On the 20th of September, 2014 a ceremony was held at Peace Center Lahore, Pakistan to celebrate the International Day of Peace with roughly100 guests.
The Chief Guests of the ceremony included His Grace, Sebastian Shaw, Archbishop of Lahore and Muslim religious leader Allama Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi. Professor Kazy Javed presided over the festivities, which drew people from all across Pakistan.
The annual event was hosted and organized by URI Pakistan, Peace Center Lahore, the Catholic Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism, the Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Peace and Harmony Network Pakistan and Global Mission Awareness.
The ceremony opened with recitation from the Holy Quran and Holy Bible. This was followed by a presentation about the United Nation’s International Day of Peace. Mr. Javaid William, Executive Secretary of the Catholic Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism, announced the book launch for Father James Channan OP’s new book: “Path of Love: A Call for Interfaith Harmony.”
The message of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was read by Ms. Zoya Maria, a young URI Pakistan interfaith leader:
“Each year, on this day, the United Nations calls for a global ceasefire. We ask combatants to put down their arms so all can breathe the air of peace. Armed conflicts causes untold grief to families, communities and entire countries”.
Ms. Tasneem Saeed, a URI youth trainer, read a special message from Victor H. Kazanjian Jr, Executive Director of URI. In his message Victor said, “ The International Day of Peace serves as a call to action for all who are committed to a vision of a world in which the values of compassion and kindness, justice and mercy, friendship and love are the guiding forces in our thoughts and actions towards one another. For URI, this is a time for each one of us to live out our purpose, ‘to promote enduring daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace.’”
Both of these messages from the international leaders were received with great admiration and appreciation and set the mood of the International Day of Peace celebrations.
The Archbishop of Lahore, His Grace Sebastian Shaw, congratulated all the dignitaries and attendees for organizing such a comprehensive program. He called on everyone in the crowd to make a commitment that, from this International Day of Peace onward, each one of us will walk on the path of love and peace.
He continued, saying: “Super powers take pride in making weapons of destruction to express their superiority over the other. But we need not such weapons of mass destruction and war. We need to make our thoughts and what we say weapons of reconciliation, justice and peace. With the weapons of war, you may win countries but you cannot win hearts. Let us win the hearts of each other and make human bonds so strong that they cannot be broken.”
Commenting of the book of Father James Channan, he said, “I have written the preface of this book and I am very happy that such a book is published in our country. It will serve as a tool of interfaith harmony, respect and love for all. He congratulated Father Channan for writing such an impressive and thought-provoking book.
Chief Guest of the celebration, Allama Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, a Pakistani Islamic scholar, religious leader and advocate for the rights of Christian and Hindu minorities, said:
“Global peace can be acquired only when oppressed and marginalized people will get their rights and justice will be given to them. When our leaders will come out of masks they are wearing and double faces which people have. We must not be hypocrites but true to ourselves and fair to others.”
He lamented the miseries of Hindu, Jewish and Christian minorities in Pakistan. He also gave the example of a Jewish graveyard in Karachi that needs special care and attention, saying that it must be well protected and people of religions must be given equal rights.
He also said that he does not like word “Aqliyat” (meaning “minorities”) used for Pakistani Christians and Hindus and other small minority groups. It gives the impression that they are second-class citizens. All must be treated as equal citizen and there no one should be discriminated on account of his or her religion. He also lamented the misuse of blasphemy laws and how Christians are persecuted on account of the misuse of this law.
Hafiz Ashrafi admired the hospitality and solidarity of the Christians towards Muslims in Palestine as Gaza was attacked. He said that these were Christians who opened their churches to Muslims for shelter, to offer prayers, keep fast and break fast during their holy month of Ramadan. He said such a gesture of love, concern and hospitality has set a significant example of Christian- Muslim dialogue. He also confessed that it was a Christian teen girl with Down syndrome named Rimsha Masih that brought this conversion to his life. He could not keep quite any more when this girl was falsely accused of blasphemy and he spoke out very loudly and came out in defense of her. As a result she was released from prison and now she is leading a free life.
Hafiz Tahir said that this International Day of Peace reminds us that we must promote peace at all levels of life. He highly appreciated the role of URI and other organizations in Pakistan for promoting peace and harmony. He admired leading role of Father James Channan OP in promoting peace and interfaith harmony.
Father Pascal Paulus OP, Prior Vice Provincial of the Dominican Order is Pakistan, congratulated all the guests and organizers of this beautiful program. He said our world cannot survive without love. That is also what we read in our Holy Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He also said we have to find our ways of peace and harmony to make this world worth living. Commenting on the book, he said that Father James Channan is our pride and he has dedicated his life for interfaith dialogue, harmony and peace. Father Channan has shown us the path in his book, a book that leads to universal solidarity and oneness. We must face the challenges to peace and harmony together and overcome them by putting our heart and souls together.
Several other prominent personalities, such as Professor Kazy Javed, Allama Zubar Abid, Rev. Dr. Maqus Fida, Ms. Shabnam Nagi, Rev. Dr. Majeed Abel, Allama Mustaq Hussain Jaffary, Father Inayat Bernard and Allama Zahid Mehmood Qasmi spoke at this occasion and sent messages of peace.
Towards the end, beautiful video presentations on peace, prepared by Mr. Simon Suleman were presented on multi-media; this was met with a lot of applause and admiration. The Dominican student brothers also presented very inspiring peace songs. The program concluded with a delicious supper offered to all participants.