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Ms. Yuka Saionji - World Interfaith Harmony Week

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Ms. Yuka Saionji

Yuka Saionji. UN Photo Paulo Filgueiras.

Faith-based Organizations and Japan's Earthquake Disaster

In my personal work, after 3/11 – that’s what we call the Japanese earthquake last year, because it occurred on March 11 – I have been involved in hosting dialogues in places where people can share their experience in the disaster area, and also for youth and volunteers working in that area.

My work involves interfaith, peacebuilding, spirituality, youth empowerment, gathering collective wisdom, and networking among peacebuilders and change-makers around the world. All my work ties in deeply with the topic and the concept for this event. But today I will focus on 3/11.

Japan is 1,800 miles long, from north to south, and after earthquake the tsunami hit 310 miles of the northern coast of Japan. That’s one-sixth the length of whole Japan. So you can imagine the wide area of the disaster.

Maybe this was a unique situation in Japan, but we did have a lot of food and supplies available for the people; however, the transportation to get aid there was blocked, and the shortage of gasoline delayed delivery of relief.

Right after the earthquake, Japan received so much support from all over the world. Quick response came from many countries and international organizations. The United Nations, NGOs, corporations, and individuals all have helped and supported us in many ways, and we are so, so grateful for all that was given to Japan.

Religious organizations played a huge role during the earthquake by sending aid and relief services, but also local churches and temples became the evacuation center of the town and have become the center of the community in many places. Some religious leaders offered their prayers to the land and the souls that were taken away. Spiritual work is really necessary and crucial in such disasters.

So there are many roles religious organizations can play, but also there are many roles that only religious organizations and faith-based organizations can play during disasters. All this work supported many people physically, mentally, and spiritually, and we are so grateful for all that was given to Japan.

I especially needed and wanted to mention the prayers that have been offered to Japan, because I personally feel the power of prayer very deeply. It was my grandfather who right after World War II created the universal peace prayer, “may peace prevail on earth.” He said that it was the mission of Japan to pray for peace, not only for the peace of Japan but for the whole world.

For over 60 years we have been praying for each country of the world, and we have been offering our prayers until the time when everyone can pray for each and every country of the world. We promise that until then, on behalf of them and their country, we will keep offering our prayers.

Some have asked, “What can prayer do? Prayer won’t change anything.” But I have seen and experienced the power of prayer all of my life through my family and our dedicated members around the world. They have shown me the power of selfless prayer, the kind of prayer that is not about oneself but of unconditional love for all. What was given to Japan after 3/11 from all over the world, I can’t even express what that means.

We may not be able to see the direct connection of these prayers or physically see and tie in the results, but I know that all the prayers that have been sent to Japan have created a platform, an energy of love and hope, and from that I know Japan will rise again.

I want to thank everyone on behalf of Japan and Japanese people for all your love and support and your prayers for Japan. May peace prevail on earth.

Yuka Saionji is Deputy Chair of Byakko Shinko Kai, a spiritual organization dedicated to world peace and raising the consciousness of humanity that originated in Japan over 50 years ago. It was founded by her grandfather, Masahisa Goi, who advocated the universal peace prayer, “May peace prevail on earth.” Byakko hosts the annual interfaith “Symphony of Peace Prayers,” where 10,000 people pray together with leaders from different religions. Yuka also works with Byakko’s sister organization, the Goi Peace Foundation. Her recent work with Resilient Japan and the NPO Miratuku has been to empower Japanese youth affected by the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, based on the importance of community rising together and evolving in consciousness. Yuka has a degree in law from Gakushuin University and published a book in Japan called The Notebook of the Heart. Yuka works with youth around the world on projects for peace and with the World Spirit Youth Council.