The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, has made an official visit to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Europe’s first traditional Hindu temple in Neasden, north London.
The visit took place on Saturday 21 November 2009 during Interfaith Week and on the birth anniversary of the worldwide spiritual leader of the Hindus who pray at the Mandir (Hindu Temple) at Neasden, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
Archbishop Nichols was greeted by the Mandir’s spiritual leader, Yogvivek Swami, ( Head Sadhu, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha - UK & Europe) and the Trustees of the Mandir. He was welcomed in traditional Hindu style – with a red vermillion mark applied to the forehead and the tying of a sacred thread on the wrist, symbolising friendship and goodwill.
Yogvivek Swami guided the Archbishop around the Mandir complex, including the sanctum sanctorum. He then moved to the deity of Shri Nilkanth Varni (Bhagwan Swaminarayan) where he joined Yogvivek Swami in praying for world peace and harmony.
After a private meeting with Yogvivek Swami, Archbishop Nichols spoke to an audience of around 2,000 Hindus about a number of common concerns. These included the vital role religion contributes to the common good, the importance of supporting family life, the education of children and young people and the understanding and valuing of different cultures and traditions.
Before departing, Archbishop Nichols presented Yogvivek Swami with a special candle, “a sign of the lovely light of God in our lives and a sign of the prayer which, in return, we offer to God.” Yogvivek Swami also presented Archbishop Nichols with a memento of his visit to the Mandir.
Those accompanying Archbishop Nichols on the visit included: Father Stephen Willis – Dean of Brent, and Parish Priest of the parish of Our Lady of Willesden, Willesden; Rev Jon Dal Din – Director of Westminster Interfaith; Katharina Muller – Secretary of the Bishops’ Committee for Relations with Other Religions; Father Antonio Ritaccio, Parish Priest of Stonebrige.
A number of local civic, political and religious leaders were also present. They included Cllr Jim O’Sullivan, Mayor of Brent; local MPs, Dawn Butler MP, and Sarah Teather MP; Ervad Rustom Bhedwar Head Priest, Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe; Imam Abdullah Salloo of the Islamic Cultural Centre, Stonebridge; Venerable Galayaye Piyadassi Thera MBE President, World Buddhist Foundation Head, Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre; Shri Ashok Shah, Chair, Oswald Community (Jainism); Sardar Rajinder Singh Bhasin, President, The Central Gurdwara, London (Sikhism) ; Mr Aleksey Koudryakov representing the Russian Orthodox Church and Hassan Afnan representing the Baha'i community.