The World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP), was "a world-wide movement, consisting of men and women of faith who meet to share their concerns about the many factors and situations which threaten world peace and deny human dignity. While acknowledging that religious elements have aggravated rather than reconciled existing tensions and conflicts, yet we would work together as religious people and with all people of good-will for the realization of a world free of violence -- a world in which all people may live in freedom, justice, and peace." [quoted from the brochure announcing the Fourth World Assembly in August 1984]
The first World Conference on Religion and Peace (1st world assembly) was held in Kyoto, Japan, in October 1970, but the idea for holding such a conference is attributed to the dreams of four religious leaders in the United States who began meeting in the fall of 1962. Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, Dr. Dana McLean Greeley, Bishop John Wesley Lord, and Bishop John Wright, together with several others, arranged two conferences in the U.S. (the first in January 1964 in New York and a second, much larger, National Inter-Religious Conference on Peace in Washington in March 1966) before deciding to explore the possibilities for a world-wide conference of religious leaders. In 1967, Homer A. Jack and Herschel Halbert traveled to Asia to seek out sympathetic partners with whom they could work to plan for a world conference. In January 1968, a group of 20 Americans undertook a round-the-world peace mission, with stops in Geneva, Rome, Istanbul, and Jerusalem to consult with top representatives of four major world religions. The trip included a week-long International Inter-Religious Symposium on Peace in New Delhi (sponsored by the U.S. Inter-Religious Committee on Peace and the Gandhi Peace Foundation) and a Japanese-American Inter-Religious Consultation on Peace held on January 22, 1968, in Kyoto. Based on the success of these meetings, an Interim Advisory Committee (composed of religious leaders primarily from India, Japan, and the U.S.) was formed which gathered in Istanbul in February 1969 to explore convening a world conference. This led to the formation of a Preparatory Committee for a World Conference on Religion and Peace which met in July and December 1969. Archbishop Angelo I. Fernandes agreed to serve as President of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, with Rev. Nikkyo Niwano and Dr. Dana McLean Greeley as co-chairmen. Homer A. Jack, then working for the Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston, became Secretary-Genera, working first in Boston and later in Japan.
The Kyoto Conference (1st world assembly) brought together about 250 delegates from ten major religions and from 39 nations to discuss the areas of disarmament, development, and human rights. The focus of attention was religion as applied to current world problems, not religion itself. The final plenary session of this assembly endorsed the recommendation of the Conference Follow-Up Committee that a continuing organization be established, to be called the World Conference of Religion for Peace. (This name was used until 1974 when it again became the World Conference on Religion and Peace.) A Board of Directors was formed, which elected Archbishop Angelo I. Fernandes as President (in which capacity he served from 1970 to 1984), and six vice-presidents. Homer A. Jack was appointed as Secretary-General, and pledges were received to cover the first year's budget of $65,000.
In December l970, the international headquarters of WCRP were opened at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York, New York. The organization was immediately granted status as an international organization associated with the Office of Public Information at the United Nations. The international headquarters of WCRP remained in New York until the retirement of Homer A. Jack as Secretary-General in December 1983. Following the appointment of Dr. John B. Taylor as Secretary-General, it was decided to move the international headquarters to Geneva, Switzerland, early in 1984.
Initially, the major support for WCRP, financial and otherwise, came from Japan and the United States. Through the years, a network of regional and national committees of WCRP were developed throughout the world. The European Secretariat of the WCRP was established in 1974. Dr. Maria A. Lucker served as Secretary-General of this group from 1974 until her death in November 1983. She was succeeded by Dr. Norbert Klaes, formerly Associate Secretary of WCRP/International. The Asian Conference on Religion and Peace, with headquarters in Singapore, was established in 1976. Mehervan Singh served as Secretary-General. In addition to these regional groups, national WCRP groups have been established in at least 17 countries (by mid-l983), with regular contacts in many other countries.
Four other world conferences have been held since the Kyoto Conference in 1970. The Second World Conference on Religion and Peace (2nd world assembly) was held at Louvain, Belgium, from August 28 - September 3, 1974. Attended by participants from 50 countries, the general theme of this assembly was "Religion and the Quality of Life." It was more of a working conference than the 1st assembly, with more time spent in four simultaneous commissions (disarmament and security, economic development and human liberation, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and environment and survival), and in working parties and panel discussions. The Louvain Declaration, adopted overwhelmingly, was widely distributed after the assembly.
The Third World Conference on Religion and Peace (3rd world assembly) was held in Princeton, New Jersey, from August 29 - September 7, 1979, on the theme "Religion in the Struggle for World Community." Three hundred fifty persons from 47 countries attended, including a delegation from China. The program of included visits to the United Nations and to Washington, DC. A Fourth World Assembly was held August 23 - 31, 1984, in Nairobi, Kenya. Nearly 600 participants from 60 countries met to address the theme: "Religions for Human Dignity and World Peace." The Fifth World Assembly was held in January 1989 in Melbourne, Australia.
Numerous smaller conferences/consultations among national and regional WCRP groups have been held in addition to these major world conferences. These include several Inter-Religious Consultations on Japanese-American Relations (1968, 1972, 1983), two Asian Conferences on Religion and Peace (Singapore, 1976; New Delhi, 1981), a North American Consultation on Religion and Peace (1972), and an All Africa Assembly on Religion and Peace (1983), among others.
In addition to holding conferences of religious leaders, WCRP was involved in several education/action/service programs. The first of these was the Boat People Project in 1976-1977, established by the Asian Conference on Religion and Peace and the World Conference on Religion and Peace early in December 1976. Thich Nhat Hanh was the initial Director of the Project but was relieved of responsibility in mid-February 1977, when the two ships at sea (chartered by WCRP) -- with a total of 555 refugees on board -- was finding it extremely difficult to find permanent homes for these "boat people." The Board of the Boat People Project announced in March that the Project would terminate when passengers from both ships were given permanent asylum. It was not until September 1977 that all passengers had disembarked, and many were still living in refugee camps awaiting permanent resettlement. Substantial donations were received from all religions and all continents to meet the costs of this Project.
A second attempt to help victims of a war-torn country was the WCRP Khmer Fund (October 1979 - May 1980) and the WCRP Khmer Program (May 1980 - May 1981). This effort was initiated at the 3rd assembly when the Board of Directors asked the Secretary-General to explore possibilities for a project relating to Kampuchea (Cambodia). Both Homer Jack and Howard Schomer (on loan from the United Church Board of World Ministries to serve WCRP as Associate Secretary for Kampuchean Issues) traveled to Bangkok and visited the Thai-Kampuchean border to seek ways of helping the Khmer people. After consulting with many people, the WCRP team developed a six-point program and agreed to hire a Director for one year. David R. Hawk was hired for this position in May 1980. The central purpose of the Program was to "work for the physical and cultural survival of the Khmer people...., seek to help them in their emergency relief needs, and to attain justice and peace." A series of WCRP Reports on Kampuchea was issued from 1978-1981.
In November 1981, a third major action project was launched when it was decided to send Multi-Religious Missions to five world capitals (Beijing, London, Moscow, Paris, Washington) to discuss disarmament issues, particularly the Second United Nations Special Session on Disarmament which was to be held in June 1982. A 10-person team of WCRP leaders from around the world visited Beijing in May 1982 for discussions with Chinese leaders. No other Missions were actually held, although preliminary consultations were held in London and Washington.
Since the establishment of its headquarters near the United Nations in New York City, WCRP was a close observer of United Nations discussion and activity, particularly in the areas of disarmament, development, and human rights. After being granted consultative status with ECOSOC in 1973, the WCRP and its representatives were given certain privileges to submit communications and in other ways to attempt to influence the policies of the United Nations Homer Jack wrote many memos, articles and reports on issues which were distributed to United Nations' delegates and to representatives of other non-governmental organizations (NGOs). WCRP cooperated with other NGOs, both in ad hoc committees and in ongoing organizations such as the NGO Committee on Human Rights and the NGO Committee on Disarmament (at United Nations Headquarters). Homer Jack served as chairman of the latter group from its establishment in 1973 until he retired from the WCRP in December 1983. He was a frequent observer at United Nations special conferences (e.g. World Food Conference, 1974; Review Conferences on the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, 1975 and 1980) and was very active during preparations for the two United Nations Special Sessions on Disarmament (1978, 1982).
In addition, WCRP arranged special visits to the United Nations by WCRP representatives, including the Inter-Religious Presence at the United Nations during the 26th United Nations General Assembly (1971), a Japanese Peace Mission to the United Nations (1973), and a visit to the United Nations during WCRP's 3rd assembly. The WCRP office often served as a hospitality and information center for WCRP representatives visiting the United Nations and arranged numerous meetings and receptions for the United Nations community.
Major WCRP publications include the unabridged proceedings of the first four world assemblies, and two books on the United Nations Special Sessions on Disarmament (Disarmament Workbook: The United Nations Special Session and Beyond and Disarm--or Die; the Second United Nations Special Session on Disarmament). A newsletter is published regularly (Beyond Kyoto, 1971-1974; Religion for Peace, 1974-date). Over 100 WCRP Reports have appeared since 1971, mainly on United Nations topics. In addition, numerous leaflets and pamphlets have been published to publicize WCRP activity and to focus on areas of concern to the organization.
[Note: This organization's name, as of 2007, is the World Conference of Religions for Peace.]