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World religion gathering discusses Sikh’s slaying

The Arizona Republic, USA
July 24, 2004
Marissa Belles • Sunday July 25, 2004

The September 2001 murder of a Sikh man in Mesa was the centerpiece of a presentation this month by Valley religious leaders at an international conference in Spain.

Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot four days after the terrorist attacks on the East Coast by a man who mistook him for a Muslim.

Arizona leaders spoke firsthand of the problem in their presentation at the Parliament of World Religions, “Lessons from Phoenix: Creating Peace in a World of Religious Violence.” The presentation focused on the violence directed at the Valley Sikh community.

Six members of Arizona’s Interfaith Coalition joined nearly 8,000 members from religious communities around the world to celebrate diversity and explore spiritual responses to global issues at the conference in Barcelona.

The Rev. Kyra Baehr, founding minister of the Unity of Divine Love church in Tempe, called the experience “profoundly inspiring.”

“To have so many religions come together for a common purpose really reveals how the common threads of faith and compassion are shared among us all,” she said.

Founded in 1893, the Parliament of World Religions was formed with the intention of understanding the spiritual traditions of the East and West.

The Parliament’s executive director, Dirk Ficca, said discussing issues in the spirit of religious diversity is a key-factor in solving problems.

“When people of faith commit to addressing pressing issues facing the global community, they are doing it out of a deeply rooted spiritual conviction and that is what sets this gathering apart from others,” he said.

About 300 presentations were given during the weeklong conference confronting everything from access to safe water to the fate of worldwide refugees. One of the hottest topics discussed was religious violence.

“This is one of the most detrimental problems facing religion today and it is something that no area of the world is immune to,” Baehr said.

Sodhi’s senseless death was among several in the United States after the terrorist attacks.

Gurukirn Kaur Khalsa, president of the Sikh Dharma of Phoenix, and her daughter Dev Kaur Khalsa attended the conference and addressed measures to alleviate discrimination in times of strife.

“Religious violence is something that affects everyone no matter where they live or what their faith is,” Gurukirn said. “By involving the local media, educational services and government, you can help battle the ignorance that prompts religious violence.”

The experience and knowledge the Valley leaders embraced in Barcelona is something they hope to bring back to the local community

“My experience renewed my commitment to teaching the commonality of faith amongst diversity and by engaging the community to our spiritual similarities, I will be giving them a feel for what I have learned,” Baehr said.

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