Bahai News - Religious Leaders Gather At U.N.
08:54 PM ET 08/29/00
Religious Leaders Gather At U.N.
By JULIA LIEBLICH
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
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
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
©Copyright 2000, Associated Press
Page last updated/revised 083000
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