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September 7 2014 17:00 | Stadsschouwburg

Peace is a Workshop open to All: the Contribution of Religions

Gijun Sugitani

Tendai Buddhist Denomination, Japan

This year, the pilgrimage journey for ‘The Prayer for Peace’ which started at Assisi, a Catholic holly site in Italy, in 1986, has come to Antwerp, Belgium. World religious leaders along with important political leaders, such as presidents and prime ministers of various nations and mayors of many cities have gathered here for this opening ceremony. It is such a great honor for me to give an opening address. I’d like to express my sincere appreciation to the chairperson and all participants.
Needless to say that this year is the 100th year since the start of the World War I; the most horrific war that humanity experienced up to that time. It is said that the number of casualties was over 37 million and an unprecedented number of victims were created during the war, which lasted four years. Although the main battles took place in Europe, the large number of casualties was because the battlefield was not limited to one region, like other wars and conflicts prior to WWI, but spread over Africa, Middle East, East Asia, Pacific, the Atlantic and Indian Ocean areas. Moreover, since WWI weapons of mass destructions were introduced and people started utilizing heavy tanks, aircraft, machine guns, poison gas and such. A war was once a battle among military people, however, war has been transformed so that entire nations are involved. Not only the combatants but also non-combatant are mobilized to be a part of the military industrial complex, and a war has become total nation involvement. As a result the line between combatant and non-combatant has become obscure and the number of casualty has increased.
Since war has created such tragic results, a phrase ‘War to end Wars’ was created with people’s hope that WWI to be the last war.  Also, The League of Nations was established in 1920 in order to prevent wars and conflicts.
In spite of this, about twenty years later, World War II broke out in 1939. As everyone knows, the tragedy of this war was greater than that of The World War I. It is estimated that the number of fatalities was somewhere between 50 to 80 millions of people. The sophistication of the weapon of mass destructions had evolved further. Chemical, biological weapons and the ultimate weapon, the atomic bomb, appeared. Atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.
After WWII conscious of the failure of the League of Nations, there was a greater global cooperation among nations. The United Nation was established in 1945. At the time of establishment, there were only 51 member nations, but currently 193 countries are members. This is due to globalization; the result of strengthening of mutual connections in politics, economics, military, and culture. On the other hand, this is also due to the result of separation, not from unification; such as a birth of a new nation after independence from the colonization, or the creation of a separate independent nation from an ethnic group.
Although human beings have experienced horrific war twice, regional conflicts are currently going on.  Those conflicts are often called cold war or surrogate war among military alliances. On one hand, globalization has made people more aware of mutual differences, which creates political opposition and friction among different ethnic groups. The friction and confrontations have developed into conflict, terrorist activities, and internal struggles in many places. It is sad to admit but the history of humanity is a history of conflict. At the beginning of the 20th century, the ratio of casualty among combatant and non-combatant was eight to one. The dreadful thing is that the casualty among civilians, has been increasing, and since 1990, the ratio has changed to the other way around. Today it is one combatant to eight non-combatants. It is no exaggeration to say that once a war breaks out, civilians will be the first casualty. In modern society, once a war starts civilians cannot avoid involvement in the war and possibility for them to be a victim is very high. We must be acutely aware of this point this year; the 100th year since WWI. Conflict is taking place in various regions of the world today. We cannot observe the fire of conflict if we are watching fires at the other shore. We must work hard to prevent war. Hence, we must learn that building the peace is the place for us to work. And it is open to all of us.
The constitution of UNESCO points out  ‘… that ignorance of each other’s ways and lives has been a common cause, throughout the history of mankind, of that suspicion and mistrust between the peoples of the world through which their differences have all too often broken into war.’ Religious leaders who long for peace have gone beyond their religions, hence, have been deepening mutual understanding through inter religious dialogue and providing a place like that for dialog with their countrymen.
Advocated by the late Pope, Saint John Paul II, ‘the World Day of Prayer for Peace’ was held at Assisi, Italy in 1986. It was a space equally shared not only by leaders of world religions such as Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, but also by leaders of ethnic religions from Asia, Africa, America and other countries, they gathered to pray for the world peace. The Community of Sant’ Egidio has carried on the open spirit, creating opportunities for inter religious dialogue in various places in Europe and has been providing the space for many people to build peace. On the other hand the spirit of Assisi has also been passed down in the East. In 1987 the ‘World Religious Summit Meeting’ was held at Mt. Hiei, a Buddhist sacred site, near Kyoto, an ancient Japanese city. Prayers for peace took place there. The gathering of the prayer for world peace is held every year on August 4th, and we have been teaching children how important it is to work for peace for future generations. We are also advocating the gathering in order for ‘Prayer for Peace’ to be held all over the world, again and again, in order to work beyond our religious differences.
The World Council Religion for Peace (WCRP), established in 1970, has been providing a work place for peace where many people can participate. For example, initiated by the youth group, the ‘Arms Down !’ campaign took place for two months in 2009. What they did through the ‘Arms Down !’ campaign was an appeal to the public for the abolition of nuclear weapon and the reduction of military power. Moreover, it was a signature gathering campaign to save money by reducing military expense and use the money to achieve the United Nations millennium goal. As the outcome of this campaign, the representative of The Youth Committee of WCRP submitted a notebook containing 20,102,746 signatures of which about 10,000,000 were from Japan, to The United Nations on October of 2011.
We should always be mindful, like this example, that by working together with various religions, it is possible to provide opportunities for many people to contemplate peace and to work toward it.
In ancient Greece, the other ethnic group was called barbaroi, and in ancient India, it was called mleccha.  In both cases, it means ‘a barbarian who speaks uncomprehend language.’  This attitude is not limited to an ancient epoch, but also the modern era. We have a tendency to ignore or look down foreign cultures instead of showing them respect. It is due to an ignorance and it plays a role in cultivating the growth of conflict.
 UNESCO appeals in its constitution that ‘…since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.’ In order to construct the defenses of peace, peace education from the young is invaluable. Especially, to raise a child to be generous and broad-minded, peace building cannot be missed. An American educator, Dorothy Law Nolte said ‘If children live with hostility, they learn to fight. If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn. If children live with tolerance, they lean patience. If children live with acceptance and friendship, they learn to find love in the world’ and so on.
Peace is like a heavy wagon on a steep hill. Everyone is pushing up hill so hard. If everyone’s feelings are not in harmony or someone is off guard, the wagon will immediately start going back down the hill. Let us join forces to push up the wagon of peace even a little bit.
Thank you so much for listening.



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