President Chen Shui-bian and 12 local and foreign celebrities jointly took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday to open the Museum of World Religions in suburban Taipei.
"The inauguration of the museum is a proud moment for the 23 million people of Taiwan, as it is the first of its kind in the world," Chen said in a speech to mark the occasion.
The president lauded Buddhist Master Shih Hsin-tao for his longtime efforts to establish a museum aimed at highlighting the essence of all religions in the world. Chen says this "essence" of religion is love and peace.
In his view, Chen said, the opening of the museum is not only a historic event for the world's religious community but also a significant development in human civilization.
Describing the museum as a "United Nations for religions," Chen said the museum displays cultural diversity and can serve as a conduit for cultural exchanges and integration.
"The museum is meant to symbolize respect, tolerance and benevolence," Chen went on, adding that the museum will bring "new vision" to Taiwan.
Speaking on the same occasion, Shih Hsin-tao, founder of the museum, said the inauguration of the museum is just the first step toward the goal of promoting world peace and reconciliation between different religions.
The Buddhist master said he hopes that the museum will become a "temple without boundaries" and a "retreat for everyone from the unrest in the world."
Many world-renowned religious leaders and scholars traveled to Taiwan to attend the museum's opening ceremony.
Among them were Bawa Jain, secretary-general of the UN-sponsored millennium world peace summit; Lawrence Sullivan, director of Harvard University's religion research center; Rabbi Soeten-dorp, a Jewish priest from Holland; Father Mizzi from Italy's St Francisco missionary society; Dayanand Saraswati, a Hindu priest; and Manjeet Singh, a Sikhism master.
Several international cultural figures from France, the US and other countries were also present.
The museum in Yungho City, on the outskirts of Taipei, is the brainchild of Master Shih Hsin-tao, who is abbot of the Ling Jiou Mountain Wu Sheng Monastery in the northeastern Taiwan coastal township of Fulong.
The planning and construction of the museum cost NT$2 billion (US$58 million) and took 10 years to complete.
The museum boasts a great number of priceless exhibits, including a certificate of benediction offered by Pope John Paul II as a gift to the museum, as well as two ritual implements of Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and a huge landscape photograph titled the "Ocean of Wisdom," upon which the Dalai Lama had inscribed four lines of Tibetan calligraphy.
Also on display are numerous religious scriptures, artifacts, instruments, art objects and more than 7,000 books on various religions, as well as 2,000-plus video and audio recordings on religious subjects.
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