During our visit to the majestic grounds of the Shwedagon Pagoda, some of us were given a passionate and beautiful commentary on the meaning of the place and its importance to the national identity. Only to be pleasantly surprised that our guides were a Muslim and a Hindu. Then we were inspired by other encounters such as a young doctor who had the opportunity to pursue a career overseas but chose to come back and set up his medical practice. These experiences inspire us to be hopeful of the future of Myanmar because of our peers; the young religious leaders.
We, the religious youth of the Religions for Peace Asia and the Pacific Interfaith Youth Network convened by the Religions for Peace, the world’s largest coalition of religious communities dedicated to inter- religious cooperation for conflict transformation, peace building and sustainable development, have gathered here in Yangon for the first time. We share the excitement and the anxiety as we witness the rise of a new era for Mynamar.
Everywhere in this beautiful city filled with green open spaces and gracious hospitality, new buildings are rising on the horizon. Like the balance needed for urban development to retain the inherent beauty of Yangon, we encourage our friends to continue on this path to build unity among diverse religious and ethnic groups. We urge the government, private sector and civil society to recognise that setting up structures for building mutual understanding for continuous dialogue, among diverse religious and ethnic groups are necessary.
We were called by Religions for Peace to reflect on the theme of the upcoming world assembly which will be held in Vienna, Austria from the 19 - 21 November 2013. We felt that the theme of “Welcoming the Other: Action for Human Dignity and Shared Wellbeing” was extremely timely. We are youth leaders of pan-Asian religious organisations from Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, representing the great religious traditions in Asia including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism. With these perspectives, we affirm the importance and necessity of having permanent interfaith dialogue mechanisms to act as a social insurance for sustained economic development. We sense a looming crisis of intolerance spreading in our regions threatening to reverse the development path of our nations and affecting our shared future. We have also heeded the warning how mutual trust can be lost if we are not careful from the experiences in the south of Thailand.
At the same time, we are encouraged by the progress made by Asian governments who took bold and creative steps to put dialogue at the heart of their development policy. Sustained gains in the peace process in Aceh and a new chapter of peace in Mindanao shows us that this can be done. We are encouraged by the actions of the Myanmar government to bring about sustainable peace. No process is perfect and we call on the government to trust its religious youth who would like to do something sustainable for peace. The formation of Religions for Peace Myanmar Interfaith Youth Network can be an effective mechanism to channel the energy of youth to develop useful initiatives to overcome misunderstanding, poverty and shared challenges. We call on the government and private sector to support the network and encourage its growth.
We are extremely encouraged by the wisdom of our Myanmar peers who understand that the success of such a network requires capacity building, education about each other’s religious tradition and this will take time. On our part as the regional network, we will share resources and seek ways to find projects where we can work together with our peers here.
We will sustain communication so that we can exchange experiences and creative approaches on how we are improving trust and understanding among different religious groups. At times, the work of interfaith may seem insignificant but together as a regional network, it is a powerful force for good.
These days have been inspiring and will leave a mark in our hearts. From afar, the beautiful pagoda of Shwedagon attracted us. And when we came closer, we discovered something more immensely beautiful, there were all these different smaller temples built around it representing different states and aspirations. It is almost like the place was speaking to us and it was saying that Myanmar is made more beautiful by the diversity of its people and ideas. This is what we bring with us, the spiritual treasure of Myanmar is an idea of, Many but one.