Archbishop of Canterbury to visit Hindu temple in gesture of peace

November 4th, 2008 - 11:08 am ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 4 (IANS) Britain’s most powerful church leader is to visit a large Hindu temple in central England in a gesture of friendship and peace just weeks after the killings of Christians by Hindu extremists in Orissa.Rowan Williams, who as the Archbishop of Canterbury heads the Church of England, is to visit the Shri Venkateswara (Balaji) temple Nov 15 in what he has described as a sign of friendship and hope.

Although it is not the first such visit in multi-faith Britain, it assumes a deeper significance in the backdrop of the recent anti-Christian violence in Orissa that has left at least 38 people dead and thousands homeless.

Williams himself set the tone of his visit in a Diwali message to the Hindu community Oct 28, when he expressed his hope for “reconciliation where there has been division and hurt” and for “peace and the rejection of all resort to violence”.

Williams said he accepted the invitation by the trustees of the Balaji temple, Europe’s largest Hindu place of worship, as a sign of the “celebration of friendship and the facing of challenges with hope”.

Authorities at the temple, spread over 22 acres in the suburbs of the city of Birmingham in west-central England, said the visit will reinforce the temple’s multi-faith approach.

“Hinduism is a democratic religion without any set dogmas and people of all faiths are welcome at our temple,” Kandiah Somasundara Rajah, founder and trustee of the Balaji temple, told IANS.

Underscoring the temple’s approach to faith, Williams will inaugurate a ‘Christian hill’ - one of seven hills surrounding the temple in the manner of the Tirupati temple in Andhra Pradesh.

A plaque on the hill will read: “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself.”

“This saying from the Bible crosses all religious barriers. Our intention is to build bridges across faiths. Problems should not stop us from building bridges,” said Rajah.

Williams will also plant an olive tree - a symbol of peace - on the hill and Rajah, in his speech, will refer to Swami Vivekananda as the Hindu who started inter-faith dialogue way back in 1893.

Also present during Williams’ visit will be Indian High Commissioner Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, House of Commons Deputy Speaker Sylvia Heal, industrialists S.P. and G.P. Hinduja among other patrons and trustees of the temple, several British MPs and leading religious figures.

Williams, a highly-regarded intellectual as well as a progressive voice in the church, has not shied away from criticising the violence that followed the Aug 23 murder of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati in Orissa, speaking of his “horror”.

In a letter to the Moderator of North India, the Most Reverend Joel Mal, Williams said: “I hope that Christians and people of faith around the world will make known their horror at this violence, their support for the rebuilding of lives and the churches, orphanages and schools destroyed, and for work towards future reconciliation.”

But in his October Diwali message, Williams highlighted commonalities, saying: “How important it is in this Diwali and for Christians in the coming Advent and Christmas season, that we hold to this vision of justice and transformation for all, especially for the poor and excluded, in face of the present economic crisis in which the temptation is to fall back upon ourselves and our own interests at their expense.

“It is in this spirit that I shall be visiting the Shri Venkateswara (Balaji) Temple and at this time of year my visit will carry particular significance and many hopes for the year ahead.”

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