Two new Qigong Academies had their grand openings during a week of beautiful shows and events attended by VIPs from all over the world.
by Massimo Introvigne
As a scholar of religion and an advocate for religious liberty, I have attended hundreds of events organized by religious and spiritual movements. In 2011, I served as the Representative of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) for combating racism, xenophobia, and intolerance and discrimination against Christians and members of other religions. In this capacity, I was invited to participate in the inauguration of places of worship of several different religions. This continued between 2012–15, when I was the President of the Italian Observatory of Religious Liberty created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. All these previous experiences, however, had not prepared me for what I saw in California between October 6 and 15, 2023. Around the grand openings of two new Tai Ji Men Qigong Academies in Santa Clara and Pasadena, Tai Ji Men’s Shifu (Grand Master), Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, and dizi (disciples) built an awesome set of events.
I can say with confidence that none of the previous inaugurations of spiritual centers I have attended had the magnificence of the Tai Ji Men extended week in California. My feelings were shared by the delegation of scholars and religious liberty activists I led, which included the co-founder and Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, Willy Fautré; the editor-in-chief of “Bitter Winter,” Marco Respinti; the President of the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB), Alessandro Amicarelli; the Executive Director of the Forum for Religious Freedom Europe, Peter Zoehrer; the President of the Coordination des associations et des particuliers pour la liberté de conscience (CAP-LC), Thierry Valle, and CAP-LC’s Deputy Director, Christine Mirre; the Secretary of the Italian Islamic association As-Salàm, Davide Suleyman Amore; the President of the Dutch Gerard Noodt Foundation for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Hans Noot; and the External Relations Manager of MEDIS, the Major Emergencies and Disasters International School, Stefania Cerruti. All described the Tai Ji Men events as one of the most memorable experiences of their lives.
The grand openings in Santa Clara on October 8 and Pasadena of October 14 were just part of the events. They opened on October 6 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts with the stage drama “Back to the Origin,” of which a different version was proposed on October 15 at the historical Pasadena Civic Auditorium. The drama was moving and spectacular for all the audience, but especially interesting for scholars of religion. Through the story of the two sons of a village chief in ancient China, it describes the origin of the souls, the need for reincarnation, the purification through sacrifice and the fight for justice. Another show, “Cultural Gems: Love and Prayers for the World,” was also staged through two different performances at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts on October 7 and at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on October 15. It featured the classical Tai Ji Men themes of the primacy of conscience and the efforts led by Dr. Hong to spread a message of love and peace to the whole world, presented through demonstrations of martial arts, music, and songs. Both shows featured hundreds of performers.
On October 7, Tai Ji Men participated in the 54th Santa Clara Parade of Champions. They were the last group to appear in the parade chronologically, giving new meaning to the expression “last but not least,” as they were by far the most spectacular and applauded. Many Italians are interested in the sport of swimming, and the Italian part of our delegation was pleased to have the Grand Marshall of the Parade, Donna de Varona, come and sit with us to admire the last part of the event and applaud Tai Ji Men. De Varona, a legendary swimmer, won two gold medals at age 17 at the Tokyo Olympics of 1964 and counted in her career 18 world records, which caused her to be proclaimed by the Associated Press “the most outstanding woman athlete in the world.” Her last name also testifies about the presence of a robust Portuguese American community in Santa Clara, whose history we learned through the Parade.
FOWPAL, the Federation of World Peace and Love, also founded and led by Dr. Hong, hosted two World Leader Summits of Love and Peace, one on October 9 at the Hilton San Jose on “We Peacebuilding Puzzles: Charting a Path to a New Future,” and one at Le Méridien Pasadena Arcadia Hotel on October 13 on “A Promising Tomorrow with Love and Conscience for Sustainability.”
Several of the events featured as their spiritual centers the ceremonies where world leaders were invited by Dr. Hong to ring the Bell of World Peace and Love, expressing their wishes for a better world. By the end of the California events, the number of Bell ringers had reached 529. Those who rang the Bell in Santa Clara, San Jose, and Pasadena were Abdessattar Ben Moussa, President of the Tunisian Human Rights League and, as such, co-recipient of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize; Jane Olson, former Board Chair of Human Rights Watch and of the Landmine Survivors Network; Willy Fautré, co-founder and Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers; and the Mayors of Santa Clara, Cupertino, and Pasadena, Lisa M. Gillmor, Hung Wei, and Victor M. Gordo. Indeed, the presence of local Mayors accompanied by city councilors and other local authorities, testified to the respect and esteem the Tai Ji Men Qigong Academies (two had already been active for many years in Walnut and Cupertino) have earned in California.
Ringing the Bell for Tai Ji Men and FOWPAL is not merely symbolic. It is a deep spiritual gesture that, the dizi believe, can really change the world. Many world leaders that had rung the Bell previously attended the events in California and testified that this is the case. They included, in addition of several leaders from different religious tradition, ranging from Christianity to Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism, the former President of Croatia, Ivo Josipović; the former President of Trinidad and Tobago, Anthony Carmona; the former President of Kiribati and current Ambassador of Kiribati to both the United States and the United Nations, Teburoro Tito; the former Prime Minister of Lesotho, Pakalitha Mosisili; Jerry White, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize 1997 as representative of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. For the scholars who came to California, interacting with politicians with such different backgrounds was another precious experience.
The Tai Ji Men and FOWPAL events for peace in California happened in the middle of two bloody wars, in Ukraine and Israel/Palestine. Some may regard the ringing of a Bell and prayers and songs for world peace as naïve, romantic, or ineffective. Most speeches during the extended California week pointed out that the opposite is true. Without changing the heart and returning to conscience there will be no peace.
Tai Ji Men Shifu and dizi do not have a magic wand to change the world immediately. But there was a lot of magic in the air in these days in California, and the feeling that if we, as a Tai Ji Men song proclaims, perform our duties with “a little bit of love,” change is by no means impossible.