In Asia we are experiencing a plethora of new changes and developments. One of the most significant is the shift of the center of economic gravity from the West to the Asia-Pacific region. Asia is now considered as the world’s center of economic activity, and within that sphere, East Asia has emerged as the core of development. Our continent is considered to be the key area of growth, modernization and industrialization in our modern age. Of course, this attention has both negative and positive consequences.
With this in mind, RfP Asia must ask the fundamental question: what are the roles of religion in our day and age? I believe that RfP Asia should play an important role, both as a spiritual and moral force. The spiritual richness and moral values of religion are important guides to our development, and so it is clear that religion should be appreciated as a problem-solver for our continent, and as a guide to the development of humankind as a whole.
RfP Asia, therefore, must redefine itself as a movement, and not simply as an organization or a group of religious leaders. A movement is a force higher than any organization. As a movement, we must make a leap forward. RfP Asia, as such a movement, should adapt itself to our ever-evolving contemporary society and face these new challenges by becoming a more effective and functional association. It must become a mediating force and agent of transformation, development and progress. It is vital that our movement, over the next five years, become a progressive, vital and flexible association with the capacity to address and respond to the various needs of the world around us.
Religions for Peace Asia (also known as ACRP) is the world’s largest regional body of religiously-inspired people working for peace and interreligious harmony. Based on the tenets of truth, justice and human dignity, RfP Asia members are active in their home countries, in the Asia-Pacific region and across the world. Founded in 1976, it operates in tandem with the international body, Religions for Peace International.
RfP Asia encompasses the Asia-Pacific region, the origin of many of the greatest cultural, linguistic and spiritual heritages that highlight the diversity of humanity. Asia is also the birthplace of the world’s major religious traditions. As such, it has a special place in creating solutions to society’s troubles, based in binding authentic values, irrevocable standards of virtuous behaviour and deep-seated moral attitudes, all grounded in a belief in the unity of humanity.
Spirituality abounds in Asia. As a gift of the divine, spirituality is a transcendent force making Asia one in its diversity in its many expressions. It is an uplifting force of higher quality found within the depths of each human being, which makes us fit and worthy channels for great love, compassion and service. This spirit is witnessed and proclaimed by all religious traditions, and is one that finds its outlet in the various groups and associations created out of these religions for the good of society.
In 1970, religious leaders from around the world convened in Kyoto for the first ever world religious assembly, and established the World Conference of Religions and Peace. At this meeting, some Asian religious leaders pointed out that Asia faced a number of problems that posed a threat to peace. Accordingly, they felt that they should respond in ways appropriate to Asia, and in doing so must maintain their Asian identity in addressing issues and concerns that affect the region, as well as the wider world. These needs were addressed when the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace (ACRP) was established during the second Assembly of the World Conference of Religions and Peace in September of 1974 in Louvain, Belgium. The ensuing two years of demanding preparation finally gave birth to this eagerly awaited Asian organization. Through ACRP, Asian religious leaders have a visible manifestation of their own dialogue and fellowship, as well as a solid framework for common advocacy and concerted efforts for peace.
History of the RfP Asia (ACRP) Assemblies
The 1st ACRP Assembly was held in Singapore in November 1976, and hosted around 300 participants from 17 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The theme of the Assembly was Peace through Religion. A resolution on Indochinese Refugees Relief was adopted at the Assembly, and immediately thereafter, ACRP engaged in relief operations for the refugees in collaboration with RfP International. The resulting Boat People’s Project caught the attention of international media.
With the theme of Religions in Action for Peace, the 2nd Assembly was convened at New Delhi, India in November 1981 with approximately 200 participants from 16 Asia-Pacific countries in attendance. A delegation from the People’s Republic of China participated for the first time in an ACRP Assembly. The Assembly adopted the resolution on the establishment of ACRP Human Rights Center in New Delhi, India to demonstrate the ACRP’s dedication to the protection of human rights in the region.
At the 3rd Assembly, over 400 participants from 22 countries in Asia and the Pacific gathered in Seoul, in the Republic of Korea in June 1986. The Assembly theme was Promotion of Human Dignity and Humanization. Since the unification of the Korean Peninsula was the foremost concern of the participants, the Assembly became a platform to help initiate building a bridge of peace and reconciliation over the two Koreas. This Assembly saw the establishment of the Seoul Peace Education Center (SPEC), a fitting commemoration to the 10th anniversary of the founding of ACRP.
The 4th Assembly was convened at Kathmandu, Nepal in October 1991 with the theme of Asian Religions Towards 21st Century. Over 300 participants from 21 countries across Asia and the Pacific attended the Assembly. One of the issues discussed during the Assembly was the role of religion as society enters the 21st century, in view of the demise of the Cold War. A delegation from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea attended an ACRP Assembly for the first time.
With the theme of Our Asian Neighborhood, the 5th Assembly was held at Ayutthaya, Thailand in October 1996. About 270 participants from 25 countries in Asia and the Pacific participated in the Assembly, which commemorated the ACRP’s 20th anniversary. During the Assembly, the Youth Committee showed its sympathy for the Thai people by collecting US $1,000 in relief funds for victims of a severe flood that had occurred in the region.
At Yogyakarta, Indonesia in June 2002, the 6th Assembly was host to approximately 300 participants from 20 countries from the Asia-Pacific region gathered. The theme of the Assembly was Asia, the Reconciler. The reality and spirituality of Asia were deeply reflected in the Assembly, which focused its dialogue on the topic of civilization rather than the clash of civilizations. The participants viewed that Asian spirituality was a force, which would make people one in spite of their diverse way of expressing the higher nature of humanity.
Around 400 participants from 24 countries in Asia and the Pacific attended the 7th Assembly, which was held in Manila, the Philippines in October 2008. The Assembly theme was Peacemaking in Asia. Prior to the Assembly, the Religious Youth Summit, attended by Asian religious youth leaders, was convened at Mindanao and issued An Urgent Appeal for Peace in Mindanao. At this Assembly, the group was rebranded as Religions for Peace Asia.
The 8th Assembly was convened at Inchon, the Republic of Korea in August 2014 with the theme of Unity and Harmony in Asia. Over 450 participants from 26 countries in Asia and the Pacific participated in the Assembly, where a Special Workshop on the Reconciliation in the Korean Peninsula took place. The Workshop’s key achievement was the issuing of the Peace Declaration of Korean Peninsula. The number of RfP Asia chapters reached 20 with the addition of the Malaysia and Myanmar chapters.
The Assembly Declaration is adopted at each Assembly, and the RfP Asia Executive Committee meeting held in Bandung, Indonesia in 2014 adopted the RfP Asia Strategic Action Plan, which will take effect until the next Assembly is held. Through measures such as this, RfP Asia is in the process of transforming itself from an institution into a movement.