The Area Presidency has extended an invitation for all stakes and districts all over the country to observe the 2020 World Interfaith Harmony Week by reaching out to religious leaders in their areas and collaborating with them to organize an interfaith gathering of leaders from every faith within their area.
The World Interfaith Harmony Week is based on UNGA Resolution A/65/PV.34 for a worldwide week of interfaith harmony. Here in the Philippines, Republic Act 10525 declares the first week of February of every year as 'World Interfaith Harmony Week' in the entire country. We are encouraged to advance the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in accordance with religious traditions and practices.
Supporting the interfaith initiative shows respect for the diverse beliefs and unique contributions of all the world’s faiths. It is one of the hallmarks of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We elevate the principle of religious liberty and tolerance as embodied in the 11th Article of Faith: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”
During his recent visit to the Philippines, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles emphasized the need for interfaith efforts by hosting an interfaith luncheon held at the Area Office. “Those who feel accountable to God not only have a desire for sacred space,” said Elder Cook. “But they [also] want...to bless their fellow brothers and sisters. This principle to bless another is what brings people together.”
Citing prominent religious leaders and promoters of interfaith dialogue, William Wilberforce who advocated for the abolishment of slavery and Mother Teresa who dedicated her life to caring for the poor, Elder Cook believes that the combined efforts of interfaith communities can make a big difference.
And because his visit coincided with the Taal volcanic unrest, Elder Cook urged the religious leaders to combine their relief efforts as they respond to the needs of the Taal evacuees.
In that Spirit, Elder Cook and fellow religious leaders of other faiths in the Philippines encouraged everyone not only to have tolerance for one another but also to willingly lend a hand to help others.
“The Filipino people are very capable and…very talented, but they are also very kind. And they respect other people,” he said. Anchoring on these Filipino characteristics, the local Church has partnered with religious affiliations to care for the poor and the needy, give hope to the marginalized, and preserve the environment.
In recent years, the Church has been actively participating in Youth Interfaith Peace Camps and Interfaith luncheons. Many friends from other faith groups participated in last year’s #BFF (Building Forever Families) Color Run held in celebration of Family Week. At the stake level, interfaith Christmas programs and Easter Cantatas have been held, including various community service projects under the banner of National Day of Service. Another large-scale campaign involving other faiths is the Light the World Giving Machine, where 100% of the proceeds will go to selected charity organizations.
These interfaith collaborations are what the Philippines Area Presidency would like all Church units in the country to plan and organize beginning February 1 until March 31. However, interfaith collaboration and efforts need not be expensive nor extravagant. An increase in interfaith efforts can be achieved as long as there are individuals who are willing to work together. And the act can be as simple as being considerate of others' beliefs and practices and exerting efforts to accommodate them.
“Every time we get invited back by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it’s like coming home,” said Venerable Miao Jing, a Buddhist monk of Fo Guang Shan, who attended the Interfaith Luncheon. “They go the extra mile to accommodate us, especially we are vegetarians.”
Another example of an interfaith effort was shared by Fr. Richard Babao of Roman Catholic of Archdiocese of Manila. Fr. Babao visits the local Church at least once every year. “I bring my seminarians here, and they engage with young missionaries,” he said.
Everyone can offer interfaith efforts. After all, as Bishop Pablo David, Vice-President of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, has said, “Nobody has the monopoly of goodwill.”
Interfaith dialogues are the start of strong relationships, but they are not enough. Elder Cook asked us to do “whatever we can to increase faith, accountability to God, bless families…, protect religious freedom…,and be of service to our fellow human beings.” For only through these things can the purpose of interfaith dialogues be accomplished. ◼︎