Bahai News - Religious Leaders Gather At U.N. 08:54 PM ET 08/29/00

Religious Leaders Gather At U.N.

AP Religion Writer

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ The Dalai Lama's official words were heard at the United Nations for the first time in nearly four decades Tuesday when his representative read a statement from the spiritual leader to the Millennium World Peace Summit.

The Dalai Lama has long been an unwelcome presence at the U.N. because China rejects his call for an autonomous Tibet. So Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist leader, conveyed the message on his behalf to more than 1,000 religious leaders gathered for the summit.

While the Dalai Lama said that he joined the group ``in spirit,'' the Nobel Peace laureate was not invited to the U.N. portion of the conference for fear of offending China _ a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council.

``The world's religions can contribute to world peace, if there is peace and growing harmony between different faiths,'' he said. ``It is also my belief that whereas the 20th century has been a century of war and untold suffering, the 21st century should be one of peace and dialogue.

``There can be no peace as long as there is grinding poverty, social injustice, inequality, oppression, environmental degradation, and as long as the weak and small continue to be trodden by the mighty and powerful. The world's spiritual and religious leaders need to address these real and pressing issues,'' he said.

China accuses the Dalai Lama of creating turmoil in Tibet, which he fled in 1959 after an abortive uprising against China's occupation.

Organizers invited the Dalai Lama only to the last two days of the conference _ being held at a New York hotel. He declined, sending an eight-member delegation of Buddhist leaders to represent him.

The Office of Tibet, the U.S. representative of the Dalai Lama, said it would be the first time Tibetans representing the Buddhist leader have spoken in the U.N.'s General Assembly hall since the early 1960s.

``I feel very sad, and I feel happy,'' said a Dalai Lama disciple, the Rev. Tsona Gontse Rinpoche. ``This is a historic occasion.''

The United Nations did not sponsor the event or issue invitations. An interfaith coalition organized the program and picked the participants. The only delegations chosen by their government were China's and Vietnam's, summit organizers said.

Betty Williams, winner of the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for founding a mixed Protestant-Catholic peace movement in Northern Ireland, said, ``The Dalai Lama is conspicuous by his absence.''

Earlier in the day, Bishop Reverend Fu Tieshen, leader of the Chinese delegation, addressed the conference. He did not mention the Dalai Lama by name, but said ``some people want to trample on the sovereignty of other countries under the pretext of protecting religious human rights.''

On Tuesday, the second day of the four-day event, crimson robes outnumbered gray suits in the General Assembly Hall, where monks, a cardinal and even a business mogul addressed the leaders.

Following a Monday evening of prayers by clan mothers and church fathers, chief rabbis and high priests, Kofi Annan addressed the morning session.

``Religious practices and beliefs are among the phenomena that define us as human,'' he said. But ``religion has often been yoked to nationalism, stoking the flames of violent conflict. ... Religious leaders have not always spoken out when their voices could have helped combat hatred and persecution.''

Media mogul Ted Turner, whose U.N. Foundation, Better World Fund, helped pay for the conference, struck a more informal note.

``I was born in a Christian family,'' said Turner, who once said publicly that Christianity was ``for losers.''

He dreamed of becoming ``a man of the cloth,'' he said, but was bothered that his religious group taught that only Christians were going to heaven.

``I thought heaven was going to be a mighty empty place,'' he said. ``Now I believe there may be one God who manifests himself in different ways to different people. ... And I can't believe God wants us to blow ourselves to kingdom come. He wants us to love each other and live in peace.''

Sadhvi Shilapiji, a Jain nun, said she found Turner's speech "fascinating."

``It was the feeling of the common man not burdened by any religious or political affiliation,'' Shilapiji said. ``It came from his heart.''

Other speakers Tuesday included Cardinal Francis Arinze, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; and Abdullah al-Obaid, secretary-general of the World Muslim League.

Participants say they hope the summit will result in a declaration on peace, poverty and the environment, as well as the formation of a council of religious leaders to advise the United Nations on preventing and settling disputes. Sessions were scheduled on the role of religion in conflict resolution.

©Copyright 2000, Associated Press

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