Panthic

Pope Francis welcomed Sikhs with Kirpaans

Vatican and White House allows Kirpaans
By Anju Kaur | October 02, 2015
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Pope Francis hugged a Sikh wearing a Kirpaan at the interfaith prayer service last week at New York City’s 9/11 memorial.

Sikhs were permitted to wear Kirpaans while with the Pope?
 
“The answer is absolutely yes,” said Bishop James Massa of the Diocese of Brooklyn, in a Sept. 19 response to the Sikhs, re-confirming the accommodation. 
 
“Please assure our Sikh brothers (and sisters) that they are most welcome to the gathering with the article of faith, the Kirpaan,” he said.
 
The Kirpaan is a ceremonial sword or dagger that represents mercy and honor. It is worn sheathed and hangs at the hip from a cross-body harness. The Kirpaan represents Sikh spirituality, which enjoins Sikhs to always come to the defense of the defenseless. It is one of five articles of the Sikh faith, called “Punj Kakkar” or “Five Ks.” While Guru Gobind Singh mandated all Sikhs to wear the Kirpaan, its inception is from Guru Nanak.
 

ਮਾਰੂ ਮਹਲਾ ੧ ॥
Maaroo, Mehalaa 1: (SGGS ang 1,022)
...ਦਸਕਰ ਪੰਚ ਸਬਦਿ ਸੰਘਾਰੇ ॥
She slays the five thieves (lust, rage, greed, attachment and ego) with the Word.
ਗਿਅਾਨ ਖੜਗੁ ਲੈ ਮਨ ਸਿੳੁ ਲੂਝੈ ਮਨਸਾ ਮਨਹਿ ਸਮਾੲੀ ਹੇ ॥੩॥
Armed with the sword of Knowledge, she fights her mind and fulfills its
Divine hopes and desires 3...

This memo was sent to Sikh attendees a few days before the interfaith prayer service on Sept. 25.

In the United States, Sikhs require special accommodations for the Kirpaan to participate in any government-related capacity. An exemption from the U.S. Secret Service, which is charged with protecting foreign dignitaries, is particularly difficult.

But, on Sept. 25, the Secret Service granted that exemption to more than a dozen Sikhs who attended “A Witness to Peace: A multi-religious gathering with Pope Francis.” 

It was an historic moment for Satpal Singh and Gunisha Kaur, who were invited to say a Sikh prayer on the same stage as the pontiff and other faith leaders. Satpal Singh was wearing his Kirpaan when Francis gave him a traditional hug after the ceremony.
 
“The pope is a hugger,” Massa said. “In Italian, the name for pope is “papa.” And he is a papa.”
 
“I think it was really remarkable,” said Satpal Singh, professor of pharmacology at the State University of New York, at Buffalo. “Sikhi emphasizes that we must respect each other even if we have some differences. Look at the similarities, like in this particular case, the feeling that we should treat everyone with love and compassion, that we should take care of the poor and marginalized communities, that we should stand up for justice. Many other things this pope has been saying resonates with me.”
 
About 12 to 15 Sikhs were among the approximately 200 guests invited to the interfaith event. They were seated together in the audience, near the front and center, and watched with delight.
 
“We all felt that hug,” said Amrita Kaur, who was in the audience. “I think, with the pope being a figure of a large religion, openly embracing a Sikh will help break down barriers.” 
 
[click here to see entire video, Sikh Prayer at 17 mins]
 
Sikh attendees at the interfaith prayer service. Center: Satpal Singh, in a white shirt and dark dastaar, and Gunisha Kaur, in a dark blue suit to his left. Sikhs were welcomed with Kirpaans. Source: Amrita Kaur, United Sikhs.
 
In this case, the barrier was not the Catholic Church. When Pope Benedict XVI visited the U.S. in 2008, some Sikhs, who are now trustees of the recently formed Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations, were invited to participate in an interfaith service with him at Catholic University, in Washington. 
 
“We were prepared at that time to make whatever accommodation possible to include our Sikh partners in the course of preparations for the interreligious event,” Bishop Massa told Sikh Free Press. “But the U.S. Secret Service indicated that it would not be possible to have Sikh men and women with the Kirpaan. That, of course, created not only controversy but great sadness for the Catholic side.”
 
Massa had known of the significance of the Kirpaan since he first met Tarunjit Singh Butalia, one of the trustees of the SCIR, in 2006. At that time, Tarunjit Singh was with the World Sikh Council-America Region and had been involved for a couple of years in interfaith outreach with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue. Father Massa, not bishop yet, had just been appointed its executive director when the two faith leaders took part in the first Catholic-Sikh dialogue, facilitated by the Vatican. Religions for Peace-USA hosted the event at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City.
 
“He is a dear, dear friend,” Massa said of Tarunjit Singh. “We have such dear affection and respect for our Sikh brothers and sisters.”
 
The experience of that visit, which included many discussions between the Catholic leadership and the Secret Service, and discussions with the Sikh leadership, may have effected reformulation of its policy,” Massa said. 
 
The last time a WSC-AR representative was invited to White House, in 2004, the Secret Service insisted he leave his Kirpaan at the security checkpoint. WSC-AR declined the invitation. In 2010, the Ohio-based organization again insisted its representative wear his Kirpaan, particularly as a Sikh representative attending a large meeting on cooperation among religions. The Secret Service agreed. Massa accompanied him to the White House. 
 
“We passed through security together and he patiently waited for me in solidarity to be allowed inside with the Kirpaan,” Tarunjit Singh said. “During the inspection process, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center in Washington walked in and joined us. He is now the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
 
"With a Catholic priest and one of the nation's most well-recognized rabbis standing by me, the Secret Service staff permitted me to carry the Kirpaan into the meeting without any restrictions,” Tarunjit Singh said.
 
The next year, in 2011, Tarunjit Singh met Pope Benedict in Assisi, Italy, for the 25th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace, where faith leaders re-committed themselves to peace and justice through dialogue. The Sikh delegation was led by Jaswant Singh of New Delhi, representing the Akal Takhat. The Vatican, which governs itself, honored all of the Punj Kakkar during the entire gathering, including meetings with the pope, Tarunjit Singh told Sikh Free Press.
 
Tarunjit Singh meets with Pope Benedict XVI in Assasi, Italy, for the the 25th Anniversary of the "World Day of Prayer for Peace," in 2011. Sikhs were welcomed with Kirpaans. Source: Tarunjit Singh, Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations.
 
In June 2015, when the secretariat again began planning for a pope’s visit to the U.S., it again inquired about the Kirpaan.
 
“We brought up the issue several times with Secret Service representatives in New York,” Massa told Sikh Free Press. “They assured me that there is a new protocol, and that it would not be a problem.”
 
The secretariat asked the SCIR to recommend two Sikhs from New York to be seated on the stage with the pope, and 25 others to be part of the audience.
 
“But the U.S. Secret Service will insist on having agents in very close proximity when they/those who will have the Kirpan approach the Holy Father,” the secretariat told SCIR. 
 
The Secret Service did follow the pope closely during the ceremony, but its agents treated everyone equally, Satpal Singh said. They were very respectful. Sikhs were not treated differently.
 
“We were very pleased,” Massa added. “It was beautiful to have them, to greet them at the reception before hand. The atmosphere was one of real fraternity and welcome.”
 
The SCIR invited representatives from various Sikh American organizations, including Ensaaf, United Sikhs, the Sikh Coalition, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Sikh Research Institute, and also from gurdwaras in New York, New Jersery, and Connecticut. The SCIR recommended Satpal Singh, its founding trustee and former chairman of WSC-AR, and Gunisha Kaur, his daughter, to recite a Sikh prayer in Gurmukhi and English, respectly.
 

A part of the prayer is a line from the Shabad in ਸਿਰੀਰਾਗੁ ਮਹਲਾ ੧, SGGS ang 62:
ਸਚਹੁ ੳਰੈ ਸਭੁ ਕੋ ੳੁਪਰਿ ਸਚੁ ਆਚਾਰੁ ॥੫॥
As everything exists under Truth (Waheguru), then truthful living is the highest deed of all.
 
Satpal Singh said the following Ardaas:
ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਸਾਨੂੰ ਸਾਡੇ ਆਚਾਰ ਤੋਂ ਜਾਣਦਾ ਹੈ ਨਾਂ ਕਿ ਸਾਡੇ ਭੇਸ ਤੋਂ॥
ਸਚਹੁ ੳਰੈ ਸਭੁ ਕੋ ੳੁਪਰਿ ਸਚੁ ਅਾਚਾਰੁ॥
ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਦਾ ਮਿਲਾਪ ਅਾਪਸੀ ਪਿਅਾਰ ਵਿਚ ਹੈ, ਕਿੳਂ ਕਿ ਸਿਰਫ਼ ੳਹੀ ਜਿੱਤ ਸਥਾੲੀ ਹੈ ਜਿਸ ਵਿਚ ਕਿਸੇ ਦੀ ਵੀ ਹਾਰ ਨਾਂ ਹੋਵੇ॥
 
Gunisha Kaur translated the Ardaas as follows:
God judges us according to our deeds, not the coat that we wear:
that Truth is above everything, and the highest deed is truthful living.
Know that we attain God when we love, and only that victory endures in consequence of which no one is defeated. 

 
“Gunisha Kaur was not chosen just because she is my daughter,” Satpal Singh said. She also is an activist. Gunisha Kaur is an anesthesiologist at Weil Cornell Medicine in New York City, and directs its global health initiative. She oversees medical education outreach in Punjab.  She and a team of doctors left for Amritsar shortly after the event with the pope. Gunisha Kaur also is the author of the 2009 book, “Lost in History: 1984 Reconstructed.”
 
Her father also is a long-time activist. Satpal Singh participates in the Catholic-Sikh dialogue, and frequently speaks on Sikh philosophy and the Sikh way of life. He is one of the principal organizers of the annual Sikh Youth Symposium held across the U.S. and Canada. And he speaks and writes on human rights issues, particularly on violence against women.
 
The interfaith prayer service was held at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center, which honors the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, and Feb. 26, 1993, terrorist attacks. 
 
Ironically, Satpal Singh is a survivor of another terrorist attack. This one sponsored by the Indian government, in 1984. He was beaten unconscious, thrown off a train, and left for dead by an angry mob during the multi-day anti-Sikh pogroms, in November. Sikhs were targeted in retaliation for the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by two of her bodyguards who happened to be born into Sikh families. Gandhi was killed for planning the multi-day attack of Darbar Sahib, in June of the same year, known as Operation Blue Star. More than ten thousand Sikhs were killed that year. 
 
“After that incident, I have made it a mission of my life to work toward interfaith harmony and peace,” Satpal Singh told The Buffalo News.