Tenrikyo Delegates Attend International Meeting of Prayer for Peace

Four delegates of Tenrikyo Church Headquarters–including Rev. Masahiko Iburi, Director–in-Chief of Administrative Affairs–attended the International Meeting of Prayer for Peace held in Krakow, Poland, from September 6 to 8. Co-organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio–a group of lay Catholic members headquartered in Rome–and the Archbishop of Krakow, the meeting was formally entitled “The Spirit of Assisi in Krakow 2009: 70 Years After World War II–Faiths and Cultures in Dialogue.” The Shinbashira, who attended the meeting with his wife on the second and third days, joined other religious leaders in lighting the “candle for peace” at the Final Ceremony.

The International Meeting of Prayer for Peace was born out of the Interreligious Meeting of Prayer for Peace held in 1986, in which world religious leaders were invited to Assisi, Italy, by former Pope John Paul II for the purpose of engaging in interreligious dialogue and praying for world peace. The meeting has been held annually under its current name under the leadership of the Community of Sant’Egidio since the following year, 1987.

Formal relations between Tenrikyo and the Vatican go as far back as 1924, when Tenrikyo showcased paintings and pictures of the Main Sanctuary of Church Headquarters as well as the Tenrikyo newsletter at the Exhibition of World Religions in Rome, which was organized by the Roman Catholic Church. Since then, the two religions have continued their exchanges through meetings between past Shinbashiras and popes as well as through Catholic cardinals’ visits to the Home of the Parent. In addition, the “Tenrikyo-Christian Dialogue” was organized first in Rome in 1998 and then in Tenri in 2002.

It was due to this tradition of exchange that Tenrikyo was invited to participate in the Interreligious Meeting of Prayer for Peace in 1986, with officials including Rev. Chikayoshi Kamada–then head of Tenrikyo Mission Center in Paris (as Tenrikyo Europe Centre was then called)–representing Tenrikyo. Every year since then, representatives of Tenrikyo have attended the international meeting held in different parts of the world.

Highlights of This Year’s Meeting

Krakow is a city that flourished as the capital of the Kingdom of Poland until the early 17th century. Left undamaged during World War II, the city preserves the feel and look of the medieval age. The city’s beautiful historic center was registered as a World Heritage Site in 1978.

Poland is the homeland of former Pope John Paul II, whose efforts led to the annual international meeting. Krakow, in particular, has a close relationship with the former pope; it is the place where he pursued theological studies and also served as archbishop. Dr. Quattrucci, secretary general of the international meeting, shared his thoughts on holding this year’s meeting in Krakow: “The Interreligious Meeting of Prayer for Peace, which was held in Assisi in 1986, was born out of the spirit that John Paul II had nurtured in Krakow. I find it very significant to hold this year’s meeting in Krakow because it allows us to revisit the original spirit of the meeting and reassure ourselves of the significance of Assisi.” He added: “This year marks the 70th year since the outbreak of World War II. I find it very meaningful to look back on that period of history at this milestone.”

On the first day of the meeting, Pope Benedict XVI gave his greetings after the opening mass led by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Archbishop of Krakow. The pope spent a good amount of time speaking on World War II, stressing the cruelty of war and calling for cooperation among religious leaders to strive for the realization of permanent peace. Also worth mentioning is the Memorial Ceremony held at Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp on the morning of the third day of the meeting, attesting to the importance of the theme “70 Years After World War II.”

Participating in a Working Session

On day two, working sessions were held on 22 themes including “Faiths and the Value of Life,” “Living Together in a Plural World,” and “The Power of Prayer over History.” Representing Tenrikyo, Rev. Iburi participated in a session on “Faith and Science” as one of the panelists. This session was held at the Collegium Maius, the oldest building in the Jagiellonian University, which is the oldest institution of higher education in Poland as well as the second oldest university in Central Europe. This university is also known as the school where Nicolaus Copernicus, the Renaissance astronomer, studied.

Rev. Iburi started his speech by offering his position: “At first glance, religion and science may seem opposed to each other. . . . However, I do not subscribe to such a view. The reason is that I firmly believe that both religion and science depend on God’s providence for their existence.” In order to support his point, he shared his definition of religion and science: “Religion focuses on what you and I have within our mind and spirit, including thought, philosophy, beliefs, and faith. . . . What is called science, in my view, provides means to give concrete or material form to the spirit or to the aspirations and ideals that are in the spirit or mind. Thus, the theme ‘Faith and Science’ could perhaps be restated as an issue of ‘spirit and form’ or ‘mind and matter.'”

He then briefly explained God’s purpose and providence behind human creation as taught in the Story of Creation in addition to the teachings regarding “free use of the mind” and “dust of the mind.” He emphasized the importance of science and faith going hand in hand, while highlighting the danger that depending on the way people use their mind, scientific technology–which has advanced thanks to the wisdom and intellect given by God the Parent–could be used to produce weapons that could lead to the annihilation of humankind and the world.

Looking at the issue from Tenrikyo’s perspective, Rev. Iburi continued: “What we must realize is the need to sweep dust from our own minds and replace them with a mind that is as clear and pure as it originally was at the time of the creation of humankind so that we can clearly and fully understand God’s heart. We also need to help others do the same throughout the world.” He concluded his speech by saying that achievement of spiritual growth would lead science to “become a wonderful means of realizing a Joyous Life World that is in full accord with God’s intention.”

Following his speech, the moderator commented, “The speaker brought up some crucial points not only on the theme of this session but also on how to deal with conflicts and wars.”

A question-and-answer session followed the panelists’ speeches. The moderator asked each panelist for answers to the following questions from the floor: “Do we need to place limitations on science?” and “Will faith and science be able to prevent worldwide wars from happening?” Rev. Iburi responded to the first question, saying: “We Tenrikyo followers base our thoughts on the teaching of ‘This universe is the body of God.’ Keeping in mind that everything is God’s blessing, it is important for us to be grateful for the blessings and make effective use of what God gives us with a humble mind. No matter how much science advances, therefore, it is of paramount importance that we utilize what we are given in a manner that is in accord with God’s intention.”

To the second question, he replied, “We each have some responsibility for wars,” and emphasized: “Dust accumulated in our mind becomes a trigger that causes various problems in the world, which could result in threatening human survival. That’s why we are asked to live in accord with God’s intention.”

Meetings of Prayer and the Final Ceremony

On the afternoon of the last day of the event, representatives of participating religions and denominations met at various locations in the old city of Krakow to offer their prayers for peace. At a monastery close to the old city center, three Tenrikyo representatives–Europe and Africa Section Chief Yoshihiko Shirokihara of the Overseas Department, Tenrikyo Europe Centre Head Yoshinori Tanaka, and Tenrikyo UK Centre Head Takayuki Onoue–performed the seated service and the service dance up to Song Four, which were led by Rev. Iburi as singer.

Before and after the service performance, a few Tenrikyo terms such as “Joyous Life,” “Service,” and “the Mikagura-uta, The Songs for the Service” were explained to the people who came to observe the performance in an easy-to-understand manner by Rev. Shirokihara and Rev. Onoue in English and by Rev. Tanaka in French.

Following the Meetings of Prayer, the Final Ceremony was held in Market Square, Krakow. The Shinbashira attended the ceremony, sitting in the front row on a stage specially constructed around the bottom of the tower of the old city hall. After the proclamation of the Appeal for Peace 2009, an announcement was made that the city of Barcelona, Spain, had been chosen for the site of next year’s gathering.

Religious representatives then came up to the center of the stage one after another to light the candle set up on the stage and signed the Appeal for Peace 2009. “We are very thankful to have the Shinbashira present at this gathering for the first time,” Dr. Quattrucci said. He also shared his hopes for the future by saying, “Since we have deepened the relationship with Tenrikyo, we would like to take a new step forward by, for example, holding a similar gathering in Asia with the support of Tenrikyo.”

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