Inter-Religious Speech by Vassula
Inter-religious speech at the Bouddha Kristi Prachar Sangha at Dharmarjika (Buddhist Monastery), February 23, 2003
see details of Vassula's Peace Award)
It is indeed a pleasure to address you and be present to participate in your annual inter-religious meeting of today, and I wish to convey my sincere thanks to Ven. Suddhananda Mahathero and the whole honourable delegation team for inviting me to be among you. On behalf of the promoters for peace, unity and reconciliation, the followers of the True Life in God Association and myself, wish to convey our warm greetings and sincere peace to all of you. I am very touched today to be in Bangladesh, because I consider this country as the country where I received from God a grace by placing in me His Light not only for my benefit but for the benefit of others as well and giving my spirit a new life. Among you I feel at home and I feel welcomed and loved by all of you, no matter of our different backgrounds, different creeds, different looks, different mentalities, I still feel close to you. Our gathering today should not remain just among us but we should carry within us the riches we could obtain from such a gathering to our own people, teachings based on reconciliation, tolerance, peace and respect for one another.
Inter-religious dialogue is a valuable treasure
An inter-religious dialogue is a valuable treasure in itself because it brings together various leaders to discover that we do have many spiritual common grounds on which we could build a common dialogue on them. In all religions there is always a holy law to follow. This law is meant to lead us in the righteous path of holiness, were it a Christian law, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish or whatever else. But it is not just to listen to the law or read it, but keeping it that is important and that will make people holy in the sight of God.
We all pray in our own way, we all fast in our seasons to purify our mind and soul at the same time making reparations for our sins, we all purify ourselves in the manner we were instructed, we all meditate to reach higher levels of spirituality according to our spiritual teachings, we believe in righteousness and justice and in the virtues. In our Christian religion we respect the freedom of people and the Church rejects the use of unethical means to gain conversions. Therefore, our meetings should be genuine with the aim to promote understanding and respect for each other' religious traditions and refrain from denigrating them. With this we will gain reconciliation and peace.
We have sometimes been unethical and lacking respect in our behaviour towards each other, disrespectful of our beliefs and traditions, failing to speak about reconciliation, failing to admit our failures either because of fear, or pride; perhaps we have somewhat failed to speak up about dictatorial leadership which are causes of extreme violence and sufferings in our world, about poverty and injustice. To resolve conflicts within and without our communities we have to educate our people and instill in them a divine spirituality based on love and peace. For these reasons the communities are divided and division does not come from God.
The question of peace
You are all aware, as we are gathered here, that the question of peace has become vital in our world and ever so acute in our days. We are here in search of solutions for peace in the world, but in order to defend and promote moral values, social justice, liberty and peace, we will have to, not only continue these dialogues with sincerity, but also take upon us as a duty to teach and educate as well our people what we are sharing together. Our people, if we say it in other words, have to be preached. It is mentioned in our Scriptures that, "a whole batch of bread is made holy if the first handful of dough is made holy." Meaning that it is enough that one person becomes holy to lead a whole nation into holiness.
Everyone must have noticed that the world has become more violent and cruel and that we have more natural disasters. If the world is pursued by disasters it is because of its evil. The world draws upon itself all these evils because they have no place for God, no place for prayer and contemplation that could bring them from Darkness into Light. The world is so busy with technology, materialism and all that is un-spiritual that it forgets its real values. In our Christian faith we believe that to do good we must fill our soul with the Spirit of God who gives Light, but if we do not carry this Light as a Lamp within us then we will be filled with darkness and will continue to walk in the shadows of death.
Mere technology and materialism will never ever satisfy man' yearning for the truth and communion. There will always be a void within the soul and they will always be in search to fill up this void aiming on the wrong things. Here is where our duty is, to fill this void with the right things, the spiritual values, starting by prayer and good deeds.
The power of prayer
Therefore, prayer is important, because through prayer we are given the necessary light to walk in the path of virtues, to enable us not only to transform and renew ourselves, but will also make us apostles to go out and renew the world and fragrance nation after nation, bringing them all to live in peace.
Let no one delude you that prayer is not a powerful weapon. Prayer and meditation is a colossal power in itself, especially when the prayer is said with a contrite heart and with sincerity. Through prayer we can transfigure hearts that are dry as a desert into a garden, and make fountains flow out of these hearts. We can turn our hearts to become a paradise and so transparent and so pure that they will resemble a crown of splendour. The purer the heart is the more powerful the prayer becomes, so let your prayers be like perfumed incense that will fragrance the universe, let them reach heaven. Let us make an Eden on earth. Then, when your hearts will be so purified, whosoever your God is, he will listen to your pleas. So let us learn to be in a permanent state of prayer.
Importance of maintaining peace
The origin of any sort of conflict is usually located in our heart and sometimes well rooted. Our heart is like a mirror of our soul. It reflects on us what we have within it. If we have war in our heart, war will be exteriorised and it becomes physical. Jesus said to us the following: "A man' words flow out of what fills his heart. A good man draws good things from his store of goodness; a bad man draws bad things from his store of badness." Mt 12:34-35
When someone is not at peace with his God and himself how will he have peace with his neighbour? We are all tired of these wars, bloodshed every day, hatred, because it is against nature and the cosmic law of Love, it is against the Commandments we received.
All religions have an important role to play in maintaining peace and reconciliation. For the fruit of peace will be reconciliation and the fruit of reconciliation brings love and acceptance of one another. Love is considered to be the mother virtue, the principle virtue that gives birth to all the other virtues. It is said that in the Judgment Day we shall all be judged according to the measure of the love we had here on earth. That is: to love one another. For to have faith alone is not enough.
Therefore, good deeds are necessary to prove our faith. If someone who has never done a single good act but claims that he has faith and follows respectfully his religion, praying in the right hours, will that faith save him? If the needy have no clothes or enough food to live on, and one says to them, "I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty," without giving him the bare necessities of life, then what good is that? Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead. Prove your beliefs by your good deeds, these good deeds can be called "acts of love" as well.
Jesus said to us these words: "You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines: for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven." (Mt 5:13-16)
Never let anything discourage you if peace does not come right away, for have you ever heard that a country was born in one day? As the earth makes fresh things grow, as a garden makes seeds spring up, so will our Creator make both integrity and peace spring up in the sight of all the nations when our prayers are heard.
As a Christian I believe that our Creator created us all from His Sublime Love to be able to return this love and live holy, as He is holy. We are all equal before God' eyes. St. Paul says there is no Jew nor Greek, slave or free man, man or woman. All, in the Eyes of God, are one. Those who are in different religions are no less creatures made in the image of God and destined ultimately to live in the house of God. To him who has been given little, little shall be asked for. To him who has been given much, much shall be required.
And as one of our Greek Bishops said to us in Egypt in an inter-religious pilgrimage we had, I will take his words and quote them: "as we gathered today in the Church under the same dome and we didn't differentiate Christians from non-Christians or of other religions. From today we will announce to the whole world that men can live in reconciliation as long as they learn to love first their God, whoever He is, whatever His Name is, and then I'm certain that love for their fellowman will spring up as well.
Pass on to the leaders of your Churches, to the leaders of your religions, to your people, to your communities, to your towns, to your villages, to your cities, to your countries our greetings and our blessings, and our love. That we pray for peace, and next year that I hope to have you close by, the smiles be wide! To reveal the message that there is no more war, no men are killed, that there isn't anymore unjustly brotherly bloodshed on earth!"
I will end up my speech by giving you a small example of a tree: All the branches of a tree are holy if the root is holy. No doubt some of the branches have been cut off, and, like shoots of wild olive, you have been grafted among the rest to share with them the rich sap provided by the olive tree itself, but still, even if you think yourself superior to the other branches, remember that you do not support the root; it is the root that supports you.
I once again thank the Venerable Suddhananda Mahathero for his kindness and the work he is doing to promote these inter-religious dialogues for peace in the world. I sincerely hope that the day will come that through our efforts we will achieve the peace that all of us are aiming at and that we can say sincerely to one another: "my brother and my sister."