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Latin America, Religious Freedom, and the New Millennium PDF Print E-mail

Robert Muller, UN University for Peace

delivered at the
International Coalition for Religious Freedom Conference on 
"Religious Freedom in Latin America and the New Millennium"
October 10-12, 1998, Sheraton Mofarrej Hotel, Sao Paolo, Brazil

My dear friends, after hearing the preceding speaker, I believe that perhaps the best I can do is to give you a view of how spirituality and religion look from the point of view of the United Nations and how I have been involved in all this.

I was born with a very deep spirituality. When I was a young child I looked at the stars. I looked at the moon. I looked at the girls. I looked at everything to be a miracle. I considered that life was a miracle. We spoke German in Alsace-Lorraine so I said Das Leben ist goettlich. Life is divine.

My father couldn’t understand that. Here was a little boy four years old who considered that life was divine and who took off his cap to an old person. My father asked, "Why do you greet old people?" I said, "Because they know so much about life." This was my attitude as a little boy.

I couldn’t understand that just across the river there were people called Germans that we were supposed to hate. They were human beings. Why these borders? This was my attitude when I was a little boy. I would disappear in the morning to go to a church but there were only old people sitting there. Why did I go there? There was the elevation of the consciousness toward the universe. I was very much impressed by this. I have always wanted to be elevated.

Then came education. French education completely eradicated spirituality. The French revolution was against the priests. So I was taught that religion was ridiculous, something totally obsolete. All my secondary life in school was non-religious. I began to forget about my spirituality, but there were certain things that I still remembered. When my grandfather died, he died in front of me. We were not desperate because he had a Catholic sister holding his hand telling him about God. I have never forgotten how he transferred into the other world with that Catholic sister holding his hand.

Then came World War II. There were many refugees. Because I didn’t want to go into the German Army, I was imprisoned. I wrote a whole book about my experiences during the war. When I looked at a picture of my young friends at school, they had all died in French or German uniforms. Hence my feeling of responsibility toward peace. I was imprisoned by the Gestapo. I was in the French underground in the hills of Aubert. There was nothing spiritual in those days. This was the most incredible war between two quite highly civilized countries.

Where was the spirituality in all of this? It was totally absent during this period. Still there are certain things I have never forgotten. We tortured those who collaborated with the Germans, putting their heads into water until they said what they had to say. I had a group that was ordered to kill them. You had people who were very strong during the torture and didn’t want to die. They were lying on their bellies scratching, not wanting to die. I will never forget one woman. When she was shot in the hall, she prayed the Ave Maria. Then she fell down and that was the end. Once again I saw what spirituality meant for someone about to be killed.

When the war was over and I came home, I learned that my father had spent a year in prison. He asked me what I was going to do with my life? I replied, "I am going to work for peace. I do not want my children and my grandchildren to live through what I have lived through. I am going to get a doctorate of law in Salzburg." I studied economics. Then one day I wrote an essay on how to govern the world. The essay won a prize and as a result of this and I entered the service of the United Nations in 1948.

The first surprise I had at the United Nations was that they had a meditation and prayer room and that the meetings of the United Nations started and ended with a minute of silence for prayer and meditation. I said to myself, "This is wonderful. That is exactly what we should do when we meet among nations we should invoke the spirituality and understand what we are doing."

Dag Hammarskjold was another surprise to me. He came to the United Nations as a rational economist. His early writings were only rationalist and intellectual. During his time at the UN, he went to various religious temples each Sunday to pray. After Dag Hammarskjold died, we found a copy of Thomas a Kempis on his night table.

Another surprise was U Thant, the Buddhist Secretary General with whom I worked very directly and whose main teaching to me was that spirituality is the highest virtue on earth. This is the highest principle. It goes beyond intellectualism and everything. He sometimes said to me, "Robert, I do not understand you Catholics who limit spirituality to an hour at church on Sunday. I wake up from the morning to the evening and I am a spiritual person."

He was so spiritual that sometimes I said to him, "Why don’t you give a task to the visitors you receive?" and he said. "Robert, when a human being comes to visit me it is because he or she has a message, so I must empty myself of myself in order to receive that person as a human brother or sister."

These were the lessons I got from the United Nations. I decided to write a major book on getting all of the religions to agree on what they have in common, which is spirituality. So I wrote a book, New Genesis Faith in a Global Spirituality, which was translated into a number of languages. Ever since that time I have been working toward the recognition of a global spirituality, out of which the various religions are born in different forms with a God, with many gods, with the great spirit of the indigenous people, or simply for any spiritual reason to do good on earth.

What is this concept of spirituality? It is very simple. It is what I felt as a little boy. In other words, it is to receive from religion help to understand the mystery of the universe and the mystery of time. This is what all the religions have in common. They make you look at God or at the great spirit. The mysteries of the universe and time have never been solved, not by Einstein or anyone else. They will always remain mysteries. But religions give us confidence that there is a spirituality, there is a God, there is something that explains our cosmic meaning of this life and the fact that we are expected to help the universe and these mysterious forces to succeed.

That was my conclusion. I then began to do all kinds of things to create an organization through which world religions could work for peace. I sought to create a parliamentary union to work between the parliaments and peace in the United Nations. In 1993, I was given a tremendous opportunity when I was invited to speak to the World Parliament of Religions as the main opening speaker. I appealed to them to really come to grips with the creation of spirituality. I had been able to convince the Pope, as a spiritual representative, to speak in the United Nations. That is why he gave me this cross. I was also able to meet with other great religious leaders in Assisi where I worked as the mayor of Assisi so that we held religious meetings between all of the great religious leaders.

At the World Parliament of Religions I said this is not sufficient. In my speech I said that the Pope meeting with the religious leaders is not enough because when they see each other they shake hands, they are friends, they embrace each other, but when they go home they forget about global religions’ spirituality. They have to build churches. They have to find money. They are preoccupied by the diminishing numbers of religious people, and they forget about the importance of spirituality.

It is the same in the United Nations. The leaders of nations come to New York, and they embrace each other and make beautiful speeches, and then when they come home they forget about the United Nations. Why? Because they have inflation. They have the next elections. They have all kinds of problems. But there is one difference. When the leaders of the nations go home, they leave in New York a few thousand of the Americans, the Chinese, the Russians and every other country on the earth. I was there as a French national. Speaking with one another as UN servants, as world servants, we discovered what we have all in common.

At the end of the year, the leaders of nations at the UN ask, "What do you want us to do next?" Then we can tell them. We can tell them there is a problem of the environment, there is a problem of population, there is a problem of women’s rights, etc. There is a climate problem, which we told them already in 1978. Then they take action. So I proposed in the World Parliament of Religions to create an organization which would be the same for religions as the United Nations is for countries. A United Religions Organization.

We have to have something along these lines. My proposal was approved. On June 26, in the year 2000, in the same room where the United Nations Charter was drafted, we are going to announce the creation of a World Religions Organization, the charter of which now has been distributed to all of the major religions. They just had a meeting of more than 200 religious leaders from every continent who have now decided to go home and to see how from now to the year 2000 they can live that charter before it is announced to the world.

So this is how the whole spirituality has come to the fore. The latest news I have is that Secretary General Kofi Annan has told me that he wants to have a world meeting of all of the religious leaders in New York in the year 2000. Can you imagine what progress we have made toward world spirituality?

In my testimony to the United Nations I have a whole chapter on the spirituality in the United Nations. What the world needs most is architects of the planets of God. I quote here Andre Malouf, the French Minister of Culture who was an atheist, "The third millennium will be spiritual or there will be no third millennium." I think that the task of the next century, when we face the most difficult problems on earth which humanity has ever known, will be to reintegrate God into human spirituality. This is my work.

Finally, when you are a spiritual person, when you work for good, you are recompensed by the spirits of the elders. I say that when you do good you are always recompensed by happiness, and if you do good and if you are a spiritual person, the spirits of the universe help you. I think that there must be saints floating around the planet, and they are just looking for someone they can help. When you open yourself they come and they help you. They create coincidences.

I had the coincidence that five years after my wife died I met a lady from Hungary. Why was she sent to me? She is 18 years younger. She makes me work. I even forget that I am old. I cannot get sick. It was St. Stephen who sent her to me because I got the crown of St. Stephen returned by the United States to Hungary. So when you do something good you are paid back. On July 11, 1994, she said, "Robert, you have so many ideas you should write every day an idea and by the year 2000 you are going to have 2,000 ideas." So I finished already the 2,000 ideas.

There is so much to do. It is not the United Nations, it is not even governments who are responsible for the current disorder in the world. It is the lack of spirituality, the lack of respect for God and for the miraculous nature of His creation which I loved so much as a little child. There is so little spirituality in the world that I am surprised that there is not more chaos, conflict, and sinning in the world. This is the great task that we have in front of us.

To finish in memory of my grandfather, whom I saw die and who is in the spiritual world; I know that there is one thing which you will not forget: I am going to play for you on my 10-hole harmonica, a piece, which my grandfather taught me to play, the "Ode to Joy" written by Chillum and composed by Beethoven, where all humans become brothers and sisters on this incredible creation of God.