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The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, visited BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden on Saturday 21 November 2009.

The Head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales was greeted by Yogvivek Swami, Head Sadhu of the Mandir, in traditional Hindu style – with a red vermillion mark applied to the forehead and the tying of a sacred thread on the wrist, symbolising friendship and goodwill.

Yogvivek Swami guided the Archbishop around the Mandir complex, including the sanctum sanctorum. He then moved to the deity of Shri Nilkanth Varni (Bhagwan Swaminarayan) where he joined Yogvivek Swami in praying for world peace and harmony.

The Archbishop’s visit coincided with the culmination of Inter Faith Week. BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) had actively participated in a number of organised events in the preceding days (click here for details) and the message of interfaith dialogue was further iterated with a special reception where members from all the major faith communities of the UK joined the Archbishop and BAPS Trustees in warm conversation.

In the main evening assembly, the Archbishop was welcomed with rapturous applause and a flower garland. Yogvivek Swami and the Archbishop were then joined by Baha’i, Buddhist, Muslim, Jain, Sikh and Zoroastrian representatives to collectively light a lamp – symbolising a shared commitment to understanding, respect and peace – while children chanted an ancient Vedic peace prayer.

The respected faith representatives were:

Hassan Afnan, of the Baha’i community
Sardar Rajinder Singh Bhasin, President of the Central Gurdwara, London (Sikhism)
Ervad Rustom Bhedwar, Head Priest from the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe
Imam Abdullah Salloo of the Islamic Cultural Centre, Stonebridge
Shri Ashok Shah, President of the Oshwal Association of the UK (Jainism)
Venerable Galayaye Piyadassi Thera MBE, President of the World Buddhist Foundation and Head of the Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre
[Rabbi Frank Dabba Smith of the Harrow & Wembley Progressive Synagogue was unable to attend due to unavoidable circumstances]
In his welcome address, Yogvivek Swami recalled the meeting of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of BAPS, with His Holiness Pope John Paul II in 1984 at the Vatican, and also his visit to the birthplace of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem in 1999. Yogvivek Swami also shared excerpts from Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s address at the United Nations Millennium World Peace Summit in New York: “The unity of all faiths will make our common future strong and protected. Flourishing together by working together is the key to lasting peace. We must not progress at the cost of others, but sacrifice a part of ourselves for the good of others. For in the joy of others, lies our own.”

In his keynote address, the Archbishop began by thanking everyone for the “the generous invitation and warm welcome” he had received “in your unique and beautiful Mandir.”

The Archbishop went on to say: “It is always good to come together like this, to strengthen each other, to learn of each other’s faith and to rejoice in a spirit of dialogue and love.” He shared the Church’s appreciation “that the entire human race shares a common origin and a common destiny” and it is this unity which “impels us to seek common elements in our path through life as we play our part in the quest for fundamental values so crucial in our time.”

The Archbishop further added: “It is with admiration that I see the many events and opportunities on offer in this complex for the wider community, and I salute the valuable contribution that you are making to the peaceful world we all strive to create. The concern and care that is shown here for our natural environment is just one example of the many causes on which we can work together…. It is truly inspiring to see the beauty of this place, and no less inspiring to see the commitment to helping the community that comes with it.”

Before departing, the Archbishop gifted Yogvivek Swami with a special candle, “a sign of the lovely light of God in our lives and a sign of the prayer which, in return, we offer to God.” Yogvivek Swami also presented His Grace with a memento of his visit to the Mandir.

Those accompanying Archbishop Nichols on the visit included: Father Stephen Willis, Dean of Brent and Parish Priest of the Parish of Our Lady of Willesden; Rev. Jon Dal Din, Director of Westminster Interfaith; Katharina Muller, Secretary of the Bishops’ Committee for Relations with Other Religions; and Father Antonio Ritaccio, Parish Priest of Stonebridge.

A number of local civic, political and religious leaders were also present. These included: Cllr Jim O’Sullivan, Mayor of Brent; local MPs Sarah Teather (Brent East) and Dawn Butler (Brent South); Councillors Bob Blackman, Muhammed Butt, Colum Moloney and Zaffar Vankalwala; Borough Commander Mark Toland; and several leading members from a number of other Hindu denominations and organisations.

For full transcripts of Yogvivek Swami’s and the Archbishop’s speeches, please see the reporthere on the Independent Catholic News site.

See also the official Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster websitehere

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