UPF Philippines 1st Peace Talks Webinar Series
Universal Peace Federation Philippines
“The Role of Religious Leaders: Moving Through and Beyond the Coronavirus Crisis.”
The Universal Peace Federation Philippines successfully held its first Peace Talks Webinar Series on the topic, “The Role of Religious Leaders: Moving Through and Beyond the Coronavirus Crisis.” This took place on Thursday, May 8, 2020 at 8:00 – 9:30 pm. This was participated by 82 registered participants and 12 speakers and panelists; total 94 attendees. The participants included religious leaders, members of the academe, government officials and Ambassadors for Peace who have attended UPF’s events in the past.
The unique part is the education that took place prior to the program itself. A 50-minute pre-recorded video presentation along with a PowerPoint presentation were sent out several days before the webinar. It addressed the reason why the coronavirus pandemic is not a harbinger to the coming destruction of the world. This added tremendous focus to the discussion and dialogue. It was well received. The panelists referred to the UPF Founders repeatedly and appreciated their insights into fundamental aspects of a practical life of faith in this time of crisis and confusion.
The program started with warm greetings and introduction from the moderator, Abp. Elias T. Soria, President, Asian Clergy Leadership Conference – Philippines, and an Opening Prayer led by Msgr. Isagani Fabito of the Philippine Independent Church.
Dr. Chung Sik Yong, Regional Group Chairman of Universal Peace Federation – Asia Pacific, delivered his Chairman’s Remarks where he encouraged the cooperation of religious leaders to be the lighthouse that the world needs during this challenging time. He said that it is now time to let the religious leaders fulfill their roles to become the conscience of the people and to let this crisis become an opportunity for the revival of faith. “Especially during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic where many people are confused and grieving, the role of religion and religious leaders become more paramount,” he stressed.
Hon. Ek Nath Dhakal, Chairman of International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace (IAPP) gave the Welcoming Remarks. He commended the UPF-Philippines, Interreligious Association for Peace and Development (IAPD) and World Clergy Leadership Conference (WCLC) for hosting the webinar. He emphasized the UPF ideas of interdependence, mutual prosperity and universally shared values that were discussed during the recent World Summit 2020 held in February in Seoul, Korea which have become more relevant as we go through this global crisis. He shared that in midst of this crisis, UPF encourages the following best practices: unity, cooperation, dialogue and compassion.
Dr. Robert S. Kittel presented a summary of his presentation where he emphasized the importance of universal values that is the key to interdependence, mutual prosperity and to building an ideal society. “UPF is not going to change your faith or religion, we are here to strengthen it,” he said. He shared that during the World Summit 2013, Mother Moon emphasized two universal values. These are fundamental principles that cannot be changed: the dual-purpose principle, where we live for others by prioritizing the mind over the body or the spiritual over the physical; and the pair-system principle, where we find not gender equality but gender humility. In his presentation, he said that the coronavirus pandemic is not God’s plan to destroy the world. “God’s will is absolute and unchanging so physical destruction will not solve evil as evil started with a self-centered condition of faithlessness and disobedience,” he said. “It is evil that needs to be destroyed, not the physical world.” He shed light on the growing problem of HIV/AIDS and teenage pregnancy among the Filipino youth which jeopardizes the future of the Philippines. He ended his presentation by emphasizing that the role religious leaders need to fulfill is to give hope, courage and reignite the conscience and faith of the people in times of darkness and despair.
The first panelist to give his reaction was Father Eliseo Mercado Jr, OMI, PHD, Director for Autonomy and Good Governance in Cotabato City, Mindanao. He said that this pandemic reminds us of our interconnectedness as everyone is affected by this. This ignites the spirit of compassion, care and generosity of one another and this goes beyond race, religion and nationality. He also said that on the bright side, this pandemic has given the earth time to heal. Lastly, he shared that this reminded us that despite the advancement of our science and technology, we are not in charge; God is always in charge. That is why this is the best time to give thanks and reverence to Him.
Msgr. Joseph Lalo from the Holy Eastern Catholic Church started his reaction by saying that there are two disturbing realities that men are currently facing today: fear and depression. “These two negative feelings will bring us to the last days of our life if we lose our direction,” he said. “The current COVID19 phenomenon seems to be evil initially, but when you come to think of it, this is an eye-opener to the non-believers. Fighting this invisible virus is no match for man alone to fight.” He said that fear will break us if we do not recover our spiritual relationship with God and that this is the best time to transition from deviating from the material things of the world to ascending to spiritual consciousness. “A strong faith should not fear. If God is with me, then who should I fear?” He shared that without the grace of God, we remain to be in the state of sin. Only God can heal our state of depression amidst the coronavirus pandemic. These times are compelling ourselves to witness God’s unconditional love to mankind. This is the time to stand up against immorality, corruption of the mind and matter. He ended his reaction by saying that this pandemic should also ignite spiritual pandemic, that every soul should be infected with God’s love, peace and mercy so we can be one with God through eternity.
Bp. Joy Bendoy, President, Evangelical Conference of the Philippines from Cebu City said that if we all follow these universal principles discussed by Dr. Kittel, we will naturally begin to care and live for the sake of others despite any trouble or tribulations. He shared that when he first heard of the concept of ‘living for the sake of others’ in one UPF conference he attended, it struck his heart when he realized the struggle to go beyond our differences of religion and race that we have forgotten the teaching of Jesus Christ which is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. He said, “In this pandemic, the best thing for us to do, is to begin to see what we can do for our brothers and how do we become a blessing to them.” He shared that he has been volunteering and providing goods to front-liners and people in the community in need. “If we live a life with peace and harmony in our hearts, we should always remind ourselves that we are not living it for myself or for my family, but for the entire society, nation and world. When we apply this, we can impact the lives of many others and others will be feeling genuine love from you.”
Bp. Ramil Gerner Sr, United Methodist Church from Puerto Princesa, Palawan recommends three points on the role of religious leaders during the coronavirus pandemic. “We need to give people a PIE,” he started. He shared the meaning of the acronym PIE which stands for prayer, interreligious harmony and unity, and finally, education of universal family values. He said that this is the time to pray and humble ourselves in front of the living God. He quoted 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” He emphasized, “The role of religious leaders during this time is to advocate the values of absolute sex (abstinence before marriage and fidelity after) and be the public’s voice and conscience to speak out on social and moral issues that plagues our society.” He highlighted that we need to focus on this matter today. With regards to interreligious harmony, he urged religious leaders to work alongside national leaders in forming religious assemblies or council of religious representatives within the structure of the United Nations. He added that living for the sake of others and filial piety are the values that can make this world a better place for everyone.
Bp. Rene Ballenas, President, Association of Christian Evangelist Inc. from New Jersey, USA said that people are scared because they don’t see what’s going on and they don’t see the enemies. He reminded us that in times of fear, God is our refuge and that this should not let our hearts be troubled. The problem lies with the fact that not so many people have that personal experience with God. “We have a responsibility to our neighbors which is to carry one another’s burden. We need to help one another regardless of our religious inclinations or what we preach.” He cited that the role of religious leaders during this time is to bring hope and restore joy to those who are listening to us. He concluded by saying, “What the world needs today is not the division of religious leaders but in their unity. We need restore hope and joy among the people and restore peace in the hearts of those who are scared and confused.”
Dr. Jaime O. Cempron, Married Priest Alliance, Quezon City said in his reflection that as people nowadays are living in fear and uncertainty, the role of religious leaders should start with acknowledging that being a religious leader do not give them religious authority. “You are not superior of others. You do not own the deposit of truth and others are only recipients of it. People need to consider us as pastors and true shepherds.” He said, “We are caretakers of the souls of the people who are now living in the state of darkness. We need to become the beacon of light…”
There was only time for four questions at the end. First, Dr. Cempron asked a question addressed to Father Mercado, “As religious leaders how do we show this kind of unity in the things that we do as caretakers of the souls of others?” Answer: “We are one and we all suffer. Since we are connected, there is a growing consciousness of universal charity. The expression for this is that we share the common table of assisting those who are victims, who suffer during this time.”
Dr. Kittel also answered that this can also be expressed by simply treating people like they are family as the family is like the microcosm of all relationships in our society.
The second question was what must be the new normal guidelines on the practice of our religious faith during the pandemic. This was answered by Dr. Kittel: “We need to put our family above religion. Do not change your religion but your priority has to change. We need to have the right priority.”
The third question was, “What will be the clear responsibility that everyone should do?” Answer by Father Mercado: “Do not simply rely on government to assist. This is why we need to cooperate as individuals.”
The final question was, “How does the religious sector perform its role if the government is imposing limits during this COVID-19 pandemic?” This was answered by Dr. Kittel who said that we live in the age of internet. “What we are doing right now is the best model. We are building relationships and educating in the best way and there should be no excuse.”
Bp. Ballenas also imparted his answer by saying that, “During this pandemic, churches are closed for worship but the homes now are open for worship. The basic unity of society is the home. This is the right way to worship God. We need to start worshipping God in our families. All problems in society stems from families.”
The webinar ended with a Closing Song, Heal Our Land, sung by all participants, speakers and panelists together.
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