Geneva, Switzerland - The Chapel of the World Council of Churches in Geneva was filled to overflowing with an exciting intergenerational, international, and interreligious mix to explore the theme "A New Paradigm for Global Family in a Culture of Peace" on May 13. It was wonderful to see young people in their late teens and early twenties, some parents themselves with young children of their own, and older couples filled with maturity and wisdom accrued through parenting, grandparenting, and a lifelong practice of spiritual principles all gathered in this international place of worship to explore the importance of family for peace.
Carolyn and Heiner Handschin, respectively European officers of the Women's Federation for World Peace and UPF and also a married couple with seven children and one grandchild, charmed everyone as co-hosts. Carolyn asked that we consider the family not only at risk and victim of the various global crises referred to by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message for this day, but also as a very valuable resource through which a most fundamental contribution can be made for peace.
Bob Dylan’s "To Make You Feel My Love," sung by the band of Lovin’ Life Ministries from New York, guided people's hearts towards love and family in preparation for interreligious prayers to mark the International Day of Families. A long line of religious representatives took to the platform mingling the saffron of Buddhism with the turban of Sikhism, the robes of North Africa and the chants, sung and spoken and poetic prayers of Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Unificationism. It was noted that the World Council of Churches, where the gathering took place, had its roots in the early ecumenical movement and the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910, a century earlier, as representatives called upon God to bless such interfaith efforts to bring religions together to work for world peace.
A wide variety of expert panelists explored the morning’s theme. Dr. Krishna Ahoojapatel, Vice-President of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women and Professor at Gandhi University in India, spoke of the importance of women assuming leadership roles in matters of family policy and how the dignity and rights of women, so often trampled upon, are central to all positive development. She encouraged people to recognize the potential of women and the need to invest in their education.
Mr. Arun Pabari, President of Sathya Sai in Switzerland, emphasized that peace begins in the home, based on love, and from there spreads out to the world. At the same time, all global problems begin in the family; hence, if we bring greater peace into our homes there will be peace in the world. Let peace begin with me and begin in the family. He also referred to the profound experience that he and his wife had when they participated in one of the World Peace Blessing ceremonies organized by UPF.
Prof. Julie Rich, President of the World Wide Organization for Women (WOW), explained that the culture of peace, integrity, and virtue begins in the home. Families can be improved by awareness of key principles: accepting responsibility as parents, the vital leadership role of fathers and mothers, children as priceless treasures, disciplining our children with love, teaching them values including the value of work, and worshipping together in the family as a source of strength.
Mr. Sidney Weill, CEO of Open Hearts International Multimedia and part of the Jewish community in Baden, spoke of music as the universal language through which we can work for peace. Open Hearts International organizes campaigns for peace and understanding. Their latest project is concerned with Iran and Israel – organizing a conference for Israeli and Iranian musicians in the UN headquarters in Geneva. They already have confirmation from top bands from both nations and will transmit the event worldwide, inviting both UPF and the Women's Federation for World Peace to partner.
Dr. Thomas Walsh, UPF International President, spoke insightfully about the often overlooked but very significant role of the family in the most fundamental matters of peacebuilding. He also emphasized that finding the right balance between the contribution of religious and secular institutions is very important – in a sense akin to a marriage.
"I applaud the UN for marking this day, the International Day of Families and want to recognize the family as an underappreciated asset which should be so much more a part of our strategic planning. We should not fail to see it just because it is so close to us; it is not only a haven of peace, love, and embrace away from the world but also the center that shapes individuals and from them society and the world; the hand that rocks the cradle shapes the world. We are aware that peace is not achieved by hard power alone – we need soft power to resolve conflict. Peace requires a cultural shift which addresses moving the heart not just political and military solutions.
"The family is a training ground where men and women learn the demanding task of maintaining love beyond romance and acquire the ability to apply these skills in their wider lives. It is the family that secures our ability to deliver our civic responsibility. We should not separate our religious life and divine love from our daily practice in the family which is the school of love, ethics, and citizenship, the school of responsibility and of the work ethic. Such teachings on the family are a central part of the work of UPF, which has actively supported Father and Mother Moon in their great work, through the World Peace Blessing, for peace through families and One Family under God."