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An Odyssey of Peace 

Angelo Fernandes


The Second Vatican Council, 1962-65, was one of the major turning points in the modern history of religion. The Church’s openness to the world, to people of all living faiths and to all men of goodwill was one of its most striking features. Its message to humanity at the very outset emphasized the desperate imperative of peace and social justice as the key to God’s rule on Earth and the improvement of the quality of life, economically and socially, of the poor and the lowly in the needy regions of the world. Peace and justice have thereafter been for me an abiding concern. Along with others from India, Asia and elsewhere, I was privileged to explore in numberless consultations and seminars all over the world the meaning and parameters of peace, peace-making and peace-keeping. Peace is an enterprise of justice and the outcome of love. That has been the burden of many discourses. I have occasionally envisaged the quest for peace as a personal and corporate journey towards a better human life for as many people as possible.

In the Bible, peace and justice are synonymous and connote a paradisiacal fulness and wholeness which is both a gift of God and a human enterprise to be carved out of the circumstances of life.

Towards Peace with Justice, published in 1981, is a collection of some of my essays on human dignity and human rights, on food for the hungry millions, on true and integral human development, on the goal of total disarmament and the futility of using force for conflict resolution. In more recent times I have been acutely seized of the danger to the planet from the fallout of industrialization and the ravishing of nature by unscrupulous individuals and corporations.

Experience of Dialogue, published in 1994, details at length twenty-five years of working for the cause of peace with persons of all living faiths. This was not so much for theological debate between belief systems as for the living dialogue of religiously committed persons applying the insights and experience of religion to the pressing problems of our age, which constitute obstacles to harmony and concord within and between nations.

One major obstacle not yet seriously addressed is that of national chauvinism. With the demise of communism and the gathering of the biggest ever meeting of heads of state and government at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, hopes were raised that all the resources of the world — material, cultural, moral and spiritual — would be harnessed for a massive campaign for putting an end to destitution in the world by the year 2000 and beating the poverty problem within a decade or two thereafter. But that turned out to be a lost opportunity. The building of a human society based on freedom, solidarity, justice and love was given a fresh impetus by the UN Social Summit at Copenhagen in March 1995.

WCRP was closely associated with these seminal strategies and continues to function as one of the principal multi-religious awareness building and conscience raising institutions for lasting peace with justice in our troubled world.

This seminar, however, is of a different nature. Its focus is on the experience of peace of participants hailing from all parts of Asia and their experience in peace-making efforts. This innovative venture is a fresh contribution to the culture of peace starting from within the depths of our being, where all are bonded together in the spirit, and reaching out together for fulness of life for each and all with the wisdom that comes from on high. Faith in God and faith in man combine to make a specific contribution to the culture of peace from the standpoint of religion.

Pathways to Peace

If there is right in the soul,

There will be beauty in the person;

If there is beauty in the person,

There will be harmony in the home;

If there is harmony in the home,

There will be order in the nation;

If there is order in the nation,

There will be peace in the world.

Personal, Familial and Societal Peace

In the 1930s in the days of my priestly training, personal peace was first experienced as stemming from and inherent to union with God, and living in harmony with all my 200 confreres who, with one mind and one heart, were preparing for the common goal of becoming labourers in the vineyard of the Lord. ‘How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God’s people to live together in harmony’ (Ps 133/1). The growth of one’s personality was thus seen as a matter of ever better relationships with God and neighbour and world.

This interior peace, which surpasses all understanding, has grown and developed over the years through daily prayer and meditation, first discursive and later more contemplative when the prayer encounter became a heart-to-heart affair — the giving and receiving of love.

Introducing people to the prayer experience through priestly ministry has added to the enjoyment of peace. This became even more pronounced when I published As You Pray So You Live, recently reprinted.

From 1993 the experience has been shared through a series of booklets, and they bring peace and joy to many everywhere. Being In Love and Living to the Full and the sequels — ‘more’, ‘still more’ and ‘yet more’ about ‘Being in Love’ — go to hundreds of friends who keep in touch. It is summed up in the logo ‘Hand in hand with the Lord and with each other’. God’s gift of peace comes through beautifully in the Church’s New Year greetings to one and all: ‘The Lord bless you and watch over you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord look kindly on you and give you peace’(Numbers 6/24-26).

In the 1940s, through close association with hundreds of children, growing boys and girls, I learnt to see and experience life through the eyes of these unspoilt images of the Creator. I understood better why Christ said: ‘Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven’ (Mt. 18/3).

It was a case of learning the beauty of peace from life, from God’s showpieces, the darlings of the universe. Listening more to these harbingers of a better tomorrow, we might catch their sense of wonder, joy, inner serenity and relatedness to all, regardless of all man-made barriers and prejudices — a much desired boon.

My musical experience with a children’s choir and school orchestra taught me the beauty of ‘harmony’, also in the ordering of human relations. I later discovered that this concept of harmony was a very Asian one from the days of Confucius onwards.

At this time, I also got a taste of experiencing unpeace. Thanks to being in touch with hundreds of military chaplains of the Allied forces of World War II passing through Bombay, from the north-eastern borders of India and the countries of South-east Asia. I experienced, vicariously, the scourge of war and the devastation it inflicts on innocent families and especially on women and children. The folly of trying to resolve conflicts through the use of force thus came home to me already then, long before I became actively involved in peace-making efforts with adherents of all religions. Group Captain Leonard Cheshire’s return to the Church after his witnessing the horror of Hiroshima also had its effect on me. Cheshire Homes in Dehradun, Delhi and around the world proclaim loudly that works of mercy for the handicapped and unwanted are also works of peace. Mother Teresa’s entire life and activities have been an exemplification of this.

Peace in the Family

A very significant memory of the 1950s was my experience with the Christian Family Movement. The many splendid couples and their families collaborating in the movement ‘For Happier Families’ communicated to me the beauty and splendour of familial peace. The family is the bedrock on which a better world has to be constructed.

Rampant individualism, seen also in schools and colleges, is spawning selfish and greedy persons with scant concern for others. The sooner peace-making efforts are focused on the basic cell, the family — the primary unit and nucleus of society — the better will it be for the world at large. The future of humanity passes through the family. This conviction of the 1950s has deepened over the years, and working with and for the renewal and enrichment of the family has become one of my ongoing endeavours. A few years ago I gladly introduced ‘Family Fest’ of the Focolare Movement to Doordarshan, our television network in India. I recently had an enjoyable Family Encounter for 170 persons in Mumbai on ‘The Family, the School and the Media — Partners in Education’.

Christ Is Our Peace

Through the spiritual and educational ministry in which I was engaged at this time, I came to realize better that Jesus Christ is the decisive factor in history as planned by God. He is the supreme and everlasting gift which God offers to humankind. By breaking down all barriers by his death on the cross, Christ opened a path of freedom to all through his faithfulness to the Father. All can become sons and daughters of God through faith. We all can now have access in one spirit to the Father of all.

God’s love is a love of friendship, and growing in intimacy and union with Christ, even the cosmic Christ, became for me the most powerful motive, the mainspring and springboard for further efforts to share God’s Peace Plan with the world and work in the power of His Spirit, to bring it to fruition: Christ Is Our Peace. The conviction grew in me that the closer we all get to God in whatever ways are open to us, the easier becomes the challenge of healthy and wholesome human relations and the task of peace-building at all levels of society. Peace is both a gift of God and a personal and corporate thirst for justice.

In the early 1960s there burst upon the world the Second Vatican Council. I was closely associated with this momentous event in a variety of ways.

The opening message of the Council was to humanity, and it was one of well-being, love and peace. The two issues singled out as being of special urgency were peace between peoples and social justice. This was my first major involvement in peace-making at the societal level.

One prominent feature of the Council’s great document on the Church in the modern world was the opening of the Church to the world, to all Christians and to persons of all living faiths on our common pilgrimage through life towards our common destiny. This was a whole new vision which led to many vital decisions and significant actions. One was the overture of the document, which proclaims:

The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.

Even more specific and germane to our purpose is the famous paragraph 90 of the same document:

Taking into account the immensity of the hardships which still afflict a large section of humanity and with a view to fostering everywhere the justice and love of Christ for the poor, the Council suggests that it would be most opportune to create some organization of the universal Church whose task it would be to arouse the Catholic community to promote the progress of areas which are in want and foster social justice between nations.

Bringing this about has been one of my cherished memories.

The Council for Justice and Peace

Some years later, Paul VI published his epoch-making Letter on ‘The Development of Peoples’, wherein he declared that development is the new name for peace. He then established at the Vatican the Council for Justice and Peace. For ten years I was one of the thirty members from the five continents who met regularly to debate and relay to churches all over the world the dimensions of the crucial work for peace with justice. It was a great education in understanding the dynamics of societal peace-making, at international and world levels.

For two four-year terms, the Commission for Justice and Peace, of which I was Chairman, pursued this matter in India. We took the message to all areas of the country and today in practically all the 131 ecclesiastical units there are social service societies which deal with emergencies and rehabilitation, with welfare programmes, with self-help projects, and with issues of justice and peace for all, irrespective of caste or creed.

Caritas India, which functioned as our secretariat, has done and continues to do admirable work in such development, both by way of animation, awareness building and grassroots involvement in the villages of India and other needy areas. During my tenure as Archbishop of Delhi, this has also been done through what is known today as ‘Chetanalaya’, our diocesan social action organization in Ashok Place. It has a large network of field workers reaching out to the slums and rural areas of the capital and its environs in neighbouring Haryana.

Some Ecumenical and Multi-Religious Experiences of Peace-Making

The world’s most practical Christian ecumenical venture was launched in 1967 when the Vatican and the World Council of Churches mutually agreed to establish a Joint Committee on Society, Development and Peace (Sodepax) with headquarters in Geneva. Its first venture was the historic international conference at Beirut, to consider the problem of world development. In concrete terms it spoke of the responsibility of all churches to awaken their constituents to their duty of swaying public opinion to the realization that in today’s world every man is indeed his brother’s keeper.

The splendid report helped the landmark conference to become a launching pad for the vital task of arousing the conscience of humankind to the problems of and the need for world development. It was a great blessing to have participated actively in this high-calibre encounter. It was peace education and experience of a higher order.

Peace Experience in the 1970s

The decade after that had a rich harvest of peace initiatives. Along with Christian leaders of all denominations in India, I helped organize a consultation in Delhi to examine the current Christian understanding of development in the Indian context and promote awareness, concern and involvement on the part of the churches. That was in February 1970. Hunger for Justice carries the full proceedings.

Also in 1970, in July at Tokyo, I was associated with a similar Asian Conference described in its report as ‘Liberation, Justice, Development’. It drew together 180 participants from 19 Asian countries and included representatives of the major religions of Asia as well as consultants from the United Nations, the World Council of Churches and the Vatican, and fraternal delegates from Africa, the Pacific islands, Europe and North America.

Particularly significant was the consultation on ‘Christian Concern for Peace’ held at Baden, Austria, in 1970. The report — Peace, the Desperate Imperative — contains chapters on political conflict and the dynamics of peace, Christian responsibility for world peace, education for peace, human rights and world peace, etc.

Here is an interesting sidelight. At this major conference of Christians of the world, we grouped those from Africa and Latin America in one room, those from Europe, the US and Canada in another, and Asians in a third with the question: ‘What does peace mean for you? Discuss and report back’. The first group summed up its findings as ‘liberation’, the second as ‘peace-keeping’ and the third as ‘the integral development of each person, man on his way to God and all persons everywhere’. Presenting our findings to the assembly, we pleaded that all three approaches be taken together if we really wanted peace on Earth.

In Russia and Australia

At the request of the Vatican, I led a small delegation of Catholic scholars for a dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church at Zazorsk on ‘The Role of Religion for a World in Transformation’. All agreed when I suggested that we extend the dialogue to persons of all living faiths.

Working together from a religious standpoint on human issues is a form of inter-religious dialogue which is proving very effective. In early 1970 I gave the keynote address to the first ecumenical conference in Australia at Sydney on ‘Action for World Development’. The burden of my message was the role of the churches in developed countries. The lecture was reproduced in the Ecumenical Review, Geneva, and summarized in Theology Digest in the USA.

In Canada and New Zealand

Yet another aspect of the peace-making spectrum came to the fore at the launching of WCRP Canada in November 1975, when I gave the keynote address on ‘A New International Economic Order and the Role of Religion’. I wound up with the ten points of the 1975 Hammarskjold Report, which map out succinctly the field of the possible. Significantly, the first is ‘Place the satisfaction of needs — beginning with the eradication of poverty — at the focal point of the development process’. And at the end: ‘Adapt the United Nations system to new requirements’. Both are very relevant today.

In the same decade, in 1979, I addressed the Medical Guilds of Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand, on ‘Social Justice Priorities in Health Care’. The burden of the message was that health is wholeness of body, mind and spirit. It calls for a community-based approach in health care that goes beyond the psychosomatic to include ‘the great sickness of our age, namely, aimlessness, boredom, lack of meaning and purpose’ (Viktor Frankl).

World Religions for World Peace

Already in the 1960s those who were working together ecumenically in this field felt the need to expand their vision and enlist all believers in the common struggle for peace with justice. This came about in a marked way at the beginning of the Gandhi Centenary Year in January 1968, when an International Inter-Religious Symposium on Peace took place in Delhi. It was of an exploratory nature and brought together 46 participants from 9 nations representing 9 world religions. In his preface to World Religions and World Peace — the book that published the proceedings — Dr Zakir Hussain stated, ‘If religious leaders will stand for peace and justice unequivocally, then we take a big step towards world peace’. He went on to add, ‘If the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, Buddha’s philosophy of compassion, the Hindu concept of ahimsa and the passion of Islam for obedience to the will of God can combine, then we shall see generated the most potent influence for world peace’.

At the symposium, an interim advisory committee of 16 persons of major religions was set up to explore the possibility of organizing a multi-religious world meeting with persons from around the globe to consider the world’s most urgent problem — Peace. I was asked to act as Chairman and did so for the three exploratory meetings we had: the first with Patriarch Athenagoras at Istanbul, the second at the Boston Institute of Technology, Massachusetts, and the third at Kyoto, Japan. Only then did the historic Kyoto Conference take place in October 1970 in the International Conference Centre of that beautiful city. In a major address on ‘Religion and Peace’, apart from dealing with salient points of the components of peace-making and the main items of the agenda, namely human rights, development and disarmament, I made a strong plea for non-violence, not only as a citizen of the country that gave Gandhi to the world, not only as a follower of the Prince of Peace, but as a man, any man, a voice of the nameless millions of every creed and condition, of men ‘who are weary of violence and persuaded that the time for peace is right now and the place to begin right here’.

The conference was a major event which was attended by more than a thousand persons including 219 full delegates. It was the fulfilment of a centuries-old dream often formulated as a question: ‘When will the religions of the world make peace, not war?’ Some initial steps were taken to fulfil the dream.

The Kyoto Declaration highlights the things on which all religions are united as being more important than the things which divide us. It has become part of the syllabus for education for peace, and also the basis of the ‘global ethic’ that emanated from a parliament of religions at Chicago in August 1993.

Given the success of the Kyoto Conference, it was felt by all that we should not disband but should continue to work together for the paramount goal of peace. And so was born the World Conference on Religion and Peace, which has its headquarters at 777 UN Plaza, New York, U.S.A. Elected Executive President, I guided the destinies of the nascent organization for 14 years with a splendid team of collaborators and a brilliant, dynamic Secretary General in the person of Dr Homer Jack, now with the Lord. His autobiography has just been published.

The findings of the Kyoto Conference were presented to the Secretary General of the United Nations, U Thant, in early 1971. I happened to be in New York and gladly joined the group.

Peace Experience at WCRP Assemblies

In addressing the subject of ‘Religion and the Quality of Life’, WCRP II brought in an additional issue: concern for the environment. It also called for ‘food for the hungry millions’ in view of an FAO consultation a few months later in Rome. Peace-makers cannot afford to bypass the basic rights of all to food, shelter, education and health, and expect peace to come about. Social justice is the key to a more peaceful world. All violence is traceable in the last analysis to injustice, real, alleged or imaginary, the last often created and projected by fundamentalist groups into their followers.

After the meeting, Europe got down to working at establishing WCRP Europe. Dr Maria Lucker at Bonn was identified as the chief organizer, and she provided very effective leadership. It was a pleasure to work closely with such an enlightened and committed leader. My first book in this field of endeavour was published at this time: Religion, Development and Peace. It reports on some of the principal events I have so far described.

The whole movement for peace got a great boost when the World Synod of Catholic Bishops meeting in Rome in 1971 declared in its report on ‘Justice in the World’ that action for the transformation of society is a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the message of Jesus Christ. That pronouncement has made the rounds and generated a greater social awareness all over the globe. Speaking for the bishops of India, I quoted Dr Raul Prebisch, then Secretary General of UNCTAD, to the effect that there was no political will to deliver the goods. That, he said, was an ethical and spiritual problem. It is still very much with us. At world assemblies of WCRP it fell to me to give the lead to the handling of the theme chosen for prayer, discussion and action. I did so at Kyoto in 1970 on ‘Religion and Peace’, at Louvain in 1974 on ‘Religion and the Quality of Life’, at Princeton, New Jersey, in 1979 on ‘Religion in the Struggle for World Community’, at Nairobi in 1984 on ‘Religion Is for Life’.

At Nairobi we elected ten presidents representing the major religious traditions. As a founder of WCRP I was elected and have continued as president emeritus at the behest of our worldwide constituency.

Some Significant Highlights

The Princeton assembly of 1979 was a breakthrough. For the first time in recent years there were religious leaders from the People’s Republic of China, and Mr Zhao Puchu became one of our vice-presidents and later on a president.

The Spiritual Dimension of Peace-making

WCRP assemblies are a marketplace for sharing ideas from various religious perspectives. At Princeton a distinctive contribution was the ‘Strengthening of the Spiritual Dimension’. When in that same year, 1979, we met Mr Kurt Waldheim and others at UN headquarters, we were told: ‘All the problems of the world are coming to us and they are clamouring for a spiritual input’, which only an NGO like WCRP can give.

The definition of spirituality which emerged from WCRP III bears comparison with any other. It is proving very effective. ‘Spirituality is the consciousness of responsibility (including responsibility for restructuring political and economic institutions) rooted in one’s experience of the Divine’. The revitalization of our spiritual life through meditation, prayer, silent reflection and spiritual exercises was considered a fundamental matter in our struggle for world peace and justice. It empowers us for our work in the world.

Already a step had been taken in this direction at the First Asian Conference on Religion and Peace at Singapore in 1976, when ‘Meditation and Integral Humanism as a Spirituality for Today’s World’ was hailed as an Asian breakthrough. At Beijing in 1986 ‘Meditation and Religious Experience’ was described as religion’s specific contribution to peace-making.

At Nairobi we had the presence of the Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In my address, ‘Religion Is for Life’, I quoted 80 Nobel laureates as saying that the current human behaviour at the world level was the ‘silent genocide’ of the poor and hungry of the world. An Irish philosopher has called it ‘not injustice but blasphemy, the defacing of the image of God in His people’. Archbishop Tutu, after wittily dethroning the doctrine of apartheid, said the same: ‘To treat a man, woman or child as if they were less than a child of the Divine destined for a life of unimpeded unity with the Deity is to commit not just a crime against humanity, but veritably to be guilty of blasphemy, for it is nothing short of dishonouring God Himself’.

Mostly Issue-Oriented Experiences of the Peace Spectrum

World Peace Day has been celebrated every year since 1968 on a facet of the peace spectrum, presented to the world first by Pope Paul VI and then by his successors. The world has a celebration on 1 January but India has it on or around 30 January, the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. This was a decision of the Justice and Peace Commission of the bishops of India. The celebration has always been of all religious traditions together.

It was unexpected but very significant to join Christian business entrepreneurs at Zurich in 1976 as they sought to gear business, the motor of society, towards assisting the peace efforts of the nations. Economic justice is part of the peace-making process. Moving in the direction of profit for human development is the creative role of enterprise. WCRP Europe has recently held an important consultation on ‘Economic Justice for Peace’.

Journalists and the Press in Cracow, Poland, got acquainted with WCRP and its thrust for peace when I was a guest of Cardinal Karol Wyotjila in 1975. It was a delight to share a peace experience in a country still under the heel of communism. Years later, in 1994, John Paul II hosted at the Vatican WCRP’s Sixth World Assembly and delivered the opening address. The roughly 1,000 participants then adjourned to Riva del Garda, in the neighbourhood of Verona, Italy, for their six-day meeting. The next experience was at the Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi, where I made my contribution to a series of addresses on ‘Enlightened Citizenship’. The published work is reverentially dedicated to ‘all those who love all, those who have no aliens at all, those who make the whole world their own as if they were their own kith and kin’.

A very satisfying experience was WCRP’s role in bringing off the United Nations declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief. The November 1981 document is a triumph for religious freedom. This issue was previously highlighted in the Second Vatican Council, and was one of the Peace Day messages of Pope Paul VI.

It was an honour, a privilege and service to the country to have delivered the 8th Gandhi Memorial Lecture at New Delhi on 30 January 1982. ‘God’s Rule and Man’s Role’ highlights Gandhiji’s total commitment to social justice and social change as a ‘religious response’. ‘I could not live for a single second without religion. . ; every activity of a man of religion must be derived from his religion, for religion means being bound to God, that is to say that God rules your every breath’. I went on to add: ‘The earthly task and the heavenly vocation are different but this does not destroy their unity; they form a unity without being identical’. I also emphasized Gandhi’s clear vision of the goals we have to achieve, the purity of means for the same, and the goodwill, commitment and option for the purpose we have to cultivate and bestow.

The National Disarmament Meeting in Delhi in 1983 was a unique experience for a religious personality in the midst of a host of scientists, military strategists, politicians, statesmen and leading journalists. Afraid that disarmament might be equated with peace, I presented — unasked — two papers, one on the morality of nuclear war the other on the quest for peace. The final report, which carries the technical papers and these two contributions, was presented to the 60 heads of state who assembled in Delhi a few months later.

‘Summons to Dialogue’ is a reprint of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference. It was delivered to the bishops and other major religious priests and sisters of Sri Lanka in 1983. It covers the entire field — the meaning and urgency of dialogue, its many forms and its requirements. I made a strong plea for working towards peace with justice through a fellowship of silence and a fellowship of service with persons of all living faiths in Asia and in the world.

Inter-religious dialogue has come to stay. The clock cannot be put back, especially after what happened at Assisi in October 1986, when fifty religious leaders of all Christians, and fifty representing all other religious traditions met, at the behest of Pope John Paul II, to pray, fast, and walk on a short symbolic pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint Francis, the poor man of Assisi. It was a dramatic expression of the universal longing for unity and worldwide peace. I was privileged to be a special invitee, and WCRP assisted with the organization of the event. To be present to the Lord in prayer with persons of all religious traditions of the world was an inspiring and elevating experience. The memory is a lasting gift to the making of a better future for humankind.

Living and Working Together with Persons of Other Faiths in Asia

This was a Christian ecumenical experience of the leaders of most of the denominations in the continent. Rising above their differences, Protestants and Catholics united in God’s ‘covenantal love’ to embrace each and all in Asia and the world. Such motivation is a great incentive for further action.

Later meetings led to the opening up of fresh horizons for communion and cooperation. This peace-making process is from a theologico-spiritual standpoint. It is based on the action of the Spirit at work in the hearts of human beings in all cultures and all religions.

The movement of the bishops of Asia concerning the theology underlying inter-religious dialogue, led to a study on the theology of harmony. The Bible itself begins on a note of cosmic harmony and ends with ‘the new Heaven’ and the new Earth and the gathering of all of creation into that perfect harmony where God is all in all, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

In 1990 I was elected President of OIEC, the International Catholic Education Office based in Brussels, with a far-flung constituency of 240,000 Catholic schools in the five continents. Asked to give the organization a new orientation, I focused on ‘Basic Education for All By the Year 2000’, a challenge to the existing school system. My address was based on the Jomtien (Thailand) Assembly of March 1990 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child of September 1990, at the first ever summit of heads of state and of governments of the world.

The special features of the movement are that children of the formal school system, acting as agents or levers of change, carry to family units of the slums in the neighbourhood a basic education package programme that includes, besides literacy, developmental components, basic skills, values and attitudes.

Distance learning centres attached to the school strengthen the concern for the underprivileged. I made a video cassette for the purpose which goes by the name of ‘Outreach’. The message is put across in 35 minutes.

‘The World’s Religions for the World’s Children’ was a multi-religious effort that helped to provide ethical and spiritual insights to Unicef and the children’s summit of September 1990.

The following year, the Institute for Objective Studies, Okhla, organized a symposium in Delhi on ‘Pressing Issues Facing the Nation’. Given the state of the country — poverty and deprivation and its resulting prejudices; communalism and religious intolerance — I chose to speak on ‘Poverty, Communalism and Violence’.

In particular, I analysed the causes of unrest and summed up by stating that ‘the root causes of the unrest in the country are to be found in social and economic terms of poverty, unemployment, social injustice, widening disparities, corruption and unplanned urban growth’.

The remedy is respect for the basic humanity of man. The human person is more sacred than all the churches, shrines, mosques, temples or gurudwaras in the land. The human person alone is made to the image of God. All other signs of God are of relative value. Human dignity is in fact the very basis of true peace-making. I made a plea for non-violence and issued a call for common concern through inter-religious dialogue.

As preparation for making a multi-religious commentary on the agenda of the Rio Earth Summit, as requested by UNCED, leaders of WCRP and of Sao Paulo, Brazil, met in Campos de Jordao at the Jewish Centre there in April 1992. The year before, I had prepared and shared a paper on ‘The Ecological Crisis and the Quest for Peace’.

Along with Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian theologians, I prepared a new study on ‘Religion’s Manifold Contribution to Ecological Consciousness’. It helped nuance the much talked of sustainable development, to ‘equitable and sustainable development’ and opened up a new vision of a ‘Global Spirituality for the new Exodus’.

The movement of basic education for all was taken to Cairo by OIEC in 1992. For the benefit of our own constituency and the Arab world, I situated the basic education thrust as a first step in education for peace, which I spelt out in detail. The publication of Building Bridges — the Missing Dimension in Education (1993) helps to keep alive the need for nurturing the spirit and giving students a keen social consciousness of the reality outside the classroom.

Unesco took the initiative in April 1993 to invite about 60 religious leaders to share their views and discuss ‘The Contribution of Religion to the Culture of Peace’. The papers have been published.

Then in December 1994 we met again in Barcelona, this time with a specific purpose. We hammered out a one-sheet ‘Barcelona Declaration of Peace’ which was signed in the Parliament Hall of Catalunya. A signature campaign to the declaration was launched. I collected and sent to Paris 12,000 signatures from across the world. Unesco intends to keep in touch with religious leaders in the interests of education, culture and peace.

The publication of Experience of Dialogue (363 pages) came in 1994. It contains most of the addresses referred to and some others too. It is seen and used by some as an introduction to inter-religious dialogue, the miracle of the twentieth century.

A Global Spirituality of Social Responsibility

After the failure of a World Parliament of Religions at Chicago in August 1993 to go beyond a ‘global ethic’, the same debate took place in November 1994 at the sixth World Assembly of WCRP at Riva del Garda. After conferring with many of the leading personalities in the field, I worked at developing a Global Spirituality based on the dignity, uniqueness and sacredness of every human being. Tentatively presented at the second Barcelona gathering in 1994, I later delivered it as the keynote address to the First International Ecumenical Assembly of Associations of Christian Colleges and Universities of the World at New Delhi on 16-20 January 1995. Expanded and improved, it was published in Vidya-jyoti, a journal of theological reflection, in December 1995 and January 1996. It seeks to apply human and divine wisdom to the handling of our life-size challenges and make it a norm for the conduct of human affairs in a troubled world.

At the Social Summit at Copenhagen in March 1995, the NGO world, and others with them, affirmed that a spiritual renewal is called for to reverse present trends and move together as one human family to make life more human and humane for all God’s children everywhere.

Inter-religious dialogue and peace-making efforts of the future must take up the challenge of social justice at all levels and become a non-violent revolution of collective love that will hopefully carry all before it.

Vatican Two Revisited (400 pages), to be published shortly, gives today’s generation the findings of the greatest religious event of the century, with a small update. It touches on many of the concerns of this paper on peace and peace-making.

I have also shared in Delhi, Nainital and in the second edition of As You Pray So You Live, a new piece on a collective spirituality, better fitted to deal with collective wrong-doing in India and in the world at large. It is accompanied by another essay, ‘The Agony and Ecstasy of Contemplative Prayer’. Contemplative prayer, says Aldous Huxley, is the only place where God can change our thought patterns, attitudes, feelings and behaviour.

Prayer must come into its own, and contemplative living with it as a by-product; individual spirituality must grow into a collective or communitarian one. A global spirituality of social responsibility must come to be accepted and practised by all peace-makers and lovers of humankind. Then may be generated the political will to deliver the goods and use the resources of the world, material, cultural, moral and spiritual, for a full human life for the peoples of the world.

Peace is both a gift of God and a personal and collective human quest. Religion has a prophetic role to play in denouncing the sinful, unjust structures of the culture of affluence which bring about the counter-culture of poverty and deprivation. It is the duty of every religion to teach its followers to look at this issue as a problem of conscience and to raise an accusing finger in the appropriate quarters. ‘Poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to peace and prosperity everywhere’ (ILO declaration in 1944). Social justice is the key to a better world.

Like the Asian search for harmony, this presentation proceeds from a world-view that is organic, interactive and cosmic. All Asian religious traditions, including the Judaeo-Christian, envisage wholeness of life for all humans everywhere, and a spirit of friendliness with nature and the cosmos. Such a harmony is not static but dynamic. It does not mean the absence of conflict and the threat of violence, but a continuously adjusting consensus in a process of give and take.

I hope that this Asian cosmic world-view founded on order, the well-being of the human person and the family and on truth, justice and love, will receive adequate recognition in the decades ahead. It acknowledges legitimate pluralism and respect for all people. But the quest for world justice and world equalization, in the wake of the Social Summit at Copenhagen, seems to demand that it replace the mechanistic mindset nourished by the Greco-Roman philosophies, the imposition of abstract principles and law, the use of force for conflict resolution which have led to a global war economy in which the world community continues to be trapped.

Highlighting the Asian cosmic world-view, this conference’s findings, if shared with the United Nations and its agencies, could well become a positive and significant contribution towards implementing an agenda for peace and its supplement, currently being pursued by the comity of nations, as we all approach with fresh hope the dawn of the third millennium.


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