NEW YORK, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- An inaugural assembly to form a new religious body at the ever-political United Nations opened Thursday across Manhattan from the U.N. campus with nearly 300 representatives of about a dozen major religions and scores of smaller ones from 160 countries, including 13 former heads of state.
This occurred as the world organization wraps up its annual general debate in the U.N. General Assembly where any of the 191 member states could speak on any topic, and most have or were doing so. Thursday was the final day for this year's debate.
The Interreligious International Foundation for World Peace, formed in 1999 by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his wife, sponsored the religious council's launch at the New Yorker Hotel.
Moon is also founder of the Unification Church and News World Communications Inc., which owns United Press International.
The unofficial reaction in the U.N. neighborhood, garnered in a series of brief interviews with personnel in the world organization and in various national missions to the United Nations, was that since having such a new body would require changing the U.N. Charter it would be near impossible. None would speak on the record, other than to say it was "difficult," or "nearly impossible."
Nearly all pointed to the decade-long unsuccessful attempt to reform the Security Council. One even pointed out that in the charter the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Republic of China were still listed for Russia and the People's Republic of China as permanent members of the council.
But pointing out the negatives to often colorfully garbed participants from all races in the Interreligious and International Peace Council assembly only elicited positive reaction for the project.
"The idea of establishing the IIPC is an excellent idea," said Abdurrahman Wahid, former president of Indonesia and perhaps best known of the country's past leaders. "Geopolitical considerations are not enough to base our international policies on."
Former U.S. Rep. Ben Gilman, R-NY, who headed up the House international relations panel, was among the speakers at the opening banquet Wednesday night.
Thomas Walsh, secretary-general of the IIFWP and godfather of the nascent IIPC, was perhaps the most pragmatic of the attendees.
"The deeper we go into it, as we move from ideal to reality, we realize the complications," he told UPI, citing "resistance to opening the gates" and allowing any new institutions at the already institution-crowded world organization.
But the tall, soft-spoken Walsh was no less determined to see some kind of religious entity that could at least be formed to work with the United Nations, if not from inside then from outside, perhaps as a non-governmental organization affiliated with the world body, if not actually part of the structure. Preferably, he would like to see a religious council alongside the Security Council, like the Economic and Social Council or perhaps even replacing the practically defunct Trusteeship Council.
Willingness for NGO status of the IIPC does not mean he has given up on gaining recognition through Charter change, believing that eventually there will have to be change to accommodate other nations on an expanded Security Council with more than only five permanent members.
The IIFWP already has NGO status.
"I think there will be no let up (of pressure)," he said. "The United Nations needs to make adjustments to fit 21st century realities, besides our interests."
The Rev. Chung Hwan Kwak, chairman of IIFWP International, in his keynote address to the assembly Thursday, said his organization was "seeking to establish in its own right a substantial model of the practical potential and effectiveness of interreligious and international cooperation."
Kwak is also president and chief executive officer of UPI.
Said Kwak, "The IIPC will demonstrate that people of diverse racial, religious and cultural backgrounds can work together and contribute to the solution of some of our world's most critical problems. In this respect, the IIPC offers an integrated model of governance. That is a model guided by spiritual and moral principles that can be applied in very practical ways toward the development of global policies and best practices for peace."
While the manner of selection of members of the council has yet to be worked, as well as how many, Walsh said, a draft resolution in the General Assembly was being prepared by the Philippine Mission to the United Nations to establish a committee that would explore the issue.
Leslie Gatan, who was drawing up the measure, said he did not expect it to be ready before December. Gatan said his mission was consulting with several countries on it, including Colombia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria and Iran, which recently sponsored the U.N. Dialogue Among Civilizations.