Fellow in Interfaith Relations at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut
The Rev. Dr. Hans Ucko is an ordained minister of the Church of Sweden and has throughout his ministry been involved in Jewish-Christian and interreligious dialogue with research at the “Institut Eglise et Monde Juif” in Paris, the Swedish Theological Institute and at the David Hartman Institute, both in Jerusalem. He received his doctorate in theology at the Senate of Serampore College, Calcutta, India, where he wrote his thesis on the concepts of “people” and “people of God” as integral to the Jewish tradition and to Asian contextual theologies.
He was 1981-1989 the Executive Secretary of the Church of Sweden for Jewish-Christian Relations, interreligious dialogue and East Asian Relations. He is the former Program Executive for the Office of Interreligious Relations and Dialogue of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. He has been the President of Religions for Peace Europe and is now the co-chair of the Arigatou Foundation campaign with UNICEF, the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children.
Message from the Co-Chair
The World Day of Prayer and Action, held in commemoration of Universal Children’s Day, is an excellent occasion to advance multi-faith cooperation, where the concern and dignity of children prompt people of different faiths to work together towards “a world fit for children”. For some, such cooperation may include an interreligious celebration, where hopes and visions of our religious traditions are brought forth in readings, prayers, chanting, silence or meditation.
Since the thrust of the Day of Prayer and Action in itself advocates prayer, it is in those circumstances, where people of different faiths come together, important to dwell on what we as people of different faiths might be doing together in prayer. Prayer is universal. That is to say, ‘prayer’ is a phenomenon of religion: all religions may be said to include some kind of activity representing an address-to-the-Other; ritual utterance; reflection; meditative act; postural action. While the phenomenon of prayer as such is universal, all actual prayers are particular and unique to the religion in which they are located. Prayers found in any one religious tradition do not necessarily hold across all religions.
Mindful of this, we should work towards coherent interreligious celebrations, where prayer will play a part but also lead us to discover other dimensions in religious and spiritual life and tradition. In doing so, we welcome these expressions together with what we traditionally conceive of as prayer or readings of texts. This can take many forms: a choir singing hymns; a classical Indian dance is a certain way of reading a text, which gives the religious tradition of Hinduism but in another way than reading texts.
To integrate music, dance, various art forms (painting, calligraphy) with the reading of texts and the recitation of prayers is a holistic affirmation of religious life in its manifold ways.
Contributions may be carefully rendered congruent around a particular event or need or common communal point of reference. The real differences and unique dimensions and contexts, as well as the different content, of the contributions are mutually respected and upheld: there is no sense, through the event, of uniting the religions as such, or subsuming them under some inclusive umbrella of any one of them, let alone advocating the notion of a supra-religious identity embracing them all in and through the prayer-event.
Affirming diversity and respecting the integrity of the various religious traditions will intimate an intuition of a larger context and make us attentive to a wider or deeper sphere and make us aware of an infinite harmony embracing us.