural resources of this planet.

Tonight, we honor those in the URI community who are the stewards of creation. Tonight we welcome members of 12 URI Environmental Cooperation Circles, who represent more than 170 Cooperation Circles engaged in environmental work, and also members of the Environmental Resource Cooperation Circle. To our environmental sisters and brothers: welcome and thank you for the extraordinary work that you do on behalf of URI, on behalf of the environment, and on behalf of the world.

As we continue tonight's focus on the environment, I would like to share a poem that I wrote some years ago, but feels particularly appropriate for this evening. 

 

The earth upon which we walk is the ground of our being…

Each step, a powerful connection to all that is. 

The air that we breathe is our connection to Spirit

Each breath, each in-spiration, a radical statement of our aliveness. 

Earth and air…

Substance and spirit…

May we feel the earth beneath us

And be aware of the breath within us. 

The universe invites our participation

In the co-creation of life on this planet.

Let us answer the call.

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