Interfaith group to push for peace on Y2K weekend

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The weekend marking the turn of the century will involve a lot more than champagne and confetti for a San Francisco-based interfaith group.

United Religions Initiative, an international group founded here three years ago, is calling on people across the world to make gestures promoting global peace during the millennium weekend, Friday, Dec. 31 through Sunday, Jan. 2.

The group is calling its weekend push for peace and reconciliation the "72 Hours Project."

A number of major religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama and Jewish Renewal founder Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, have lent their support to the effort aimed at marking the end of humanity's bloodiest century and ushering in a new, more hopeful era.

"If you think about the days that weekend falls — Friday being the Muslim Shabbat, Saturday being the Jewish Shabbat, Sunday being the Christian Shabbat — it's almost as if somebody up there said, 'This is an opportunity for folks to do something,'" said Rita Semel, the URI's board chair and a longtime activist in San Francisco's Jewish community.

The project is aimed at people of all faiths, as well as those who don't adhere to any faith at all. Information on the 72 Hours Project can be found on the group's Web site: www.united-religions.org

"Mahatma Ghandi once said that we have to be the change we want to see in the world," said Charles Gibbs, executive director of United Religions Initiative. "We are just inviting people to imagine what they can do in their own community. What's amazing is to see all the ways people respond."

Currently, more than 60 projects are under way around the world for the 72 Hours Project, with more being planned. Among those scheduled:

*In San Francisco, a group of composers, choreographers and artists will create a performance art piece called "DMZ: A Peace Work," expressing the tragedy of war through the voices of those who have been directly affected.

*Also in San Francisco, a group of friends, most of them nearing retirement, will gather to explore what matters most to them at this stage in their lives and how each might use their retirement to improve the world.

*In Calcutta, 2,500 children will walk for peace through the streets of the city. They also hope to exchange family photographs with children in Pakistan.

*In Nevada, a group of anti-nuclear activists will sponsor a peace vigil at the Nevada Test Site for Nuclear Weapons.

*In Sri Lanka, prayers and peace songs will be offered by prison inmates, their families and prison staff in a ceremonial worship service.

*In Rio de Janeiro, members of an interfaith group will destroy handguns on Copacabana Beach as part of a "72 Hour Cease-fire" in 600 city slums.

"It's time for us to act together in a spirit of hope that is at the heart of our faith traditions," said Bishop William Swing, a San Francisco Episcopal leader and president of the URI.

"And it's time for us to offer a gift of hope to the generations that will follow us."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.