The Pope Benedict XVI‘s first ever visit as pontiff is scheduled in April, 2008 when on April16, Pope will reach New York. In New York he will meet with different religious groups including Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists.
The World Sikh Council – America Region (WSC-AR) has decided against attending the April 17 inter-religious meeting with the pope because the US Secret Service refused to allow the kirpan, the ceremonial dagger that is one of the five articles of faith for Sikhs.Ten to fifteen Sikhs were to attend the papal audience, most of them veterans of a Catholic-Sikh dialogue begun in 2006. Negotiations have been going on for months between US Secret Service and the Sikhs over the dagger issue.
Eric Zahren, US Secret Service: “No weapon, no matter how sactified it is. We have every respect for it as a religious artifact but it’s by definition a weapon even though that is not the intended use. And we have to answer for the security of the Holy Father while he is here.”
Anahat Kaur, World Sikh Council: “We have to respect the sanctity of the kirpan, especially at such inter-religious gatherings. We cannot undermine the rights and freedoms of religion in the name of security. Sikhs wearing their three foot long kirpans had met Pope John Paul II in the Vatican in January 2002. Kirpans are only used in self-defense as a last resort.Because kirpans are not allowed on airplanes many Sikhs will drive instead of fly.”
Kirpan is symbolic of a true Sikh.
Numbered at more than 20 million adherents, Sikhism is the world’s fifth largest religion. It has about 250,000 members in the United States. The WSC-AR is a representative and elected body of about 45 gurdwaras and other Sikh institutions in the US and takes up Sikh issues at the national and international levels.