“Meeting people from other religions helped us to better understand one another’s cultures and beliefs. But more importantly, we understood one another better as fellow humans.”
- Aladin B. Cabutaje
As a Taoist priest in Muslim-majority Indonesia, Stanley Prayogo holds in high regard his country’s national motto – “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”, which means unity in diversity.
The 25-year-old, who distributes fast-breaking meals to Muslim communities during the month of Ramadan, is no stranger to interfaith interactions.
But for Indonesia to truly live up to the spirit of “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”, Stanley believes more can be done.
He said: “In the larger Indonesian cities, there are initiatives that allow different faith leaders to meet and engage.”
“But in the smaller regions, such interfaith channels are rare.”
The inaugural Faithfully ASEAN interfaith exchange programme in 2018 aimed to bridge this gap not just in Singapore, but at a regional level too.
Supported by Temasek Foundation, ASEAN gathered leaders and practitioners of major faiths from all 10 ASEAN countries to encourage deeper interfaith and intercultural understanding in the region.
For Stanley, the programme opened his eyes to the diversity that makes up ASEAN, as well as the common ground that unites it.
“The faith leaders didn’t just share their different perspectives. They also highlighted and emphasised our commonalities.”
“It helped me to see the bigger picture of the role of religion in our society and daily lives.”
As for Aladin B. Cabutaje from the Philippines, Faithfully ASEAN provided a platform for important conversations about interfaith initiatives, experiences and challenges.
The 25-year-old Christian youth leader said: “Meeting people from other religions helped us to better understand one another’s cultures and beliefs.”
“But more importantly, we understood one another better as fellow humans.”
They were among 44 participants who took part in the four-day programme comprising workshops by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, and interfaith discussions on food and pilgrimages by Common Senses for Common Spaces.
Participants also embarked on learning journeys at faith institutions such as the Sri Lankaramaya Buddhist Temple, Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, Harmony Centre @ An-Nahdhah Mosque and the Church of St Mary of the Angels.
But the interfaith journeys of Stanley and Aladin did not end there.
Less than a year later, Stanley and Aladin would cross paths again in 2019 for Faiths @ Work, a regional interfaith humanitarian programme.
They joined 18 young leaders from across Southeast Asia, eight of whom had attended Faithfully ASEAN — for humanitarian affairs, sustainability and leadership training. Participants were acquainted with the principles, philosophy, mechanics and dynamics of the humanitarian sector including disaster management and the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals.
The programme culminated in a ‘Water for Life & Livelihood’ development service project, to provide sustainable, clean and safe water for a disadvantaged community in Baseco, Manila — for their consumption, sanitation and agriculture.
Cheng Xi Yi, one of the participants from the Singapore Soka Association, said: “At Faithfully ASEAN, we learnt different values from one another. Faiths @ Work was a natural progression from learning to living out those values.”
“Everyone came with their own set of experiences, character and personality, but we managed to put our differences together and use it as a strength to complete the project.”
Like Xi Yi, it was Aladin’s first time working with other religious leaders, but he quickly realised that their common purpose transcended all barriers.
“When we were in Baseco clearing garbage and building fences together, it didn’t matter that we came from different countries, cultures or walks of life.”
“It was all about putting ourselves in the shoes of others and serving those who need help.”
After completing their training, selected Faiths @ Work participants were appointed as primary liaison officers in their respective countries, and can be mobilised in the event of future humanitarian disasters in Southeast Asia.
Aladin does not take this responsibility lightly. Baseco sits along the quake-prone Manila Trench and is under the constant threat of natural disasters.
He has been running a youth organisation focused on community service and social advocacy for health and access to safe drinking water.
“Faithfully ASEAN and Faiths @ Work have reinforced my belief that respect is the foundation of harmony. And in order to respect one another, we must first accept diversity.”
“No one should be left behind, no matter their religion.”