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Imam Mujahid Congratulates Rabbi Saperstein

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, preaches at a Washington, D.C., service in 2002. He says the Ten Commandments continue to be featured artistically in synagogues. Photo courtesy of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions Board Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid extends congratulations to Rabbi David Saperstein on his nomination by President Obama to lead the United States Department of State Office of International Religious Freedom. Saperstein who serves as Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism would become the first non-Christian to take the office now vacant for nine months.

Board Chair Mujahid welcomes the unprecedented move of the Obama Administration to advance a Jewish Rabbi to lead the office first established by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

Mujahid’s congratulatory letter highlights Saperstein’s “admirable record of touching humanity through faith-based justice,” and commends his expert leadership as an example of how progress can be achieved through engaging the guiding institutions.

In addressing the interfaith movement at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, Saperstein hosted an engagement session entitled “The State and Religious Freedom,” and was featured prolifically on panels including:

  • Poverty Must No Longer Be With Us with Huruhisa Handa, Jim Wallis, Katherine Marshall, Dr. A T Ariyaratne, Tim Costello, Sulak Sivaraksa and Sr. Joan Chittister
  • Democracy and Diversity in Global Perspective with Anwar Ibrahim, Pal Ahluwalia, Bishop Peter Elliott, Dr. M Din Syamsuddin, and Dr. Barabara McGraw
  • The Role of Religion and Spirituality in the Public Discourse with Archbishop Philip Freier

Designated in Newsweek’s 2009 list as the most influential rabbi in the country and described in a Washington Post profile as “the quintessential religious lobbyist on Capitol Hill,” Rabbi David Saperstein represents the national Reform Jewish Movement to Congress and the Administration as the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. The Center not only advocates on a broad range of social justice issues but provides extensive legislative and programmatic materials to synagogues nationwide, and coordinates social action education programs that train nearly 3,000 Jewish adults, youth, rabbinic and lay leaders each year.

Read more about Rabbi David Saperstein.

 

 

 

Parliament History Sets Stage for Future Interfaith (PICTURES)

The Parliament of the World’s Religions tells a 121-year story of extraordinary, inspired people from around the world- belonging to literally hundreds of faith traditions- coming together with global leaders to create a better planet. Where common bonds and prayers transcend spiritual paths and national origin, these luminaries and lay leaders collaborate to empower the worldwide interfaith movement. This collective of interfaith activists work through a shared love of humanity to create a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world.

Take a glimpse inside the vaults of Parliament history to see that another world is possible, and what those who have experienced the life-changing encounter have to say about the Parliament of the World’s Religions. .

“A Parliament, in essence, is a big conversation.”

-Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Parliament of the World’s Religions


1893 Parliament

The Birth of a Movement

Chicago, USA

“What we need is such a reinforcement of the gentle power of religion that all souls of whatever colour shall be included within the blessed circle of influence.”

 – Fannie Barrier Williams, the only official African-American presenter at the 1893 Parliament


“The solemn charge which the Parliament preaches to all true believers is a return to the primitive unity of the world…The results may be far off, but they are certain.”  John Henry Barrows, 1893

  • The 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, held on the shore of Lake Michigan, Chicago, was the largest and most spectacular event among many other congresses in the World’s Columbian Exposition.
  • The World Congress of Religions marks the first formal gathering of representatives of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions. Today it is recognized as the birth of formal interreligious dialogue worldwide.
  • A captivating Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda mesmerized the 5,000 assembled delegates, greeting them with the words, “Sisters and brothers of America!” This speech, which introduced Hinduism to America is memorized by school children in India to this day. Swami Vivekanada became one of the most forceful and popular speakers in spite of the fact that he had never before addressed an audience in public.
  • 19 women spoke at this Parliament, an unprecedented occurrence in 1893.

 

“If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: “Help and not Fight,” “Assimilation and not Destruction,” “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.”

-Swami Vivekananda


1993 Parliament

Towards a Global Ethic

Chicago, USA

“The Parliament’s keynote address spelled out clearly the destruction that humans have wrought upon the planet, and this theme was echoed throughout the week. What better time for Earth-centered spiritual paths to enter the conversation.”

 – Sarah Stockwell


“The 1993 Parliament emphasized the moral values which religions share. Toward a Global Ethic called on believers to commit to non-violence, a just economic order, tolerance and truthfulness and gender equality.

-Marcus Baybrooke
                                    

  • In 1993, 8,000 people came together, again in Chicago, for a centennial Parliament to foster harmony among religious and spiritual communities and to explore their responses to the critical issues facing the world.
  • The pitch: “One hundred years ago, Chicago brought the people of the world together. There is no better time than now for this to happen again.”
  • Those assembled gave assent to a groundbreaking document, “Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration.” The declaration is a powerful statement of the ethical common ground shared by the world’s religious and spiritual traditions.
  • At the time it was believed, “There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions.” – Hans Kung, Theologian and Author of the Global Ethic

“I always believe that it is much better to have a variety of religions, a variety of philosophies, rather than one single religions or philosophy. This is necessary because of the different mental dispositions of each human being. Each religions has certain unique ideas of techniques, and learning about them can only enrich one’s own faith.”

– Tenzin Gyatso, the XIVth Dalia Lama

“The Parliament’s keynote address spelled out clearly the destruction that humans have wrought upon the planet, and this theme was echoed throughout the week. What better time for Earth-centered spiritual paths to enter the conversation.”

– Sarah Stockwell

 

“The Next Generation became more than just the title of the youth plenary. It evolved into a group of concerned youth from ten different religions talking about all the problems of the world, religions, and the ways in which we as youth could generate more interfaith dialogue for the years to come.”

– Jim A. Engineer, editor of Youthfully Speaking in the FEZANA Journal vol. 5, no. 4 Winter 1993


1999 Parliament

A New Day Dawning

Cape Town, South Africa

“In the year 1999, you gathered in our own continent, Africa, in the city of Cape Town. You inspired us. In 2002, IFAPA (Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa) was founded. It embodies the spirit of the Parliament.”

 -Dr. Ishmael Noko


No government or social agency can on its own meet the enormous challenges of development of our age. Partnerships are required across the broad range of society. In drawing upon its spiritual and communal resources, religion can be a powerful partner in such causes as meeting the challenges of poverty, alienation, the abuse of women and children, and the destructive disregard for our natural environment.We read into your honoring our country with your presence an acknowledgement of the achievement of the nation and we trust in a small way that our struggle might have contributed to other people in the world. We commend the Parliament of the World’s Religions for its immense role in making different communities see that the common ground is greater and more enduring than the differences that divide. It is in that spirit that we can approach the dawn of the new century with some hope that it will be indeed a better one for all of the people of the world. I thank you.”
-  Madiba, Nelson Mandela

  • The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions hosted the second modern day Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa in December 1999, attracting 7000 participants from 80 countries.
  • The religions and spiritual communities of South Africa were integral in ending the system of apartheid that prevailed until 1990. Holding the 1999 Parliament in Cape Town provided thousands of people the opportunity to witness firsthand the role that religion and spirituality played in creating a new South Africa.
  • Each Parliament fuses local and international themes. The International AIDs quilt was brought to the 1999 Cape Town Parliament to bring the crisis into focus at the Parliament. Also, A new plan for the global interfaith movement of the next millennium addressing religions, government, business, education, and media was introduced at the 1999 Parliament: “A Call to Our Guiding Institutions.”

 

 

“The diverse religions and cultures are fully recognised and respected; religious and spiritual communities exist in harmony; the wisdom and compassion taught by these traditions are prized, and service is seen as one of the essential and uplifting religious acts; the pursuit of respect, trust, justice, and peace in the world is nurtured by the influence of religions and dialogue between them; the earth and all life are revered and cherished.”  – A Call to Our Guiding Institutions

 


2004 Parliament

New Pathways to Peace

Barcelona, Spain

“The most important lesson I learned in my role as Parliament Chair was that interfaith dialogue and engagement empowers us to understand that our differences present us with an opportunity to go deeper. Beneath our differences we share a common humanity. It is this vision of our deep unity amidst our diversity that gives me hope and keeps me doing the work I continue to do.” 

-Rev. Bob Thompson, Chair Emeritus of the Parliament of the World’s Religions


“…let us, the true followers of Buddha, the true followers of Jesus Christ, the true followers of Confucius and the followers of truth, unite ourselves for the sake of helping the helpless and living glorious lives of brotherhood under the control of truth.”

– Shaku Soyen

  • The 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions welcomed 9000 participants from 74 countries to the site of Barcelona’s Universal Forum of Cultures. These people of faith, spirit, and goodwill came together to encounter the rich diversity of the world’s religious and spiritual traditions, listen to each other with open hearts and minds, dialogue for mutual understanding, and reflect on the critical issues facing the world and commit to discovering new pathways to peace.
  • Occurring three years after September 11, 2001 and only three months after the Madrid train bombings, the 2004 Parliament was a solemn reflection on those tragedies as well as a strong and visible commitment to peace.
  • Hundreds of members of the Sikh community came to the Parliament to feed the attendees langar, a free meal cooked and served, daily as a show of the Sikh faith.

 

 

“…The CPWR, we want to thank them, they showed us the paths, pathways to peace. We came to Montserrat, it was a pilgrimage, people have been praying there for thousands of years, we walked on Holy ground, and the Mayor of Barcelona, allowed us to pitch our tent here in marquees to have a place of worship, where we could eat together, sit together, exercise love, humility, benevolence, you made it possible, we salute you. The words of the Lord, the Creator, the Infinite, and our Guru, came to Barcelona, and we had forty eight hours of continuous Prayer, and then we had the initiation, which is equivalent to ‘baptism’, I just came from there. We are humbled that we could be given such honour and dignity, such love that you could give us we have no words to thank you, the Holy Guru Granth Sahib Ji’s message is universal. If each and every hair on my body could say thank you, I would go ahead and say thank you Barcelona, thank you the people, all the faith religions, all the faith people, thank you everybody.”

- Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh Ji, GNNSJ


2009 Parliament

Hearing Each Other, Healing the Earth

Melbourne, Australia

“Only the Parliament, the largest interfaith gathering on earth, has the potential to serve as a platform to mobilize interfaith social justice movements on a global scale.” 

-Valarie Kaur


“I find strength in people like you, who join from around the world to speak the common language of the conscience and the heart. What we have in common is more powerful than our difference. And in your leadership I see hope for dignity and peace.”

-
Queen Rania of Jordan

  • A multi-religious, multi-lingual, and multicultural city, Melbourne was selected as an ideal place to host 6500 people for the 2009 Parliament.
  • Melbourne – the culturally vibrant home to many indigenous and aboriginal spiritualities, was chosen as the theater for the Australian government to issue a formal apology to its indigenous and aboriginal peoples.
  • Focusing on Healing the earth, Indigenous People, overcoming poverty and inequality, and food and water security, the 2009 Parliament shed light on and brought hope and action to the most pressing challenges of our time.
  • As a Capstone to the “Educating Religious Leaders” program piloted by prestigious seminaries across America, more than 100 students convened at the 2009 Melbourne Parliament to build relationships as emerging faith leaders in a changing multi-religious world.

 

“This is what Paradise would look like and taste like, I decided: people of good will on a pilgrimage of discovery, to greet and meet one another with respect, curiosity, and an openness to observe and share religious practices, to discuss our differences without making excuses for having differences, and to confront the most urgent problems of the globe with the understanding that there were collective problems that deserved collective solutions.”

-Ruth B. Sharone, Minefield & Miracles

“I was asked to join the youth initiative team for the Next Generation which gave me the opportunity to work with brilliant young people as well as religious leaders from around the world. This was an incredibly powerful experience for me for many reasons. I was able to dialog with religious leaders and created connections with people around the world to support me in projects that I have started at home. Most importantly, I felt like I had a voice. One that was not only heard, but listened to. That was an opportunity that I will be forever grateful for.”

– Ms. Allison Bash, CT, USA

 

The Dalai Lama says on the final night of the Melbourne Parliament in 2009, “we really need constant effort to bring closer all the religions, that’s what I think, and then we can make more effective role to bring compassion on this planet. Also taking serious discussion about environmental issues. This is something very important. This is something very, very, urgent. So, we must be more active, that’s very important, and then we can fulfill the original idea I think, and also to begin to living this, so must be active, so thank you very much.”

 


A Legacy for the Future


“The Parliament was an opportunity for people with different ideas getting together, discussing issues for better understanding. Religions plays such a big role in so many people’s lives, that if we can manage to get people to be tolerant towards each other where religion is concerned, other problem areas should be a lot easier to sort out.”

– Ms. Hettie Gats, Cape Town, South Africa

I watched a Muslim youth and a Jewish youth join hands on the stage of Good Hope Center. Each sang a prayer, one in Arabic and the other in Hebrew, and I wept at the profundity of their simple gesture.”

– Rev. Pete Woods

“With open hearts and minds, the Parliament’s participants will be returning back to their neighborhoods in our shared global village enriched with new experiences, friendships and new success stories after a joyful six-day long intensive listening and learning experience. Many of them will be making their personal commitments in writing on how they plan to change the world”

-Abdul Malik Mujahid

President Jimmy Carter’s “Call to Action” on Women, Religion, Violence and Power; (Excerpt Features 2009 Parliament)

From A CALL TO ACTION by Jimmy Carter. Copyright © 2014 by Jimmy Carter. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

All the elements in this book concerning prejudice, discrimination, war, violence, distorted interpretations of religious texts, physical and mental abuse, poverty, and disease fall disproportionately on women and girls.

I saw the ravages of racial prejudice as I grew up in the Deep South, when for a century the U.S. Supreme Court and all other political and social authorities accepted the premise that black people were, in some basic ways, inferior to white people. Even those in the dominant class who disagreed with this presumption remained relatively quiet and enjoyed the benefits of the prevailing system. Carefully selected Holy Scriptures were quoted to justify this discrimination in the name of God.

There is a similar system of discrimination, extending far beyond a small geographical region to the entire globe; it touches every nation, perpetuating and expanding the trafficking in human slaves, body mutilation, and even legitimized murder on a massive scale. This system is based on the presumption that men and boys are superior to women and girls, and it is supported by some male religious leaders who distort the Holy Bible, the Koran, and other sacred texts to perpetuate their claim that females are, in some basic ways, inferior to them, unqualified to serve God on equal terms. Many men disagree but remain quiet in order to enjoy the benefits of their dominant status. This false premise provides a justification for sexual discrimination in almost every realm of secular and religious life. Some men even cite this premise to justify physical punishment of women and girls.

Another factor contributing to the abuse of women and girls is an acceptance of violence, from unwarranted armed combat to excessive and biased punishment for those who violate the law. In too many cases, we use violence as a first rather than a last resort, so that even deadly violence has become commonplace.

My own experiences and the testimony of courageous women from all regions and all major religions have made it clear to me that as a result of these two factors there is a pervasive denial of equal rights to women, more than half of all human beings, and this discrimination results in tangible harm to all of us, male and female.

My wife, Rosalynn, and I have visited about 145 countries, and the nonprofit organization we founded, The Carter Center, has had active projects in more than half of them. We have had opportunities in recent years to interact directly among the people, often in remote villages in the jungles and deserts. We have learned a lot about their personal affairs, particularly that financial inequality has been growing more rapidly with each passing decade. This is true both between rich and poor countries and among citizens within them. In fact, the disparity in net worth and income in the United States has greatly increased since my time in the White House. By 2007 the income of the middle 60 percent of Americans had increased at a rate twice as high as that of the bottom 20 percent. And the rate of increase for the top 1 percent was over fifteen times higher, primarily because of the undue influence of wealthy people who invest in elections and later buy greater benefits for themselves in Washington and in state capitals. As the conservative columnist George Will writes, “Big government inevitably drives an upward distribution of wealth to those whose wealth, confidence and sophistication enable them to manipulate government.”

Yet although economic disparity is a great and growing problem, I have become convinced that the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls, largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare, unfortunately following the example set during my lifetime by the United States. In addition to the unconscionable human suffering, almost embarrassing to acknowledge, there is a devastating effect on economic prosperity caused by the loss of contributions of at least half the human beings on earth. This is not just a women’s issue. It is not confined to the poorest countries. It affects us all.

After focusing for a few years on the problem of gender discrimination through our human rights program at The Carter Center, I began to speak out more forcefully about it. Because of this, I was asked to address the Parliament of the World’s Religions, an audience of several thousand assembled in Australia in December 2009, about the vital role of religion in providing a foundation for countering the global scourge of gender abuse. My remarks represented the personal views of a Christian layman, a Bible teacher for more than seventy years, a former political leader.

I reminded the audience that in dealing with each other, we are guided by international agreements as well as our own moral values, most often derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Bible, the Koran, and other cherished texts that proclaim a commitment to justice and mercy, equality of treatment between men and women, and a duty to alleviate suffering. However, some selected scriptures are interpreted, almost exclusively by powerful male leaders within the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and other faiths, to proclaim the lower status of women and girls. This claim that women are inferior before God spreads to the secular world to justify gross and sustained acts of discrimination and violence against them. This includes unpunished rape and other sexual abuse, infanticide of newborn girls and abortion of female fetuses, a worldwide trafficking in women and girls, and so-called honor killings of innocent women who are raped, as well as the less violent but harmful practices of lower pay and fewer promotions for women and greater political advantages for men. I mentioned some notable achievements of women despite these handicaps and described struggles within my own religious faith. I called on believers, whether Protestant, Catholic, Coptic, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or tribal, to study these violations of our basic moral values and to take corrective action.

No matter what our faith may be, it is impossible to imagine a God who is unjust.

— Zainah Anwar, founder of Sisters in Islam, Malaysia

In the following pages I will outline how I learned more and more about these issues, as a child, a submarine officer, a farmer, and a church leader during the civil rights struggle, as a governor and a president, as a college professor, and in the global work of The Carter Center. During the nine decades of my life I have become increasingly aware of and concerned about the immense number of and largely ignored gender-based crimes. There are reasons for hope that some of these abuses can be ended when they become better known and understood. I hope that this book will help to expose these violations to a broader audience and marshal a more concerted effort to address this profound problem.

I will explore the links between religion-based assertions of male dominance over women, as well as the ways that our “culture of violence” contributes to the denial of women’s rights. I maintain that male dominance over women is a form of oppression that often leads to violence. We cannot make progress in advancing women’s rights if we do not examine these two underlying factors that contribute to the abuse of women.

In August 2013 I joined civil rights leaders and two other American presidents at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered there in 1963. As I looked out on the crowd and thought about the book I was writing, my thoughts turned to a different speech that King made, in New York City four years later, about America’s war in Vietnam, in which my oldest son was serving. King asserted, “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.” King went on to ask that we Americans broaden our view to look at human freedom as inextricably linked with our commitment to peace and nonviolence.

Using this same logic, it is not possible to address the rights of women, the human and civil rights struggle of our time, without looking at factors that encourage the acceptance of violence in our society — violence that inevitably affects women disproportionately. The problem is not only militarism in foreign policy but also the resort to lethal violence and excessive deprivation of freedom in our criminal justice system when rehabilitation alternatives could be pursued.  Clearly, short-term political advantages that come with being “tough on criminals” or “tough on terrorism” do not offer solutions to issues like persistent crime, sexual violence, and global terrorism.

I realize that violence is not more prevalent today than in previous periods of human history, but there is a difference. We have seen visionary standards adopted by the global community that espouse peace and human rights, and the globalization of information ensures that the violation of these principles of nonviolence by a powerful and admired democracy tends to resonate throughout the world community. We should have advanced much further in the realization of women’s rights, given these international commitments to peace and the rule of law. Instead many of the gains made in advancing human rights since World War II are placed at risk by reliance on injury to others as a means to solve our problems.

We must not forget that there is always an underlying basis of moral and religious principles involved. In August 2013 Pope Francis stated quite simply that in addition to the idea that violence does not bring real solutions to societal problems, its use is contrary to the will of God: “Faith and violence are incompatible.” This powerful statement exalting peace and compassion is one on which all faiths can agree.

In June 2013 The Carter Center brought together religious leaders, scholars, and activists who are working to align religious life with the advancement of girls’ and women’s full equality. We called this a Human Rights Defenders Forum. Throughout this book I have inserted brief statements from some of these defenders that offer a rich array of ideas and perspectives on the subject.

“A Call to Action” © 2014 by Jimmy Carter. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster Inc., N.Y

Sad Demise of Parliament Friend Mahendra G. Mehta

Mahendra Mehta, one of the world’s leading humanitarians, Jain, and Parliament of the World’s Religions International Advisory Committee Member, has died on August 23, 2013.

A true friend of the Parliament and a member of the International Advisory Committee, a profound humanitarian, philanthropist, and legendry Mahendrabhai Gafurchand Mehta passed away on Monday August 26, 2013, in Mumbai, India. He is survived by his wife Ashaben Mehta, sons Rajiv and Sanjiv, and their families.

Mahendra Mehta was born in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1933. He was a diamond and jewelry businessman who inherited the seeds of compassion from his mother who had encouraged him to give his first earnings to the less fortunate.  The majority of his time was devoted to humanitarian work.  Asha Mehta, his wife, a deeply religious person by nature, brought the feeling of warmth and compassion to their humanitarian work. She worked side-by-side with Mahendra Mehta on all welfare projects.

Besides being engaged in several charitable projects, he was very interested in world peace through interfaith programs. The legacy of the First Parliament of 1893 had made a deep impression on him. He appreciated the visionary work of Swami Vivekananda and Virchand Raghvjee Gandhi in bringing the teachings of Hinduism and Jainism to the west for the first time. He also felt that the Parliament is the most important organization to promote the world peace and harmony in this terror stricken world. He felt that India, a home of four major world’s religions should also host a future Parliament. He made several trips to Chicago to make his case.

Mahendra Mehta, (back row left) with the bid teams preparing proposal to host the 2000 Parliament of the World’s Religions event.

Under his leadership, India for the first time took part in the bidding process in May 2006 in collaboration with the World Jain Confederation, Mumbai.  He brought leaders from various religions practiced in India to come together and make the proposal for hosting the 2009 Parliament in New Delhi, India.  However, Melbourne was awarded the Parliament, the third city in the proposals being Singapore.  

Mahendarabhai along with his wife Ashaben made their vision of establishing the art of paintings as a powerful media to enhance the cause of the world peace by showcasing the Jain Sacred Art Exhibit at 2009 Parliament of World’s Religion held in Melbourne Australia.  The exhibition of 38 rare painting from India was personally funded by the Mehta family. It became one of the most visited displays at the six day Parliament.  His exemplary work came to international attention and earned him an important seat on the International Advisory Committee for the furtherance of interreligious harmony around the world.

Jain exhibit of art at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne.

Mahendrabhai was so impressed with the Parliament’s work that he wanted to see the Parliament open an office in India for interfaith activities in the eastern hemisphere. He offered office space and the use of his staff until the Parliament office would become self-supportive in India.

Mahendrabhai formed Ratna Niddhi Charitable trust (www.rnct.org) about 25 years ago from his own family funds which helped the drought hit population of rural Gujarat at that time, especially the children with food and blankets to help them survive a severe winter.

He set up an NGO Project ‘Mainstream’ in the 1990s, whose objective was to empower children to use their own potential and take charge of their own lives. It focused mainly on deserted street children. The unique feature of this project was the “night squad” – a duo made up of a social worker and trained street child who would visit the street children “hangouts” where they stay at night under the bridges and on streets. They would meet these children, find their needs and refer them to various government and NGO to fulfill their needs. Till this date, under guidance of Mr. Mehta, the Project Mainstream has touched the lives of over 55,000 children. They have either settled into businesses of their choice or have been meaningfully employed.

Jain art exhibit and the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne.

An ongoing food Program set up by Mahendra Mehta in Mumbai feeds over 6000 children daily through networking with other NGOs. Daily free meals to the school-attending children foster education and reduce the drop out rate in their schools

During the disastrous earthquakes in Gujarat he worked with many government agencies and through his Ratna Niddhi Trust provided necessities to the victims within days of the disasters. Under his leadership an orphanage for girls was completed along with a series of 145 primary classrooms in 42 schools spread over 40 villages.

The Mobility projects in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Honduras, Columbia, Afghanistan, Myanmar and several African countries through his Ratna Nidhi Charitable Trust have made more than 150,000 physically challenged persons lead a near normal life through fitting of the Jaipur foot artificial limbs for amputees and calipers for the polio affected. They have distributed thousands of tricycles, wheelchairs, crutches and walkers to the handicapped.  They have also conducted audio tests and distributed hearing aids to the needy school children.

Mahendra Mehta was instrumental in changing the lives of cleft lip children. He set up several camps for surgeries of cleft lips and palettes to help overcome hundreds of children’s miseries. Additionally, a mobile hospital provides facilities to children and persons living in remote areas of India where no regular health facilities are available. He also arranged for several eye camps in African countries to perform over 1,000 surgeries.

Under the Garments project, Mr. Mehta has distributed over 4,000,000 garments and blankets to the most needy children and elders. Mumbai is well known for its heavy downpours and the worst sufferers are poor people who cannot afford several essential items. Nearly 20,000 raincoats were distributed to children during 2003, about 3 weeks prior to the monsoon.

Mahendra Mehta recipient of the John Connor Award from Operation Smile at a 2008 Gala.

Mahendra Mehta has been honored for humanitarian work with several awards including the prestigious Humanitarian Rose Award given by the late Princess Diana’s Trust at the Kensington Palace, London; Cardinal Health Award of World of Children in the USA; Humanitarian Award by the Federation of Jain Associations in North America; Award of Excellence by the International Jain Sangh; John Connor Award for Humanitarian Work by Operation Smile, USA; and an Award for Humanitarian Projects Worldwide by the Rubin Museum of Art, New York.

A community prayer meeting was held on Wednesday, August 28, 2013, at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chowpatty, Mumbai, in his honor.

The sympathy of the Parliament accompanies this tribute from CPWR Board Trustee Kirit Daftary. 


Restoring Indigenous Peoples’ Rights: A Pathway from Australia to Arizona

by Dave Weiman
from Cooking Together

At the January meeting, the UUA Trustees voted to place a responsive resolution to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery on the business agenda for the General Assembly.  What is the Doctrine of Discovery?  Why have our partner organizations in Arizona called for its repudiation?  How are we as Unitarian Universalist people of faith called to respond?  For the next several weeks, Cooking Together bloggers will address these questions.  This post was written by Dave Weiman, who has been working with others to educate UUs about this issue. – Ed.

At 7:30 pm on December 3, 2009, Joy Murphy Wandin, senior woman of the Wurundjeri People, was the first person to greet the 6,000 plus people who had come together for the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, with this traditional ‘Welcome to the Land’:

On behalf of the spiritual ancestors and the traditional owners of Melbourne, I invite you to Melbourne in 2009, for the Parliament of the World’s Religions to share in the traditions, culture and spirit of Australia.

I was impressed that special recognition was given to the Peoples who had nurtured the land for thousands of years.   The welcoming practice not just for the opening, occurred at the beginning of almost every event during the Parliament, large or small.  And in fact, at the start of Sunday Service at the local Unitarian Church, the same basic welcoming statement started the service.  It is important to note that the words in these messages of welcome are of and by the Peoples who are native to the land, not from government officials.

At the final Plenary of the Parliament more than a dozen Indigenous Peoples from around the globe, presented a ‘Statement to the World.’  The Statement explained Indigenous cultures and contributions, the negative outcomes of colonization, and the injustices suffered by Indigenous Peoples.   It concluded with seven ‘appeals’.  Of the seven, two became an important focus of my social justice work when I returned home.  One asked for all nations to implement and support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Declaration), and another asked for the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery (Doctrine).

From the opening moment of the Parliament to its closing, I was being drawn into a social justice cause about which I had known virtually nothing.  Since the Parliament I’ve been learning more, about the Declaration and the Doctrine, and come to understand why these are so important, not only for Indigenous Peoples, but for all of us.

Harmony Among Religions at the United Nations?

by Katherine Marshall
from Huffington Post

The United Nations General Assembly began on February 11 to debate Syria’s prolonged and bitter tragedy of killing, after the Security Council, next door, failed miserably to find enough agreement among the world’s dominant nations to act. United Nations idealists believe that the General Assembly, as a body representing all the world’s nations, has the responsibility and the capacity to protect the vulnerable. Sadly such idealism is generally in scant supply these day and so these General Assembly debates have an aura of symbolism as the tanks mass in Syria.

On February 7 in the same General Assembly Hall a very different group gathered in a very different spirit. It was inspired by what some might call an even more idealistic cause: interfaith harmony. For the first time World Interfaith Harmony Week was celebrated at the United Nations. Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Muslim imams, Christian bishops, Shinto priests, Jewish rabbis, and many others came there to celebrate and reflect on their deep belief that, while religious diversity is part of humanity’s very essence, people can live in peace and harmony. The morning event did change the generally dour tone of the Hall as music echoed, children read inspirational passages, and speaker after speaker spoke to the ideals of common cause and the common good. It concluded with representatives of different religions symbolizing their common, shared care for the earth as each watered a tree.

World Interfaith Harmony week, for those who gathered to celebrate, marked a hard won achievement. In October 2010 the General Assembly passed, unanimously, a Resolution declaring the first week in February each year as World Interfaith Harmony Week. In proposing it, King Abdullah of Jordon harked back to the initiative of Muslim leaders who reached out to Christians in a 2007 letter entitled “A Common Word”. The King urged that: “It is .. essential to resist forces of division that spread misunderstanding and mistrust, especially among peoples of different religions…Humanity everywhere is bound together, not only by mutual interests, but by shared commandments to love God and neighbor; to love the good and neighbor.” The aim is thus to work through interfaith dialogue and common action to counter the idea and reality of a clash of civilizations.

Artists from Three Different Faiths Promote Respect for All

by Brenda Suderman
from Winnipeg Free Press

For 11-year-old Camryn Kangas, compassion is as simple as being friendly to her classmates, and as involved as caring about people who are completely different from her.

“It’s a really big part of life, and you really need compassion in the world for people to be equal and get along with each other,” explains the Grade 6 student at St. John Brebeuf School.

In addition to that eloquent explanation, Camryn and her classmates at the Roman Catholic elementary school in River Heights are dancing, singing, chanting and even rapping their feelings and thoughts about compassion.

With the help of their teachers, the dozen grade 5 and 6 girls created a five-minute mini-musical about compassion, based on a poem by Winnipeg artist Manju Lodha.

“It reaches the soul of the listener,” Lodha says of the mini-musical, which includes a rap about human rights.

“I only put the words to it, and the students invoked the life in my words through their talents and the directions of their teachers.”

Lodha and fellow Winnipeg artists Isam Aboud and Ray Dirks spent the last two months leading workshops on compassion in eight Winnipeg public and independent schools for a project sponsored by the Manitoba Multifaith Council.

Called the Art of Compassion, the project culminates with a week-long student art exhibit, which opens 7 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 1 at Canadian Mennonite University, 500 Shaftesbury Blvd., and features the St. John Brebeuf students and Hindu dancers.

Since 2007, the three artists, representing three different faith traditions — Hinduism, Islam and Christianity — have led workshops for schoolchildren and adults on topics such as multiculturalism, respect and more recently, compassion.

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Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power

by Harvey H. Guthrie
from Episcopal News, Los Angeles

This is a book by women, addressed to women. This male reviewer is related to it as a visitor is to the House of Representatives: as one not on the floor but in the gallery. I did not, nevertheless, feel at all an unwanted voyeur. The spirit of what is going on makes transparency and openness natural and necessary. It is a hundred and eighty degrees opposite the old boy, insider vs. outsider, secretive, male arena in which my early formation took place. The spirit of what is there is also a hundred and eighty degrees opposite the traditional masculine hierarchical models of leadership and process (to lift a line from page 4).

The editors, all from the United States, came together at the 2009 Parliament of World Religions in Australia, each having been impressed by how that gathering was “bursting with feminine energy,” about how “People everywhere were talking about Earth-based spirituality, the Sacred Feminine, feminine principles, the full inclusion of women, women’s leadership, and the critical global issues facing women and their children.” (Page 3) The book originated in the large “we” of a global gathering, in the global feminine “we” so present in that gathering, and then in the fourfold “we” of the editors, who are a consultant to women’s organizations not currently affiliated with any religion, a pioneer in the interfaith movement and founder of the Listening Center, a Lutheran lay teacher, and an ordained Mahayanna Chan Buddhist nun.

As they reflected on where to go from there in the United States, they saw an opportunity to build a larger field of collaboration and action with bridges of understanding between the many and diverse feminist networks and women’s leadership initiatives including bridges between secular and religious/spiritual initiatives, and to enable a leadership style embodying the deepest feminine wisdom and catalyzing social change through sharing and listening. This led to the founding of Women of Spirit and Faith in 2010, and to a gathering in 2011, the theme of which was The Alchemy of Our Spiritual Leadership: Women Redefining Power. The book points to “a sense of mystery wrapped around the word alchemy, an invitation to surrender to the unknown together and be changed.” (Page 5) The book is an exploration of that mystery, of where it might lead, and of aids to surrendering to it – all based on the concrete experience of women and on the redefining power of the Sacred Feminine.

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Jimmy Carter: the Role of Faith in Peace Talks, Politics, and Private Devotions

by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush
from Huffington Post

Jimmy Carter is the 39th president of the United States, founder of the Carter Center and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He has authored many books, the most recent being “Through the Year with Jimmy Carter: 366 Daily Meditations from the 39th President.” In this wide-ranging interview, HuffPost’s Senior Religion Editor spoke to President Carter by phone about the role faith played in the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, the time of his greatest alienation from God, faith in the White House and his personal daily devotional practice.

In addition to being a Governor of Georgia and President of the United States, you are known as a Sunday School teacher. Are you comfortable with that identity?

I started teaching Sunday school when I was 18 at the Navel Academy Chapel. I led services when we were out at sea while I was in the navy; taught Sunday school 14 times when I was U.S. President at First Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. I just finished my 650th lesson at Maranatha Baptist Church, so you might say I have been a Sunday school teacher all my life.

Who were some of your most influential religious teachers?

Well, my father was the main one. He was a Baptist deacon and Sunday school teacher, and I started going to Sunday school when I was 3. He shaped my early knowledge of Jesus, and I was baptized as a Christian when I was 11 years old.

Later, Billy Graham was probably the closest one to me. I believed what my father taught me about the separation of church and state, so when I was President I never invited Billy Graham to have services in the White House because I didn’t think that was appropriate. He was injured a little bit, until I explained it to him.

Among the theologians, I think Paul Tillich is probably the one I have read the most because he shaped my thoughts about the relation between religion and politics and the fact that religious faith was not incompatible with political service. I tried to apply my religious beliefs when I was governor and later president without being ostentatious about it.

But I don’t claim to be knowledgeable about theology. Most of my knowledge comes out of my experience and the lessons in the Bible. Every Sunday I’m home I teach 45 minutes and we boiled them down to one page for the new book, “Through the Year with Jimmy Carter.”

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Women of Spirit and Faith

by Kathleen Hurty, PhD

One of the many creative fruits of the 2009 Parliament of World Religions held in Melbourne, Australia, is a newly minted nonprofit network called Women of Spirit and Faith.  The birth of this group is a fast-paced, wondrous story of connection and collaboration growing out of chance meetings in Melbourne and at follow-up events!

Four of us from the U.S. west coast—Kathe Schaaf, Kay Lindahl, Reverend Guo Cheen and myself—were drawn by the spirit of the Divine Feminine, so alive at the Parliament and especially stimulated by Sr. Joan Chittister, to come together and explore what it means to be women leaders in today’s chaotic world from a spiritual and/or faith-centered perspective.  Women’s leadership is a popular topic, but often missing is any conversation about the importance of spiritual grounding to anchor, deepen and empower women’s authentic leadership.

We started with many questions—in fact, questions are at the heart of our work.  What does it mean to be empowered women of spirit and faith?  What is the divine feminine calling us to do/be?

In the course of 2010 we four met in person, connected on numerous conference calls, started a group on PeaceNext.org, held a retreat, became a 501(c)3 organization, developed a website, and began work on a major interactive networking conference titled The Alchemy of our Spiritual Leadership: Women Re-defining Power, which was held in April of 2011 with 150 women in attendance.

That event led to yet another connection—an invitation to edit a book on the event’s theme!  In early 2011, we “gave birth” to the collaborative venture—a book entitled Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power. We are deeply grateful for the 26 authors who chose to participate, to the talented team at SkyLight Paths Publishing Company, and to all who have purchased books to make us a No. 1 best seller in our category on Amazon!

Our approach is circular. We have fostered a group of young leaders to expand the effectiveness of our core circle, we encourage the development of local self-organizing circles, and we hold book events in which we model the circle approach to the discussion of key questions.  We are looking forward to sharing what we have learned at the 2014 Parliament of World Religions in Brussels.  The impact of that chance meeting at the last Parliament will continue—for me, for my colleague co-founders of Women of Spirit and Faith, and for all who participate in the amazing, challenging and richly rewarding work of transformative leadership—where grace meets power and makes a profound difference.