ISKCON GBC and Communications Minister Anuttama Das recently offered prayers at an Interfaith Prayer and Remembrance Service for the people of Sri Lanka, at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington D.C. on Sunday May 5th.
The event was a memorial for the victims of the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks on April 21st, when three churches and three luxury hotels in Sri Lanka were targeted in a series of suicide bombings that killed more than 250 people.
Over 1,000 attended the service, including religious dignitaries representing Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and Christian faiths, members of Congress, U.S. government representatives, Ambassadors, members of the diplomatic corps, and Sri Lankan community members.
The Very Reverend Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, led the congregation. Welcoming all to the interfaith service, the Dean said the presence of such a large gathering of well wishers representing all religious denominations was a testimony of their respect and solidarity for the victims of all faiths.
The service of prayer and remembrance began with a procession of religious representatives walking down the aisle carrying candles in honor of the victims. The Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington then offered an invocation prayer for the people of Sri Lanka.
Next a series of religious leaders each conducted prayers from their tradition and offered blessings for the victims and their families.
Reading stanzas of the Sacred Script of Thripitaka, the Most Venerable Maharagama Dhammasiri Thero, Chief Priest of the Washington Buddhist Vihara, emphasized Buddha’s teachings on mindfulness and the path to righteousness. At such a time of crisis, Ven Thero underscored the essence of being caring, kind, forgiving and compassionate towards others.
His Grace Anuttama Dasa then offered a prayer spoken by Sri Prahlad Maharaja from Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.18.9. The version he used was a translation by ISKCON scholar Ravindra Svarupa Dasa, which was appropriate for the comprehension of a Western audience.
“May the entire universe be blessed with peace and hope,” Anuttama read. “May everyone driven by envy and enmity become pacified and reconciled. May all living beings develop abiding concern for the welfare of others. May our own hearts and minds be filled with purity and serenity. May all these blessings flow naturally from this supreme benediction. May our attention become sponataneously absorbed in the rapture of pure love unto the transcendent Lord.”
He ended by chanting Om and the holy name of Lord Krishna, asking God’s blessings for all those who suffered from the terrible attacks in Sri Lanka.
Continuing on, Ustadh Seyed Rizwan Mowlana, Founder of Medina Centre reflected on the Holy Quran and Prophetic tradition reiterating that violence and evil has no place in Islam. The true servants of God, he said, are those who walk gently upon this earth and repel evil with good, and when confronted by the ignorant, their reply is “PEACE.”
Representing the Jewish community, Rabbi Bruce Lustig, Chief Rabbi of the Washington Hebrew Congregation remarked, “Leviticus 19:18 teaches us the primary commandment, to love thy neighbor as thyself. Despite the situation, hated and bigotry, we will not stop loving our neighbor. We stand for the sanctity of the sanctuary that no one should be fearful to pray and praise their God. May our response be to bring more of God’s love into the world, meet hatred with love, injustice with justice, and fear with faith.”
Christian prayers at the service were read from the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer and the famed Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. Reading them were the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, the Dean of Washington National Cathedral; and Reverend Roy Edward Campbell, Jr., Auxiliary Bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.
Finally Sarath Dissanayake, Charge d’ Affaires of the Sri Lankan Embassy expressed his appreciation and thanks to the organizers and guests. He offered his prayers and blessings to the victims’ families. In closing, he noted the similarities in the teachings of all major faiths, which direct their followers to embrace one another and practice loving kindness towards fellow human beings, so that the world will become a better and more secure place for all.
“It was a very sobering event, because it was a memorial service for the unfortunate people who were killed during the horrendous attacks in Sri Lanka,” Anuttama Das says. “At the same time, it was an honor to be able to represent the Vaishnava tradition, and to read the prayers of Prahlad Maharaja in this most revered of American houses of worship. I was deeply moved by the shared feelings of camaraderie and prayer amongst the religious leaders, and gratified to see interfaith voices stand in solidarity against the violence that is so tearing up our world today.”
The venue where the service took place – The Washington National Cathedral – is, it should be noted, the center of the Episcopal Church in Washington and the nation. It has hosted state funerals of former U.S. Presidents and dignitaries, and is commonly called “the national house of prayer” and “the spiritual home for the nation.”
Interestingly, ISKCON devotees have previously spoken there on several occasions. Ravindra Svarupa Das addressed mournersat a national event after the 9/11 terrorist attacks; devotees chanted there as part of a metropolitan D.C. interfaith holiday service; and devotees have also participated in multiple interfaith events at the Cathedral.