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First Lady Madam Shiranthi Wickramasinghe Rajapaksa inaugurated a series of events organized by the Permanent Delegation of Sri Lanka to UNESCO and the Embassy of Sri Lanka in France to commemorate Vesak at UNESCO in Paris under the theme of ‘Interfaith and Intercultural Awareness towards Peace’. Among the distinguished guests present were Mr Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the President, Ven. Prof. Kumburugamuwe Vajira Thero, Chancellor of the University of Sabaragamuwa, His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, Rev. Laksumikantham I. J. Kurukkal, Al Haj De Ash-Shaikk As-Seyed Hassan Moulana Al-Quadiri, Chief Priest of the Colombo Dewatagaha Masjid. Ven. Dr. Bodagama Chandima Thero, International Affairs Advisor to the President and a large number of Buddhist priests from around the world also participated in the events.

Gracing the Inaugural Session as Chief Guest on 21st May 2014, Madam Rajapaksa delivered a Special Address in which she highlighted the significance of Vesak and its recognition throughout the UN system, culminating in its declaration as an International Day of Observance.  She emphasized the importance of education both at home and school from early childhood in increasing awareness of faiths and cultures of each other.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon dispatching a special message on the occasion of the Vesak commemorations at UNESCO thanked Sri Lanka for making the gathering possible and stated that ‘Vesak Day is a celebration for Buddhists worldwide and an opportunity for the international community to benefit from their rich traditions.’ 

Issuing a Message of Greeting from Colombo, President Mahinda Rajapaksa noted the importance of the triple festival of Buddhism and the impact of Buddhist teachings of understanding and tolerance. He stated that ‘the teachings of unity bring people together in the greater pursuit of knowledge and understanding’.

His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith referred to the long standing amity among the peoples of different faith in Sri Lanka and stated that he was delighted to be the Cardinal in a country where 74 percent of the population is Buddhist. He said that both secularism and fundamentalism “demean the supreme value of religious heroism which can help humanity to achieve true nobility, freedom from self and unity.”

Ambassador Karunaratne Hangawatte, Permanent Delegate of Sri Lanka to UNESCO in his welcome address noted that the presence of leading personalities of the four main religions in Sri Lanka at the celebration of Vesak on the main stage at UNESCO, the bedrock of peace in the United Nations system reflects the true character of peaceful co-existence in Sri Lankan culture.

Special Addresses were delivered by Ambassador Mohamed S. Amr, Chairperson of the Executive Board of UNESCO as well as Mr Eric Falt, Assistant Director General of UNESCO and Ambassador Katalin Bogyay, former President of the General Conference of UNESCO.

The events organized over the two days included Special Lectures, a session on Meditation, three panel discussions, an International Vesak Concert and a photographic exhibition on ‘Buddhism and Sri Lankan Culture’. While alms were offered to Buddhist monks, lunch was served to all participants on both days at ‘dansalas’ held at UNESCO.

Permanent Delegation of Sri Lanka to UNESCO

Paris

23rd May 2014

 


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