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Pope to hold inter-faith meet in New York

April 17, 2008 12:36 IST

The high profile visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the US is noted for the involvement of several Indian Americans as well as a protest in New York.

People belonging to different faiths, excluding the Sikhs, will meet with him in an interfaith dialogue at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington DC, on Thursday evening.

Several Indians are also invited to the White House reception to the Pope, including Brother PD Dominic from Philadelphia.

When the Pope arrives in New York, he will stay at the Permanent Observer Mission of Vatican at the UN, where the second highest ranking official is an Indian - Monsignor Kuraikose Kulangara, who is a counsellor at the mission. The mission works under Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See.

Msgr Kuriakose is the third Indian in a row working as counsellor. His immediate predecessor, Msgr Franics Chullikkatt, was elevated to archbishop and he now serves as Vatican ambassador to Iraq. Before him, Msgr George Panikulam served as counsellor, who too became an archbishop and currently serves as papal nuncio to Mozambique.

Msgr Kuraikose is awaiting the visit of the pope eagerly. "It is really a great honour to stay with the Pope at the same house. He will pray with us, eat with us, and interact with us. This is not something that happens frequently," he said.

The meeting between the UN Secretary General and also the Pope's speech at the UN will have its impact on the world stage as the {ope continues to be a great moral force, he noted.

He expects the Pope to speak on issues that are dear to the current world. They could include human rights, workers' problems, immigrants' plight, poverty etc.

The pope will visit Ground Zero and say a mass at the Yankee Stadium before leaving for Rome on Sunday night.

From the Brooklyn-Queens Diocese in New York, 25 Indian Catholics in traditional dress, will be part of a group that will see him off at the JFK airport on Sunday. Women will be dressed in saris.

When he meets representatives of other religions, five young adults will present the Holy Father with symbols of peace from their faith traditions.

Aditya Vora, a student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, will present a gift on behalf of the Jain community.

Vora will give the Pope a multisided cube that celebrates persons committed to or inspired by Jain ethical principles. The texts inscribed on the cube include the five Namokar mantras, which are recited daily by the faithful, and the principles of Jainism.

Dr Ravi Gupta, assistant professor of Religion at Center College, Kentucky, will present the sacred syllable Om on a brass incense burner. Om is the primordial sound of creation itself, by which God's liberating peace is made known. Bronze or brass are widely used for Hindu liturgical ornaments. Incense sticks are used in the rituals of the Hindu temples.

With a doctorate in Religion from University of Oxford, he is the author of The Caitanya Vaisnava Vedanta of Jiva Gosvami: When Knowledge Meets Devotion.

Saman Hussain, born in Pakistan and a graduate of the University of Virginia, will present a small, finely crafted edition of the Quran, in green leather and gold leaf edging.

Washington Representatives of Sikhism, the world's fifth-largest religion, had planned to attend the meeting until the Secret Service, for security reasons, determined that Sikhs who wear kirpans, could not take them into the meeting. So they declined to participate.

Bishop Richard Sklba, chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, noted that the theme 'Religions Working for Peace' will run through the meeting, to which 200 leaders have been invited. "The cry for peace in our world calls for religious bodies to come together," Bishop Sklba said.

Meanwhile an organisation called 'Forum for the Protection of Religious Pluralism' has announced two protests, one at the UN and one when the Pope say the mass in Yankee Stadium. Several Hindus are also part of the protest.

The protest is against aggressive proselytisation. "We are not against any religion," says Satyanarayana Dosapati, one of the organisers of the event. "But the religious freedoms of cultures are being abused in many countries and their ancient traditions are being lost at an alarming rate. Mahatma Gandhi called proselytisations conducted by missionaries as the deadliest poison that ever sapped the fountain of truth. We can no longer afford to live in a world in which some religions spend billions of dollars each year to spread intolerance and injustice under the guise of humanitarian aid, while ancient traditions disappear as the result. If religious pluralism is to have a future, we must act now".

George Joseph in New York