Dr. William F. Vendley, Secretary General
Religions for Peace International
Dr. William Vendley is the Secretary General of Religions for Peace International. He is a member of its World Council which consists of 60 senior religious leaders from all continents. He coordinates the activities and projects of Religions for Peace’s 92 national and 5 regional councils.
Religions for Peace is the world’s largest and most representative multi-religious coalition advancing common action for peace by working to advance multi-religious consensus on positive aspects of peace as well as concrete actions to stop war, help eliminate extreme poverty and protect the earth.
William assumed leadership of Religions for Peace International in 1994. He is a pioneer in advancing multi-religious cooperation to help resolve conflict and advance development and has facilitated the establishment of multi-religious councils around the world. In the immediate aftermath of the civil war in Bosnia, he facilitated the Inter-religious Council of Bosnia-Herzegovina which served Bosnia religious leaders in their efforts to heal their society and re-build a single, multi-ethnic Bosnia. He also facilitated the establishment of the Inter-religious Council of Sierra Leone in the midst of a ten-year civil war, supported the successful multi-religious mediations between the rebels and the government and was requested to assist in the formal peace talks in Lome, Togo. He has advanced multi-religious efforts to prevent conflicts, mediate among warring parties and heal societies in the aftermath of violence in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Liberia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Iraq and many other countries. He is actively working in the Middle East North Africa region with religious leaders to advance peace. He is convinced that multi-religious efforts for peacemaking provide unique strengths that complement those marshaled by governments and bodies like the United Nations
William co-founded the Hope for African Children Initiative to address the needs of African children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The Initiative resulted in an initial US$ 50M being raised to help equip African communities, particularly grassroots religious congregations, to provide needed services to vulnerable children. This work provided the base for major additional grants of US$ 150M to underwrite the development work by the 26 African inter-religious councils affiliated with Religions for Peace.
William is an advisor to a number of governments on matters related to religion and peace. He advised President Obama through his service on the Multi-religious Cooperation and International Affairs Task Force of the White House Faith Based Council. He was appointed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and re-appointed by Secretary Kerry as one of ten members of the US State Department’s Advisory Committee on Strategic Partnership with Civil Society and he is a Co-chair of the State Department’s Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group.
William is a theologian and has served as a professor and dean in Roman Catholic graduate schools of theology. He earned his BA from Purdue University (1971) and was the recipient of its Distinguished Alumni for Science Award in 2005. He has a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Fordham University (1984).
William is married to Mrs. Yasuko Vendley, and they reside in New York City.
Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Deputy Secretary General
Religions for Peace International
Rev. Kyoichi Sugino serves as the Deputy Secretary General of Religions for Peace (RfP). He coordinates RfP’s affiliated interreligious councils, women and youth networks in more than 90 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. Rev. Sugino has been directly engaged in multi-religious diplomacy and track-II negotiations in Iraq, Sri Lanka, and other conflict zones—most recently, he co-authored the “Yogyakarta Statement” (March 2015), which aimed at overcoming violent religious extremism and interreligious tensions in South and Southeast Asia.
Rev. Sugino joined the RfP International Secretariat in 1999, and was appointed to his current position at the International Executive Committee meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco in 2011. Earlier in his career, he served as policy research officer at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, Switzerland.
Rev. Sugino received his LL.B from Chuo University in Tokyo (1989) and an M.L.I. in International Law and International Human Rights Law from the University of Wisconsin (1993). He is an ordained Dharma Teacher in Rissho Kosei-kai--a major Japanese Buddhist denomination--having graduated from Gakurin Buddhist Seminary in Tokyo (1991).
Rev. Sugino has written on the subjects of humanitarian and peace-building issues in many international journals and publications. Rev. Sugino is a member of the U.S. State Department Working Group on Religion and Foreign Policy, a member of the Non-Official Group of Friends of Sri Lanka, as well as a trustee at the RKK International New York Center for Engaged Buddhism.
Regional Secretaries General
Dr. Francis Kuria Kagema, Secretary General
African Council of Religious Leaders - Religions for Peace
Dr. Francis Kuria Kagema, 49, is the Secretary General of the African Council of Religious Leaders-RfP and Executive Director of Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK-RfP), a position he has held since 2008. He previously served as Programs Director and head of the IRCK-RfP secretariat for a period of six years. Before joining the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya-RfP, Dr. Kuria worked as the National Coordinator for the Small Business Network, an organisation advocating for small and medium enterprises. He also worked as a Financial Analyst at the Nairobi Stock Exchange and as a volunteer with St. John Ambulance Brigade where he worked for 16 years, eventually retiring as Assistant Commissioner, Training and Operations in 1998. A holder of a degree in Veterinary Medicine and Surgery, Dr. Kuria is married with four children.
Rev. Yoshitaka Hatakeyama, Secretary General
Asian Conference of Religions for Peace
Rev. Yoshitaka Hatakeyama is the recently-elected Secretary General of the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace Japan. In Religions for Peace Japan, he served as the Under Secretary General for 10 years. Since 2009, Rev. Hatakeyama has served in ACRP as a Deputy Secretary General and represented Dr. Sunggon Kim, former ACRP Secretary General, in various meetings of Religions for Peace International and other global network meetings.
Rev. Hatakeyama is known for his staunch advocacy and organized series of programs and projects on nuclear disarmament, care for the environment, poverty reduction programs, relief operations to refugees, and natural disaster relief work through multi-religious dialogue and cooperation..
Mr. Elias Szczytnicki, Secretary General & Regional Director
Religions for Peace Latin America and the Caribbean
Elias Szczytnicki has extensive and distinguished experience in inter-religious relations. Since 2004, he is the Secretary General of the Latin American and Caribbean Council of Religious Leaders (LACCRL) and the Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Regional Office of Religions for Peace.
Mr. Szczytnicki holds a bachelor’s degree in history of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP). Also, he is a graduate of the Certificate on Jewish Nonprofit Management at the Latin American Training and Investigation Center for Jewish Institutional Leadership Leatid and an alumni of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship.
He served as Secretary of the Interfaith Committee of Peru and Lecturer in Judaism at the Center of Oriental Studies of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP). Mr. Szczytnicki is an Argentinean living in Peru since 1991. He is married and father of a son.
Mr. Jehangir Sarosh OBE, General Secretary
European Council of Religious Leaders -Religions for Peace
Jehangir is a Zoroastrian – is currently also the Executive Director of Religions for Peace UK chapter, and a Co-President of the World Council of Religions for Peace. He served as the President of Religions for Peace Europe for 10 years and helped establish the European Interfaith Youth Network and the European Women of Faith Network.
Jehangir is a founding member of the European Council of Religious Leaders - Religions for Peace, and served as its Co-Moderator from its inception.
His passion is to see all faiths and none working together for all that is good.
He says, "I love and enjoy life with my wonderful children and the beautiful wife, and am looking forward to the new challenge of serving Religions for Peace as Secretary General of the European Council of Religious Leaders.
Dr. William F. Vendley, Interim Secretary General
Religions for Peace Middle East and North Africa Council
Ms. Luisa Hernandez, Director of Finance and Administration
Ms. Luisa Hernandez is the Director of Finance and Administration at Religions for Peace. She oversees all the financial and administrative systems. Hired as the Senior Accountant, Mrs. Hernandez acquired the title of Director of Finance and Administration at Religions for Peace in 2006. She is responsible for budget development and monitoring; managing of international and national funds received from multiple non-for-profit and private agencies; and collaboration and coordination with international field-office financial staff to ensure accurate and timely reporting of all financial information. She provides management and control for the International Secretariat’s Human Resources and Administrative policies, and all fiscal operations of Religions for Peace. Mrs. Hernandez has more than ten years of non-for-profit finance and administration experience. She has worked in collaboration with development agencies like USAID, the State Department, C.D.C, HRSA, UNDP, UNICEF, and other international NGOs. She holds an M.B.A. degree in Finance from Regis University, and a B.A. in Accounting from Herbert Lehman College of the City University of New York. She is certified in USAID Rules and Regulations, NICRA, NYS Notary Public and Individual Income Taxes.
Ms. Deepika Singh, Director of Programs
Ms. Deepika Singh is the Director of Programs at Religions for Peace, where she directs overall program strategy and related implementation and monitoring. Ms. Singh has more than fifteen years of professional experience in international affairs and development, including service in USAID-funded programs in Nepal and consultancies with UNDP, UNICEF, and other international NGOs. She holds a Master of Public Administration degree from Pace University in New York, USA; a Master of Arts degree from Dhaka University in Dhaka, Bangladesh; and a BA with honors from St. Bede’s College in Simla, India.
Mr. Anthony Annett, Climate Change and Sustainable Development Advisor
Anthony Annett is the Climate Change and Sustainable Development Advisor, leading efforts at Religions for Peace, in partnership with the Earth Institute at Columbia University, to strengthen the engagement of religious communities in climate change and sustainable development.
He served sixteen years at the International Monetary Fund, including over five years as speechwriter to two successive Managing Directors—Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Christine Lagarde.
An Irish national, he holds a B.A. and an M. Litt from Trinity College, Dublin and a Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University. He has a keen interest in Catholic social teaching and the intersection of ethics and economics. He is also a Knight Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a papal order of chivalry.
Ms. Valerie Nash, Chief of Staff
Staff and Personnel
Mr. Baker al-Hiyari, Special Advisor - Middle East and North Africa Affairs
Mr. al-Hiyari joins the RfP family as special advisor for Middle East-North Africa (MENA) Affairs at the International Secretariat. A Muslim from Amman, Jordan, Mr. al-Hiyari is a multi‐disciplinary professional with twenty years of experience at the intersection of politics, religion, development, civil society and public affairs in the Middle East, West Asia and North Africa region.
Mr. al-Hiyari assumed several leadership positions in non-governmental institutions, civil society organizations and regional multi–stakeholder initiatives. In addition to being a member of the RfP International Youth Committee, Mr. al-Hiyari has extensive international outreach and engagement.
Mr. Ce Geng, Project Officer & Intern Coordinator
Mr. Ce Geng joined the Religions for Peace team as the World Assembly Associate in 2013. Mr. Geng holds a MS degree in International Communication from St. John’s University in New York. Born and raised in China, Mr. Geng earned his MA degree in Intercultural Communication. With a multi-disciplinary educational background, Mr. Geng is always highly motivated to translate what he has learned into the international organizational practice.
Mr. Geng coordinates the digital communication programs to help advance the mission of Religions for Peace. As a Project Officer at RfP, he aspires to gain great experience in peace-building with multi-sectoral and multi-religious projects.
Ms. Elida Jbeili, Youth Program Officer
Ms. Elida Jbeili is the RfP Youth Program Officer. Ms. Jbeili, from Lebanon, who was raised in Sweden, holds a Bachelors’ degree in International Relations from The City College of New York and a Master’s degree in Near & Middle Eastern Studies from the CUNY Graduate Center. Before joining RfP, she worked extensively with youth as a teacher, mentor and coordinator, organizing conferences on U.S. and Muslim relations. Her work has ranged from teaching children in New York City to assisting Berber youths in Rabat by using theatre activism to raise awareness about human rights issues. Ms. Jbeili is passionate about inter-faith youth dialogue and believes inter-faith cooperation and cross-cultural understanding are paramount for advancing a more harmonious global society.
Ms. Mary Rose O'Brien, Program Manager
Ms. Mary Rose O’Brien is the Program Manager at Religions for Peace. She has more than ten years’ professional experience working across six continents. Ms. O’Brien has extensive experience working in active and post-conflict countries including Iraq, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka and Uganda, with a particular focus on ethnic and religious conflicts. She has managed multi-million dollar reconciliation and reconstruction projects for USAID and US Department of State programs as well as worked at the grassroots level with local NGOs. She has worked in South America in post-disaster relief and elections issues and conducted research in Palestine, Israel, Cyprus, the Balkans, and Northern Ireland. Ms. O’Brien also has a strong background in organizational and capacity development through her experience as a management consultant implementing ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems and performing organization assessments for both US and foreign government entities and NGOs.
Ms. O’Brien holds a Master of Science degree from the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Boston College with a minor in Faith, Peace and Justice. She is an avid traveler and has visited more than 70 countries and all seven continents.
Ms. Natalya Shnipova, Accounting Administrative Assistant
Ms. Natalya Shnipova joined the Religions for Peace team as the Accounting Administrative Assistant in 2016. Born and raised in Kazakhstan, Ms. Shnipova earned her BA in Hospitality Management from Saratov State Technical University, Institute of Management in Saratov, Russia. She holds an AS in Business Administration from Borough of Manhattan Community College and is pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in Finance and Investments at Baruch College of the City University of New York.
2016 RfP Summer Interns
Ms. Florence Brunert, Intern of Religions for Peace
Florence Brunert is an undergraduate at the University of Leeds in the U.K, where she is studying for a Bachelor’s degree in History, specialising in medieval Jewish community studies and U.S feminist history. She has moved to New York City to undertake an internship at Religions for Peace in the Communications Department before finishing her studies, and then plans to work with refugee women who are seeking asylum in London. Her historical studies have led her to believe that the advancement in knowledge of different religions can act as an essential tool for communication and peace promotion, a belief that led her to RfP. Florence has also immersed herself in other cultures across the globe, including South Africa, New Zealand and Israel, which has fed her passion for inter-cultural work.
Ms. Annalisa Jackson, Intern of Religions for Peace
Annalisa Jackson holds a degree in Intercultural Studies and is pursuing a Master’s degree in Muslim Studies. She grew up in Macedonia and has served in community development projects across Europe, Asia and Africa. Now living in New York City, Annalisa is researching practical ways for Muslim immigrant women to improve their health through fitness and nutrition. Annalisa has partnered with the Middle East Women’s Leadership Network (MEWLN) to develop fitness workshops for Muslim women and hopes to integrated fitness with peacemaking and interfaith work. As a media consultant with MELWN, Annalisa was invited to attend the International Interfaith Conference in Kosovo where she was introduced to Religions for Peace. Annalisa has a passion for peace-making and community development, and believes that during her time as a communication intern at Religions for Peace she will be able to serve diverse communities all over the world.
Mr. Edward Ablang, Intern of Religions for Peace
Edward Ablang is an intern for Religions for Peace researching the role of women in conflict. After living abroad as a missionary cleric based in Florence, Italy, Edward left ministry to pursue graduate studies in international relations. He concentrated on religion in security and foreign policy; his thesis focused on religious engagement and U.S. national security. Moreover, Edward has interned for the World Youth Alliance, UNESCO and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, able to engage his interests in religion and global affairs. A recent graduate of New York University, Edward also holds a Certificate in Philosophical and Theological Studies from St. John’s University – in addition to his seminary studies – and a Bachelor of Arts in Classics and Music from the University of Pittsburgh.
Ms. Veera Pennala, Intern of Religions for Peace
Veera is a speech communication major who specializes in interactions, impression management and argumentation. Previously, she interned at the Military Advisor of the Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations, where she became well-versed on work involving peace and conflict -related programs. Veera’s studies in intercultural communication, including an exchange program in Aberystwyth, have exposed her to a wide range of perspectives and solutions, and allowed her to hone her ability to collaborate productively with people from diverse backgrounds. In the future, her goal is to continue to build on her work regarding different conflicts and do all that she can to promote sustainable peace worldwide.
Born and raised in Finland, Veera moved to New York City this past year and has since embraced many opportunities to explore and network. In addition to her professional ambitions, she loves art in every form of it and enjoys travelling.