More than 80 people from different faith groups, organizations and institutions participated in the event that was synchronized with the grand SOPP of the Byakko Shinko Kai at the Fuji Sanctuary in Japan, kicking-off the 24-hour worldwide prayer marathon that involves more than 500 different groups in various locations in over 80 countries.
On its fourth year (since SOPP began to be staged locally outside Japan in 2008) SOPP Manila has been organized by the Mandala Peace Arts Initiative, Inc. (MPAI), in partnership with The Peacemakers’ Circle Foundation, Inc. (TPCFI), United Religions Initiative in Southeast Asia-Pacific (URI-SEAP), and several other peace groups and faith organizations.
Returning to a familiar venue of SOPP (from two years back), this year’s celebration saw a more informal and more intimate theme. At the center of the space were the flags of the different nations, rose petals and candles encircling a unique Peace Pole. The 7-foot Peace Pole is unique in the sense that it was wrapped in newspaper pages that highlighted the significant current events in the world, especially the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
As the people arrive and register they were asked to write individual peace prayers on a big cloth mandala, as well as write on a piece of paper their personal prayers for Japan and other regions in the world that are currently experiencing serious challenges. Right before the interfaith prayers—after engaging in Ocean Breathing exercise and performing the Divinity-In for Humanity (Jinrui Soku Kami Nari)—these personal prayers were offered by each one, by placing them at the center and on the peace pole. This was done while everyone sang a community song entitled, “Ruah”, (Hebrew for “breath”).
Connected with the breath and prayerful intentions, this contemplative mood was then deepened by a guided mediation/commentary from the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (represented by Bro. John Dowling) to start off the offering of prayers from the different faith traditions.
This was followed by a soul-moving doxology performance from the Muslim-Christian Youths for Peace and Unity (MCYPU). Interpreting the song, “You Raise me Up”, the heartfelt dance prayer conveyed the scenes of veiled young Muslim girls, palms open, side by side with young Christian girls, palms together—posing in their respective prayer gestures-- moving, although differently, in oneness of spirit, harmony and grace.
Without interruption, each prayer leader then offered his/her own traditional prayers one after the other in flowing sequence, guided in between just by the sound of a bell chime. Among the other faiths represented were: Earth-based spirituality (Mr. Ishilta Pinlac, URI-SEAP Youth Ambassador 2010); Hinduism (Dr. Shakuntala Vaswani, URI-SEAP Regional Coordinator); Tibetan Buddhism (Mr. Reimon Cosare, TPCFI & SangHabi); Christianity (Sr. Vida Cordero, SFIC – Franciscan Sisters); Islam (Mr. Alan Berguia, TPCFI & MCYPU); and Baha’i' Faith (Ms. Raquel Castillo, National Spiritual Assembly of Bahaí).
Immediately following the prayers from different faiths was the second highlight of the program which is the World Peace Prayer Ceremony. For almost 40 minutes the entire hall was still and focused on acknowledging each country, mentioning its name as its national flag was flashed on-screen, and praying for peace to prevail in each one. Although feeling a bit of strain in their arms (due to holding the prayer position for so long), the general state of being among everyone in the hall was upliftment and lightheartedness towards the end of the ceremony.
Simple vegetarian snacks, music jamming, and warm conversations concluded the morning.