Members of the New York Staff Band (Bandmaster Ron Waiksnoris) had the privilege of participating in a program held in the United Nations General Assembly Hall on Tuesday, 7 February 2012, a first for the group. The event, with the theme “Common Ground for the Common Good”, marked the close of the second annual World Interfaith Harmony Week.
The program was hosted by the President of the General Assembly, His Excellency Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser. In his opening remarks, which followed the blowing of a conch shell and a flute by Taino indigenous Roberto Mukaro Borrero, the President said, “We recognize and celebrate the values that are shared across religious traditions. These common principles form a common ground that unites us in our rich diversity.”
The stream of diverse religious voices began with His Excellency Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikatt, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, who said that the Pope and Catholic leaders had repeatedly called on all believers to reject religiously-motivated violence. Other religious voices included Acharya Shri Shrivasta Goswami of India, Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh of the United Kingdom, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of New York, Ven. Dr. Chun Ohun Lee of the Republic of Korea, Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith of California and Rabbi David Rosen, who spoke in moving fashion of the need to engage religious groups to make peace in the Holy Land.
Monica Willard, President of the Committee of Religious NGOs at the United Nations, stated that the purpose of the event, which honored General Assembly Resolution A/RES/65/5 establishing World Interfaith Harmony Week, was to fill the General Assembly with love. Statements were also offered by Philippe Kridelka of UNESCO and Marc Schueur of the UN Alliance of Civilizations.
Dr. William F. Vendley, Secretary General of Religions for Peace, spoke to the theme of the day, explaining that “multi-religious partnerships can yield real fruit in conflict resolution, the fight against disease and poverty and concern for our earth.” Other distinguished speakers highlighted the role of faith communities in conflict mediation, disaster prevention and response,revitalization of the United Nations and sustainable development. Yuka Saionji of Byakko Shinko Kai in Japan moved everyone to tears thanking them for their prayer support of Japan after the earthquake and tsunami of 2011.
The program was also rich with cultural presentations. Music by the New York City Symphony Chamber Ensemble included the lovely strains of a harp. The Children’s Theater Company delighted the 1,200 gathered with a performance of peace quotes by exuberant young actors, followed by the song One World.
The event culminated in a ceremony where representatives of eleven of the world’s religions were each invited to water the same tree, to the haunting soprano saxophone of Paul Winter. The speakers came to the stage for the closing of the ceremony and the concluding remarks of the President of the General Assembly, who stated that, “The fruits of religious dialogue and understanding offer the hope of a new era of peace for all humanity.”
As a grand finale, members of the Salvation Army New York Staff Band came down the aisles playing Joyful, Joyful.