Four French students spent ten days in New Zealand during November 2017. They are away from home for seven months in order to visit 20 countries. In each place, they are recording both story and video, as well as the various interfaith people, groups, and activities they discover during their travels.
They belong to the interfaith group ‘CoExister,’ an organisation begun by a young person in Paris after one of the terrorist incidents in that city. Organised by and involving the 18 to 40 age group, CoExister has spread from France into Europe and England. This is the third such annual interfaith journey undertaken by young people in the organisation. On their return the students will speak in order to share what they have learned, in schools and conferences in all the major cities in France and further afield in Europe.
The students spent time in Auckland, New Plymouth and Wellington. They were blown away by the open friendliness they witnessed in the religiously diverse gatherings we involved them in. The students thank their hosts in Auckland, New Plymouth and Wellington.
The Religious Diversity Centre organised and hosted the inaugural meeting of national religious leaders representing the wide variety of faith and belief groups throughout Aotearoa New Zealand on 15 November 2017 at the Religious Diversity Centre in Auckland. Archbishops and other leaders from Christian denominations, as well as representatives from Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Bahá’í, Buddhist, Jewish, Latter Day Saints and the Ratana Church communities were present.
In her words of welcome to the Religious Diversity Centre, Jocelyn Armstrong, Chairperson of the Centre Trust, shared a message from the Centre’s patron, the Rt Hon Helen Clark, who wrote “Understanding and tolerance between faiths play a vital part in maintaining peace and harmony within and between societies.”
Jocelyn assured the gathering that this meeting of the country’s religious leaders was a powerful symbol of inter-religious relations, and of the accepting, inclusive and dynamic society we all desire – rooted in respectful relationships that do not blur the distinctiveness of each specific religious tradition”.
The group confirmed their commitment to respecting religious diversity in New Zealand, ensuring that people of all faiths can live in harmony. In addition, the leaders shared the following concerns which need urgent action:
The growing levels of inequality and poverty in New Zealand, which can only be solved through addressing structural issues.
The need for increased levels of training for teachers to feel confident in bringing religious diversity education into classrooms. By improving understanding of each other’s commonalities and differences, we will be able to increase religious harmony in New Zealand.
The importance of recognising the climate crisis as an urgent issue for human beings which impacts the well-being of everyone on the planet.
The Religious Leaders in attendance are already working within their own faith communities to implement solutions to these issues, but call for wider collective action and advocacy. Lasting solutions require action from central and local government, as well as from civil society.
The Leaders also called for a humane resolution to the situation on Manus Island, supporting the offer of relocating 150 refugees to New Zealand. “Asylum seekers must be treated with dignity and given a chance to live in safety and freedom. Irrespective of any political and religious differences, we are facing a humanitarian crisis in the Pacific region, and we need to come together to resolve this issue”.
In attendance, representing the faith traditions, were:
Bahá’í Faith: Dr Shirin Foroughian (Chief Executive Officer, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of New Zealand), Paddy Paine (Coordinator, Bahá’í Office of Public Affairs); Buddhism: Sensei Amala Wrightson (Chairperson, New Zealand Buddhist Council), Venerable Abbess Manshin (Fo Guang Shan Temple, Manukau), Sally Wong (Vice President, BLIA, North Island), Ajahn Chandako (Vimutti Buddhist Monastery); Christianity: Archbishop Philip Richardson (Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia), Cardinal John Dew (Roman Catholic Archbishop of Wellington), Rev Prince Devanandan (President, Methodist Church of New Zealand), Glyn Carpenter (New Zealand Christian Network), Elder David Thomson (LDS); Apotoro Takiwa Kereama Pene (Takiwa, Senior Apostle, Tamaki Makaurau, Ratana Church) and Apotoro Rehita Daniel Nehemia (Apotoro, Orakei Tamaki Makaurau and Waiheke Island); Hinduism: Shridhara Mysore (Hindu Council Community Outreach and Liaison), Acharya Ajay Tiwari (Jyotish Trust), Krishnachandra Das (ISKON); Islam: Shaykh Mohammed Amir (FIANZ Religious Advisor), Sheikh Rafat Najm (Chaplain, AUT and Al-Hikmah Trust), Anjum Rahman (Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand); Hoda Fahmy, Dialogue student; Judaism: Rabbi Nathanel Friedler (Auckland Hebrew Congregation); Sikhism: Ram Singh (Founder, Gurdwara Guru Tech Bahadur Sahib), Gurinder Singh Shadipur (Trustee, Sikh Centre New Zealand).
Others in attendance representing:
Religious Diversity Centre: Jocelyn Armstrong (RDC Trust Chairperson), Jenny Te Paa Daniel (RDC Deputy Chairperson), Prof. Paul Morris (RDC Trustee, Victoria University of Wellington), Bhai Verpal Singh (RDC Trustee, Sikh Centre), Ricky Waters (RDC Trustee, Coordinating Chaplain, Massey & Unitec), Dr Nicholas Thompson (RDC Trustee, Auckland University); Human Rights Commission: Tuiloma Lina-Jodi Vaine Samu (Human Rights Advisor-Pasifika).
Christianity: Rev Fakaofo Kaio (Moderator Designate, Presbyterian Church), Rev Diana Tana (Te Haahi Weteriana o Aotearoa), Elder Paul Coward (LDS); Hinduism: Dr Kantibhai Patel (Swaminarayan Mandir), Kalasamvara Das (ISKON); Islam: Seyed Taghi Derhamy (Islamic Ahlulbayt Foundation); Judaism: Rabbi JoEllen Duckor (Temple Sinai, Wellington), Rabbi Yitzchak Mizrahi (Beth El Synagogue, Wellington); Religious Diversity Centre: Dr Todd Nachowitz (RDC Centre Coordinator, University of Waikato) Human Rights Commission: Dame Susan Devoy, Rakesh Naidoo.