The Cry for Peace is the English name of a meeting held in Rome last week by the Community of Sant’Egidio. As you might guess from the fact that I am writing about it, Jinja Honchō sent a delegation, and I went along as the interpreter. This event also had a heavyweight guest list, including the Pope (who was also at the meeting in Kazakhstan) and the presidents of both Italy and France, and booked the Colosseum for the closing ceremony. It certainly has a bit more gravitas than your typical conference centre — which is where the rest of the event was held.
This time, Jinja Honchō was not giving any presentations, and several of the sessions had simultaneous interpretation for Japanese, which made my job a lot easier. The Community of Sant’Egidio website has a good overview of the whole event if you are interested, so I will talk about what the Jinja Honchō delegation did. (Apart from sightseeing in our spare time — we were in Rome, after all.)
Obviously, we attended the opening and closing ceremonies and receptions, and one of the panel sessions on the second day, but as we were not presenting, our main task was to perform a Shinto prayer for peace, in the afternoon of the final day. There are photographs of the prayers from multiple religions on the website; we are in the two small pictures in the second row from the top on the left (click for larger versions). I am not in the pictures, because I am not a priest.
The Christians did their prayers in the Colosseum, and the Jews at the Arch of Titus; the symbolism does make sense if you think about it a little. Everyone else was assigned space in the monastery of St Gregory the Great. We went on the second day to see our options, which were a courtyard to the south of the church and a room off the courtyard. As you can see from the pictures, we chose the courtyard. Obviously, I wasn’t making the decision, but I agreed with everyone else that the courtyard was clearly better. Many Shinto matsuri are performed outside, and the general consensus is that, originally, they all were, so the courtyard was better than the western-style room. We borrowed some tables from the monastery, because that was safer than using the cardboard portable ones we had taken, and decided to set up in the northwestern corner of the courtyard.
In the afternoon, we went shopping for local fruits and vegetables to use as offerings — you can see them in the first of the photographs. (That was a bit of a performance. Each type of fruit and vegetable had to be weighed and have a label attached at a machine, using the code number on the shelf. We had one each of over a dozen types. And then the machine ran out of labels half way through the process, and the shop staff had to find someone who knew how to replace it. It’s a good job we didn’t try to do that on the morning of the ceremony.) The offerings at a matsuri should be appropriate to the matsuri, and local products are the best, so we went shopping for Italian vegetables — or at least vegetables on sale in Italy. As well as choosing good examples of each kind of fruit and vegetable, the priests also paid attention to the colour mix, so that the offerings would look good when presented to the kami. The aesthetics of these things are important.
On the following day, we went to the monastery to set up, and eventually managed to get past the police cordon — which was there to provide security for us and the other groups. The matsuri itself was a standard Shinto matsuri, so I will not describe it in detail. As you can see, the two officiating priests are wearing the all-white vestments (formally called “saifuku”), while the head of our delegation, who offered a tamagushi as a representative of Japan, wore a black haori over the white kimono and hakama that form the basis of the vestments. I will write another blog post about the reasons for that soon. We did invite people to offer tamagushi if they were interested, but while a few people watched, nobody wanted to do that. After the event, the food offerings were given to the monastery.
The norito was specially written for this event, referencing the Community of Sant’Egidio, the fact that the event was in Rome, and praying that the people from all over the world would deepen their connections. As Revd Mitsui, who was presiding at the matsuri, pointed out, the phrase for that is one that does not get used very much in norito. There were also passages praying for world peace, although that is a fairly standard feature of norito. Revd Mitsui had written the norito out by hand — this is a sufficiently important event to make that a foregone conclusion.
It is, perhaps, worth noting that Jinja Honchō had no objections to performing the ceremony in the grounds of a church, and that one of the desiderata they gave when we were choosing the spot was that we would not have our backs to the church while performing the ceremony, because that would be disrespectful. The monastery was also happy to host a wide range of religions.
This was my busiest time, because I was translating the requests and answers through our liaison officer to the staff of the monastery. That is quite appropriate, really — it was the main task for everyone else as well.
The matsuri went off smoothly, as did the rest of the event. This sort of participation, as with Kazakhstan, is another good way for Jinja Honchō to establish global links, and bring a non-Abrahamic perspective to such prayers.