Llandaff Cathedral Wales UK – Thursday 20th July 2017 – Uniting All Faiths and Communities in Peace
The idea for the above event came to me after the Paris terrorist attacks on Friday 13th November 2015.
At the time we were all saddened and deeply shocked by news of the near simultaneous terrorist attacks in Paris. The targets included bars, restaurants, a concert and a high profile football match. Around 129 people were killed and hundreds more were seriously injured. Mr Hollande, president of France at the time, declared three days of national mourning. It was the worst atrocity in Europe since the 2004 Madrid bombings. Paris went into deep mourning and so did the sane world
I reflected back and remembered that Peace Mala grew out of the dark aftermath of 9/11. I felt that we had entered another dark period in world history. Migrants were leaving Syria in their thousands amid much confusion, fear and suffering. It was sadly apparent that Islamaphobia, religious intolerance and racist bullying was still with us. Misunderstandings within many communities across the world persisted.
In an instant I felt urged to bring the Peace Mala community together and to do something spiritually powerful and beautiful. Llandaff Cathedral immediately sprang to mind. I felt it was also high time to put the spotlight on the wonderful work being achieved by the children and young people in our Peace Mala schools. Our purpose would be to send out a powerful message of love, friendship and peace to all people in our world.
By choosing Llandaff Cathedral, I knew that we would be meeting in one of the oldest Christian sites in Britain – a spiritual portal of great power. Up until Medieval times, pilgrims had travelled to Llandaff to visit the tomb of the Celtic Saint, Teilo who is still buried there.
Llandaff also happens to be a city within the city of Cardiff, the capital of Wales, and as Peace Mala is a Welsh initiative, it was clear to me that this was the place where this gathering should happen. My idea was to welcome representatives of the 14 religions of the Peace Mala, and more, into the cathedral space along with pupils from our UK accredited schools. I would invite them to meet and join in a liturgy for world peace. I had every faith that by doing so we’d be working with powerful energies that would bring healing to our troubled world. I knew that we would all be empowered and that the healing would reach out far beyond the stone walls of the cathedral, bringing with it a vision of hope and confidence for the future.
I discussed my idea with Venerable Robert Williams the then Archdeacon of Gower for the Anglican Church in Wales. He agreed that Llandaff would be the perfect setting. My job was now to encourage the Dean to agree with my idea and to allow this to happen. After months of e-mails asking for detailed information, the Dean agreed and offered four possible dates in the month of July 2017. I immediately phoned the cathedral secretary to make sure that this was indeed happening. Invitations and plans would need to be put in place immediately.
Many discussions with Jonathan Hoad, Head Verger of the cathedral, followed until an agreement was reached on what the liturgy would include. I had already decided on using the exquisitely beautiful music of international Welsh composer Karl Jenkins, a Gower man and therefore close to my heart. As the event would take place in a Christian setting, I was sensitive to the energies. For the opening procession of the faiths I chose Karl’s ‘Benedictus’ from ‘The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace. This amazing work was commissioned by the Royal Armouries in commemoration of the millennium. They requested a Christian musical with a liturgical form that would look back in reflection on the most war-torn and destructive century in human history, and to look ahead with hope and commitment to a new and more peaceful millennium.
Karl produced a work of tremendous power and beauty which has been performed well over 1000 times in at least 20 different countries, including a commemorative performance in New York on the 10th anniversary on 9/11. The ‘Benedictus’ is, in my opinion, the most profoundly moving movement in the whole piece.
The liturgy at Llandaff would also include the lighting of large rainbow candles representing the fourteen faiths on the Peace Mala bracelet, as well as the large central white candle representing our world and all who live on it. These candles were first lit during the launch of Peace Mala in November 2002 at the UNA Wales Temple of Peace Cardiff with Dr Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Wales and soon to become Archbishop of Canterbury. He was joined by representatives of the fourteen faiths and many others from the world of academia. The candles had been lit on a further six occasions – four times for the Peace Mala International Awards for Youth, and once more for the Peace Mala Festival of Interfaith and Culture at Gorton Monastery in Manchester. To light them again at Llandaff would be the seventh time – a magical and potent number. The music to accompany this powerful moment would be ‘Healing Light: A Celtic Prayer’ from Karl Jenkins ‘The Peacemakers’, a beautiful adaptation of an anonymous Celtic prayer invoking peace.
Karl produced the Peacemakers in 2011 and dedicated it to the memory of all those who had lost their lives during armed conflict; in particular innocent victims. He commented that when he composed The Armed Man it was with the hope of looking forward to a century of peace but that sadly nothing much had changed.
Music was to be a very important part of our liturgy, so I contacted my dear friend Lee Michael Walton, a professional musician originally from Ystalyfera near Swansea now based in London. I explained that around 200 children would be attending and taking part in the liturgy. Did he think he could compose a Peace Mala Anthem for choir? Without any hesitation, Lee said yes. It took him a few months to complete. Lee explained that it was an unusual experience for him as on this occasion the lyrics came first and the music second, often at the most unexpected moments. The final work was ‘One Light’.
Hafod Primary School in Swansea came forward and suggested that pupil Lola Jenkins could sing the lead vocals. Music teacher Darren Stephens agreed to accompany Lee’s playing of the cathedral Steinway on saxophone. Catwg Primary school in Neath Port Talbot said their pupils could sign the lyrics whilst it was being sung. The music and lyrics would be sent to all schools attending for them to learn and practice.
Sound healers Faith Challinor Wheatley and Ayanna Bright Eagle Florian agreed to play ambient music with Tibetan singing bowls, native flutes and other instruments as guests arrived in the cathedral. Father Tim Ardouin said he could join them with didgeridoo and high and low tin whistles. The music for our event was coming together beautifully.
The response from our schools was overwhelming. Pupils and teachers from our Welsh Peace Mala Accredited schools, as well as a good number of accredited schools from Greater Manchester and our first accredited Yorkshire school, Worth Valley Primary from near Bradford expressed a desire to take part. The Yorkshire school would have to travel the day before and stay overnight in Cardiff. Our Manchester schools would have to leave very early in the morning and endure a long journey back home.
Plans were now afoot for three of our schools to deliver the Peace Mala story and messages to all present in the cathedral. This would have to be done without a rehearsal as Yorkshire, Manchester and Wales were combining forces for this. Sam Whitehouse, Peace Mala Co-ordinator at Newall Green Primary in Manchester agreed to co-ordinate and organise. This would be quite a challenge.
To my utter amazement and delight, Hafod School produced a most wonderful animation of the Peace Mala dove of peace travelling to planet earth and visiting all the main centres of worship for the fourteen faiths. This would be shown at the cathedral.
Faith representatives from all fourteen religions responded positively, including three Christian Bishops from different denominations. Many of these would be travelling great distances to arrive in Wales, including London, Manchester and Coventry. Sheikh Ahmad Dede, based in Amsterdam, sent a wonderful message of support and said that he would be there along with his Sufi Dervishes and musicians.
Other supporters from across the UK and beyond expressed a wish to attend and take part. These included dignitaries from Cardiff, Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Greater Manchester. The cathedral would be filled to capacity. This was turning out to be the greatest interfaith gathering for world peace that Wales had ever witnessed.
The day arrived with bright skies and all arrived safely. In the words of Pippa Bartolotti, spokesperson for the Green Party of Wales, “The liturgy was more uplifting than anyone attending could possibly have expected. In many ways I was unprepared for the effect it would have, not just on me, but on all who were gathered.
I was not alone in experiencing a sudden, tear-jerking, sense of love. For a moment we were all one, encircled by a peculiar spirituality which drew us all closer. A feeling which lingers still and that is the real point.
The Peace Mala Interfaith Community brought more than the earthly representatives of all the major religions, from Buddhist to Jewish, Zoroastrian to Earth; it told of suffering, and pain, but above all it brought hope and the reinvigoration of a subtle wisdom rising from ancient spiritual practices buried under a broken world of empty celebrity, fast-food farming and rampant consumerism.”
Father Tim Ardouin, Interfaith Officer for the Church in Wales Diocese of Swansea and Brecon commented, “That was a wonderful gathering and the sight of the whirling dervish under the outstretched arms of Epstein’s giant Christ figure, with the bishops seated close by, will live with me long. It was a great piece of work that you did here and its outcome is like light and hope, like God smiling. Deep peace of the running wave to you and to all the colourful children of the Oneness, I AM.
I give thanks that the Dean, Gerwyn Capon, had enough faith in my vision to allow it to happen. I am also grateful to Jonathon Hoad, the cathedral staff, Bishop John of Swansea and Brecon who is also Archbishop of Wales, and the Muslim communities of Cardiff and Manchester for their outstanding support.
Feedback from all who attended and took part has been overwhelming. What we achieved in Llandaff will continue to reach out into our troubled world.
By embracing the universal truth that all religions and spiritual paths share, we can help build bridges of peace and dissolve the boundaries that normally divide people from each other. At the same time, we can still honour and celebrate each person’s own unique ethnic, cultural and spiritual heritage.
The Peace Mala story is one of continuing growth as it reaches out to all people in our global village.
Peace Mala’s message is simple:
“Treat the next person as you wish to be treated yourself.”
Founder of Peace Mala