It's been 15 full and fulfilling years since the United Religions Initiative charter was signed, and this year has brought many colorful and beautiful anniversary celebrations around the world. The most recent occasion for celebration was last Saturday, June 27, 2015, when URI was invited to join the 70th anniversary of the creation of the United Nations. Dignitaries including United States Representative Nancy Pelosi; Asoke Kumar Mukerji, India Ambassador to the United Nations; and Cristina Gallach, UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information joined URI Founder and President the Right Rev. William E. Swing; URI Executive Director, the Rev. Victor Kazanjian; and former URI Global Council Chair Rita Semel at a day-long celebration at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral.
(left to right) Asoke Kumar Mukerji, India Ambassador to the UN; Maher Nasser, Dir. Of Outreach, United Nations Department of Public Information; Rita Semel, URI's 1st Global Council Chair; Sam Chan, URI Foundation Board Member; US Representative Nancy Pelosi; The Right Rev. William E. Swing, URI President and Founding Trustee; URI Executive Director, The Rev. Victor Kazanjian; Cristina Gallach, UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information; and Monica Willard, URI representative at the UN. Photographer: Barbara Hartford.
As you know, the shared anniversary is no coincidence; URI takes its inspiration from the United Nations. In fact, it was at the UN's 50th anniversary celebration, held at Grace Cathedral in 1995, that the impetus for creating a "United Religions" came to Bishop Swing. This idea then took five years of planning until June 26, 2000, when the Charter of the United Religions Initiative was signed.
This year's celebration started Friday afternoon with a celebration at San Francisco City Hall featuring UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. At Friday night's dinner, held at the Fairmont Hotel, former Secretary of State George Shultz, who also serves on the President's Council of the United Religions Initiative, urged those in attendance to support the work of the United Nations in combatting violent extremism. Earlier this year, while testifying at the January 29th hearing of the US Senate Committee on Armed Services on global threats and national security strategy, Secretary Shultz singled out the United Religions Initiative as the kind of positive, non-military approach that we must support to deal with the rising violence of religious extremism.
See the video of George Shultz's January 29, 2015 testimony here.
Saturday's celebration took place in Grace Cathedral, where hundreds of people joined to hear guest speakers, listen to musical performances, and join in interactive activities to further interfaith peacebuilding. During the celebration, URI was also lauded in speeches by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi; filmmaker and international human rights scholar Grazyna Petra Kolondra, J. C. D., LL. M.; and Marco Tavanti, Ph. D., professor at the School of Management, director of the University of San Francisco Non Profit Administration and Graduate Program, president of the Sustainable Capacity International Institute, and Co-Founder of the World Engagement Institute.
URI was represented by the Right Rev. William E. Swing, who emceed Saturday's event and highlighted the link between URI and the UN, and Executive Director Victor Kazanjian, who addressed URI's work in the context of global peacebuilding.
Watch the video and read the full text of the Right Rev. William E. Swing's speeches here.
Watch the video and read the full text of URI Executive Director Victor Kazanjian's speech here.
Sally Mahé, Co-Director of Global Programs & Organizational Development for URI, led the audience in an Appreciative Inquiry session, where audience members were encouraged to engage in discussions with the people around them to better connect and understand each other and the paths that led them to this shared moment.
Watch the video and see participant photos from the Appreciative Inquiry session here.
Over the last 15 years, URI has caught the attention and imaginations of people from all walks of life. The formation of URI, as told by its founder the Right Rev. William E. Swing, in his recently released book "A Bishop's Quest: Founding a United Religions", earned commendations from Former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, the Most Reverend Desmond M. Tutu, Rabbi David Rosen, former U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, and former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz, among many others.
The anniversary month of June has been celebrated by URI community members around the world as they share photos and memories from the founding and convene for future peacebuilding work. There are continued anniversary celebrations planned for the rest of the year across many continents. To celebrate the United Religions Initiative's 15th anniversary of the signing of its charter, members of the URI community are exchanging reflections, memories, and hopes for the future.
Read a collection of these sentiments here - and we welcome you to add your own.
Happy Anniversary from the URI Family!