Archive for the ‘Interreligious Movement’ Category
Via Adam Gerstenfeld, Parliament Ambassador, IFYC Advisory Board Member for USA TODAY: Within hours of hearing about the killing of three Muslim students, I had been invited to three different prayer vigils for the deceased. All of my invitations came from college interfaith groups.
And then my Twitter blew up — #MuslimLivesMatter was suddenly a trending topic worldwide, prompting an international conversation on media double standards, hate-crime prosecution and Islamophobia in the U.S.
While the positive response for the prayer vigils and social media wave is heartening, I want to know that these conversations are going somewhere. America today is the most religiously diverse it has ever been in its entire history, while religious tensions around the world are steadily rising.
But the cries for more interfaith cooperation are few and far between, and when they are addressed — such as when President Obama spoke during the National Prayer Breakfast — thespeakers are excoriated for addressing some of the more uncomfortable topics.
Currently I serve on the National Advisory Board for the Interfaith Youth Core, the largest college interfaith organization in the United States. I was a panelist at the 2014 North American Interfaith Network national conference, and founder of University of Florida’s Interfaith Ambassadors.
Mourning the Passing of Tonya Frichner, Heroine of Indigenous Rights and Parliament Women’s Task Force Advisor
It is with heavy hearts the Parliament shares news of the February 14 passing of Tonya Frichner. A Monumental Figure in the Indigenous’ Rights Struggle, Frichner spoke at the 1999 Cape Town and 2009 Melbourne Parliaments, and recently began serving as an Advisor to the Parliament Women’s Task Force.
- Women’s Task Force Chairwoman and Parliament Vice-Chair, Phyllis Curott, says,” “She was an extraordinary and great-hearted woman, an Advisor to our Women’s Task Force and President and founder of the American Indian Law Alliance, an NGO in Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic & Social Council. She was an activist attorney who played an essential role in the campaign against the Doctrine of Discovery and so many more efforts on behalf of Indigenous peoples and women. Tonya was a great woman and her passing is a great loss. We will miss her wise counsel, her radiant presence but her spirit and inspiration remain in our hearts, and in the Women’s Initiative.”
- Official statement from the Onondaga Nation: http://bit.ly/1Mu6u2v
- The United Nations will hold an event in memory of Frichner later this year
Ms. Gonnella Frichner was a lawyer, activist and professor of American Indian history and law, Federal Indian Law, and anthropology and human rights for over twenty years. Ms. Gonnella Frichner taught at the City College of the City University of New York (CUNY) and Manhattanville College for eight years, as well as CUNY Hunter College and New York University. Ms. Gonnella Frichner also served as an Associate Member of Columbia’s University Seminar on Indigenous Studies.Ms. Gonnella Frichner, worked closely with global Indigenous leadership, as well as the Onondaga Nation and the Haudenosaunee. She devoted her life to the pursuing of the right to self-determination, sovereignty, treaty rights, and individual and collective rights for Indigenous Peoples.Ms. Gonnella Frichner was appointed as the North American Regional Representative for a three year term from 2008-2010, to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), by the President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), an advisory body to the ECOSOC. In that position, her mandates included: human rights, economic and social development, environment, health, education and media. Ms. GonnellaFrichner was nominated by Indigenous Nations, Peoples and Non-Governmental Organizations to the position for her work in the international arena. During that time, Ms. Gonnella Frichner served as Vice-Chairperson as well as the Special Rapporteur for the “Preliminary study of the impact on indigenous peoples of the international legal construct known as the Doctrine of Discovery,” (E/C.19/2010/13), submitted to the UNPFII, Ninth Session, 2010. She has served as an active participant and legal and diplomatic counsel to Indigenous delegations in virtually all United Nations international fora affecting Indigenous Peoples especially during the drafting, negotiations and passage of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), overwhelmingly adopted in December 2007 (A/RES/61/295) by the UN General Assembly. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) sets the minimum standard for the survival, dignity and individual and collective rights of Indigenous Peoples globally.
Ms. Gonnella Frichner has received many distinguished awards for her service. Most recently, she received the Drums Along the Hudson award in June 2014, shared with the Honorable David N. Dinkins, the 106th Mayor of New York City. Other awards include the Harriet Tubman Humanitarian Award, the Thunderbird Indian of the Year Award, the Ellis Island Congressional Medal of Honor, the American Indian Community House International Service Award, the SilverCloud Singer Outstanding Service Award for advancing Indigenous Youth, the Ms. Foundation Female Role Model of the Year, which was shared with author J.K. Rowlings and others, The Mosaic Council, Inc. Visionary Award for Making a Difference, which was shared with entertainer Queen Latifah, the New York County Lawyers Association Award for Outstanding Public Service, the Ingrid Washinawatok El-Issa O’Peqtaw Metaehmoh – Flying Eagle Woman Fund for Peace, Justice, and Sovereignty Award, the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team Recognition, a City of Philadelphia proclamation in honor of United Nations Day and Ms. Gonnella Frichner’s work to “promote the rights for native people around the world,” recognition from the Temple of Understanding, recognition from the Beacon Two Row Wampum Festival, and the Alston Bannerman Fellowship.
Ms. Gonnella Frichner co-founded the Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus, together with Ms. Tia Oros Peters (Zuni), Executive Director of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, and Ms. Esmeralda Brown, President of the Southern Diaspora Research and Development Center.
Ms. Gonnella Frichner served on several boards of directors including serving as the Chairperson of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, the City University of New York School of Law Board of Visitors, the Interfaith Center of New York, the Connie Hogarth Center for Social Action, the Seven Eagles Corporation, the Flying Eagle Women Fund for Peace, Justice and Sovereignty, the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, the Boarding School Healing Project, and the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team, the official national team of the Haudenosaunee since 1984. It is a Federation of International Lacrosse member nation and World Lacrosse Championship medalists. Ms. Gonnella Frichner authored a number of articles and papers on Indigenous Peoples and was working on two books, including an autobiography. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from St. John’s University of New York and graduated magna cum laude in 1980, she earned a Juris Doctor from the City University of New York School of Law in 1987 and a Doctor of Laws honoris causa from Colby College, Waterville in Maine in 2012.
In September 2014 United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon quoted Ms. Gonnella Frichner in his remarks: “A longtime indigenous activist and former member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Tonya GonnellaFrichner, once said, “Indigenous peoples all speak many different languages but in our meetings, we are speaking one language. Our relationship to Mother Earth is identical.”
Ms. Gonnella Frichner, 67 of Union City, New Jersey began her journey to her Creator on February 14, 2015 and is survived by her loving husband of 42 years, University Professor and Fashion Institute of Technology HerbFrichner, and their son Jason M. Frichner (Eva), Assistant Vice-President of Marketing for the Hanes Corporation. Ms. Gonnella Frichner is also survived by her sisters, Nannette Gonnella (Carol), Jacquelyn Gonnella Thomas, and Kimberley Gonnella Tobian (Brian); brothers, Henry Gonnella, Jr., Michael Gonnella, Thomas Gonnella (Lucia) and Christopher Gonnella; her beloved nieces, Betty Lyons (Tadodaho Sidney Hill) and Maya Thomas; nephews, David Tobian and Matthew Gonnella and several nieces and nephews. Ms. Gonnella Frichner held dear to her heart the AILA staff that supported her work, Chief of Staff, Murrielle Borst-Tarrant (Kuna/Rappahanock Nations) and Research & Policy Adviser, Roger Drew. She was predeceased by her father, Henry L. Gonnella in 1993 and her mother, Maxine Nolan Gonnella in 2003.
Donations can be made to the American Indian Law Alliance to carry on Tonya’s important work. For more info on donations email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To express sympathy please visit ballweg-lunsford.com
By Leo D. Lefebure, Trustee Emeritus of the Parliament of the World’s Religions
This essay will be published in Interfaith Spirituality: The Power of Confluence. Ed. Ambrogio Bongiovanni, Leonardo Fernando, Gaetano Sabetta, and Victor Edwin. Delhi, India: SPCK, forthcoming 2015. © all rights reserved.
To download the full chapter please click here.
About Dr. Leo D. Lefebure
Leo D. Lefebure is the Matteo Ricci, S.J., Professor of Theology at Georgetown University and a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. He is the author of four books, includingRevelation, the Religions, and Violence and The Buddha and the Christ. His next book will be Following the Path of Wisdom: a Christian Commentary on the Dhammapada, which is co-authored with Peter Feldmeier. He is an honorary research fellow of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Parliament Board Condemns Violence in France and Nigeria; Invites All Faith Communities to Issue Joint Statement
“The Parliament of the World’s Religions vehemently condemns revengeful attacks killing 12 journalists and four Jews in France, and an estimated 1500 women and children in Nigeria. Now this cycle of revenge has engulfed the French Muslims with more than 20 attacks on Islamic buildings. We send our condolences to the families of the victims and to all of France and Nigeria as they grieve.
The Parliament believes that use of religion or any other socio-political ideology to “justify” violence is simply not acceptable.
The Parliament urges the global community to remember that such acts violate the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and asks that faith communities stand together to break this cycle of revenge by speaking out and organizing programs which enhance positive human relationship of compassion and forgiveness.
The Parliament plans to organize special programing in the forthcoming 2015 Parliament in October 15-19th on the cycle of war, violence, and hate. We invite all faith communities to participate in a joint declaration with a clear resolve to do our utmost to develop a movement against war, violence and hate.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”
Via The National Office of L’Association Coexister/The Coexist Association/Interfaith Tour:
“After the attack to the Paris office of the French Magazine Charlie Hebdo, Coexist interfaith youth movement, wishes to express its shock, fear and sadness at such an act of barbarism. We are deeply affected by what has happened.
This odious act affects not only journalists, police officers, their families and friends to whom we offer our condolences. It affects our national community. It undermines social cohesion of our country, our citizenship, France. Freedom of the press and opinion are part of the foundations of our democracy. And this freedom is not negotiable.
We seek to promote respect for all, all faiths, all convictions. We also defend the right to criticism, caricature and derision. Freedom is a precious asset is our common heritage.
Extremism, wherever it comes from, must be fought and put out of harm’s way. Against all fundamentalism, against fanaticism that disfigure the image of the communities they claim to represent. It is urgent to work for national unity. The intolerance must be fought, ignorance defeated.
“They wanted to put France on her knees, instead let us send them a message. We are here in solidarity and united. The goal of terrorists is to divide a population that is the victim. Panic, division, or denouncing a culprit in our national community would prove them right. ” said Samuel Grzybowski, Chairman of Coexist
It is time for the Republic to emerge.
For freedom of expression, brotherhood among citizens. ”
Announcing the Inaugural Women’s Assembly for Global Advancement and Program Initiative at 2015 Parliament
The Parliament Proudly Announces the
INAUGURAL WOMEN’S ASSEMBLY FOR GLOBAL ADVANCEMENT
You asked, we listened.
The Women’s Task Force of the Parliament of the World’s Religions invites YOU to the Inaugural Assembly for Women’s Global Advancement, Oct. 15 and Program Initiative at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions, Oct. 16-19, 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Join with women of diverse faiths and spiritual traditions to:
- MAKE HISTORY
- SYNERGIZE THE PLATFORM
- SHARE INSPIRATION, IDEAS AND PRACTICES
- CONVENE IN THE SPIRIT OF SISTERHOOD
To participate in this historic gathering at incredible discounted rates, register today for the deepest 2015 Parliament discounts. When registering please write “Women’s Assembly & Program” in the interest section. More details will follow.
SUBMIT A PROGRAM – All women’s voices, wisdom and ways are welcome. Submit your proposal here!
Along with politics, poverty and culture, religion is often cited as a source of conflict throughout the world. However, the last 100 years reveal a growing interfaith movement in America — one that promotes peaceful and productive interactions between religious traditions.
And it all began with a fair.
THE FAIR THAT SET THE STAGE
The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, IL drew millions of visitors to the windy city over its six-month run. Among its 5,978 educational addresses and meetings was the World’s Congress of Religions, which hosted religious leaders from all over the world.
The congress marked the first organized, international gathering of religious leaders and is thought to be the nascence of formal interfaith dialogue. Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, spoke at the congress, greeting the 5,000 assembled delegates with the iconic words, “Sisters and brothers of America!”
A CENTURY OF INTERFAITH DIALOGUE
One of the first international groups to get organized after the fair was the International Council of Unitarian and Other Liberal Religious Thinkers and Workers — now the International Association for Religious Freedom – formed in London in 1900 with the stated purpose of uniting all those striving for fellowship and religious liberty.
With the outbreak of World War I other interfaith efforts emerged. The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) formed in New York just after war began in hopes of bringing people of faith together to promote peace, and it went on to become a leading interfaith voice for non-violence and non-discrimination.
With the second World War on the horizon, the World Congress of Faiths formed in London with the dual purpose of bringing people of faith together to enrich their understandings of their own and others’ traditions and also to educate and report on religious happenings through its journal, Interreligious Insight.
Following the devastation of World War II and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Christian missionary Carl Allison Evans founded the New Jersey-based Fellowship in Prayer as a multi-faith organization that would use prayer and meditation to foster peace.
In addition to the work of humanitarian organizations, renowned world leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and the Dalai Lama, inspired by their own faiths, promoted religious, racial and political freedom. Many scholars say the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, in particular, demonstrated the organizing power of congregations working together for social change, under the guidance of religious leaders like King marching side by side with Abraham Joshua Heschel.
In 1962 the Catholic Church took a giant step forward in interfaith relations by convening of the Second Vatican Council. Before Vatican II, Catholics were discouraged from visiting other faiths’ houses of worship — but this all changed with the Nostra Aetate. This document, which officially took effect October 28, 1965, acknowledged the divine origin of all human beings and the truths present in other religions. It stated: “We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God.”
Many organizations followed the Vatican’s lead over the next few decades. Religions for Peace, based in New York and accredited to the United Nations, officially kicked off in 1970, and the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington formed in 1978.
First formed in 1960 the Temple of Understanding helped publish the first directory of interfaith organizations in 1987 and over several years hosted meetings that paved the way for the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN), which was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1990.
A CENTURY LATER
By 1988 nearly 100 years had passed since the World’s Congress of Religions and Vivekanada’s historic speech. A group of religious leaders and local organizers in Chicago came together to plan a centennial celebration, and through this the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions came into being.
In 1993 the Parliament hosted its conference in Chicago with 8,000 participants from faith backgrounds around the world. The organization went on to host meetings around the world every several years, and in September 2014 announced its first U.S. conference since 1993, to take place in Salt Lake City in 2015.
The 1990s also saw the birth of interfaith groups focused on the environment, including Green Faith in 1992 and Interfaith Power & Light in 1998. These efforts put ecological sustainability at the core of their faith-based activism.
With the growth of interfaith dialogue came increased academic and sociological interest in the ways pluralism affects religious life. Harvard University’s Diana Eck launched the Pluralism Project in 1991 to chart the development of interfaith efforts throughout the United States. And in 2001 the Pew Research Center initiated its Religion & Public Life Project to explore the intersection of religion and public life.
INTERFAITH’S NEW MILLENNIUM…
This article by Antonia Blumberg for HuffPost Religion is published with permission.
Parliament Ambassador Launches Spirituality and Medicine Interest Group at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine
During my first few months in medical school, I noticed that religion was rarely discussed. As a Theology minor in college, I knew that religion was an important part of life for many Americans; indeed, nearly 9 in 10 Americans report a belief in some divine or spiritual power, and several studies have shown that organized faith communities can play important roles in promoting healthy behaviors. Topics related to spirituality and religious beliefs arose during the Healthcare Disparities course, but the discussions were only tangential. I had a feeling that students felt uncomfortable discussing such personal topics in the academic setting.
For this reason, I proposed a new student organization for the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago: the Spirituality and Medicine (SAM) Interest Group. This group aims to create a safe space for discussion of how spirituality/religion affect healthcare. I thought that this idea fit in perfectly with Pritzker’s commitment to all forms of diversity. Last month, SAM was approved for funding by the Dean’s Council, and I was awarded Germanacos Fellowship, a $5000 grant to develop a medical discussion series focused on the intersections between spirituality/religion and medicine. These seminars will be partially based on a well-known religious literacy curriculum for healthcare workers developed by the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. The Germanacos Fellowship was awarded by the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based nonprofit that aims to make interfaith cooperation a social norm in the United States by promoting inter-religious dialogue and community service.
I am interested in the intersections between spirituality and healthcare because my own religious beliefs inform my choice of career. My passion for medicine stems from a declaration in Islam and various other traditions that saving one person’s life is equivalent to saving all of mankind. Through my work with the Interfaith Youth Core during my undergraduate years at Georgetown University and as an Ambassador for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, I have come to realize that religious communities—like all social structures—can be divisive or, when harnessed correctly, can be powerful catalysts for social improvement. Fortunately, the medical field is especially conducive to interfaith engagement because the concepts of service and human dignity are always implicit. In addition, physicians are one of the most religiously-diverse populations in the United States, and providers are increasingly recognizing the importance of religious literacy in medical education.
Over the next several months, I hope to introduce other students to religious diversity in the healthcare world, and to provide opportunities for my classmates to reflect on their personal motivations and values (whether or not those they come from a religious background) for pursuing medicine. I also look forward to finding connections between existing student organizations and facilitating dialogues on important topics such as mental health, reproductive health, and organ donation.
While becoming a physician, I also want to be at the forefront of the interfaith movement’s expansion into the healthcare world. I would be interested in collaborating with similar proposals that bridge the areas of religion and medicine, and presenting our work at the upcoming Parliament of the World’s Religions in 2015. I intend to demonstrate that religion and science can work together rather than in opposition. I am guided by one of my favorite verses from the Quran: “Had God willed, He would have made mankind as a single religion [or community], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so strive with each other for virtue (5:48).
Aamir Hussain is a first-year medical student at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. . A recent graduate of Georgetown University, Aamir became an interfaith programs facilitator through leadership training introduced by the Interfaith Youth Core and now serves as an Ambassador of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Nearly half a million people marched to save the only planet we have on the 21st of September at the People’s Climate March in New York City. After exceeding goals to stage the biggest climate march in history, the day ended with an interfaith service packing thousands into the largest Cathedral in the World, St. John the Divine. Leaders spanning the faith traditions of the world vowed there to commit unprecedented action to curb climate change.
In this historic moment the Parliament, in conjunction with partners Green Faith and Interfaith Center of New York, took part in the 3-day Religions for the Earth conference presented by Union Theological Seminary. Organized by Union Forum’s Karenna Gore, daughter of Former U.S. Vice-President and global environmental champion Al Gore, the conference that brought together more than 200 leaders of world spiritual communities and interfaith organizations also leveraged partnerships with the World Council of Churches, Religions for Peace, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the National Religious Partnership.
Months of planning and organizing- with Parliament Trustee Dr. Kusumita Pedersen at the core and Trustee John Pawlikowski advising- resulted in a great showing of support from the Parliament Board. Highlighting some of the ways that spirituality as a healing, connecting, and educational force can powerfully address the climate crisis were Rev. Andras Corban Arthen of the Earth Spirit community, who spoke on an Indigenous Peoples panel, Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti, author and educator, who discussed the spiritual connection of humans and other animals, and Phyllis Curott, attorney and Wiccan priestess, who led an opening session prayer. Parliament Trustee Emeritus Naresh Jain, who serves currently on the Parliament’s UN Task Force, was also in attendance. The Parliament’s Executive Director, Dr. Mary Nelson, connected with former Vice President Al Gore, as did Parliament Chair, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, who spoke at the closing Multi-faith Service.
What amplifies the voices of faith communities today is hoped to carry over into massive action at the forthcoming 2015 Parliament. Speaking to the Multi-faith Service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on the evening of September 21, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid made a public commitment that the 2015 Parliament will take on climate issues and sustainable living as a prime focus.
The Parliament applauds the remarks offered by its partners, especially those shared by Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations Jan Eliasson at the Religions for the Earth Multifaith Service. Concerning what spiritual communities who work together harmoniously can achieve, Eliasson said, “Faith leaders like you here today have an essential role to play. You can set an example of dialogue and of mutual respect. You can use your pulpits to convey important messages as we have heard today. You can reach across lines of faiths and across the lines of identities that might otherwise divide people. I ask you, I plead with you to continue to remind us of the ethical and moral dimensions of climate change. Such efforts related to higher morality are needed not only on environment, but in general, at a time when we are seeing so much of sectarian turmoil and hatred around the world. I thank you all for mobilizing the positive power of religion…”
The Parliament of the World’s Religions UN-NGO Representatives affiliated to the United Nations Department of Public Information say attending the 65th Annual UN-DPI NGO conference in New York City August 27 – 29, 2014 was a great opportunity for the interfaith movement to build relationships with other NGOs invested in advocating for the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda.
“How A Global Ethic Can Contribute to the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda: An Intergenerational Discussion” paired the Parliament’s UN Youth Representatives Ms. Sara Rahim, and Mr. Tahil Sharma, in a workshop with members of the Parliament UN Task Force and co-sponsors exploring how activism for the SDGs can be enhanced by civic society. This process is achievable through the promotion and understanding of foundational documents on Human Rights including the Global Ethic, the Earth Charter, the Charter of Compassion, and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
The Panelists Representing the Parliament and Co-Sponsoring Institutions:
- Dr. Kusumita Pedersen, Chair of the Parliament UN Task Force, Parliament Trustee, and Co-Chair of the Interfaith Center of New York
- Monica Willard, Representative of the United Religions Initiative to the UN, UN NGO Committee Co-Chair
- Rev. Father John Pawlikowski, Parliament Trustee
- Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti, Parliament Trustee
- Sr. Joan Kirby, The Temple of Understanding
- Ms. Sara Rahim, Parliament UN Youth Representative
- Mr. Tahil Sharma, Parliament Un Youth Representative
Connecting institutional and grassroots advocates, the UN-DPI conference format includes plenary speakers, workshops, and panels equipping thousands of participants with new strategies. In proving the value of face-to-face networking opportunities, assemblies like this serve to enhance sustainable action by smart approaches to allocating human and other resources directed toward the UN’s Development Goals.
Tahil Sharma and Sara Rahim reported and reflect below on their experience presenting and participating in workshops and plenaries paying special attention to five takeaways the interfaith community can use to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda:
The first three observations come from Sara Rahim:
“We have a duty to be bold. That is what people want. That is what the world needs.” – Ms. Susana Malcorra, UN Chef de Cabinet UN-NGO 2014
Between August 27-29, Tahil Sharma and I attended the 65th Annual UN DPI/NGO conference held in New York City, which drew in over 2,000 NGO representatives from over 117 countries. Earlier this year, we were chosen to serve as the Parliament of the World’s Religions Youth Representatives to the United Nations.
These past few months leading up to the conference, we brainstormed ways in which we could share our experiences with the greater civic community. We submitted a workshop panel that would explore how a Global Ethic could contribute to the Post-2015 Development Agenda, and were thrilled to be notified that we had been selected to present at the conference with trustees of the Parliament and like-minded interfaith bodies.
On August 27, Tahil and I quickly registered for the first day of the conference and made our way through UN security. In line, I met dozens of NGO representatives from around the world, who shared with me their field of work and what inspired them to attend the conference.
While this conference would clearly focus on the role of civil society and key global issues, I wondered how it might be possible to increase collaboration among interreligious groups. Faith-based organizations were certainly leading grassroots initiatives in their local communities, but how could we take that one step further? During the Opening Session, I observed several main themes that resonated with me regarding the role of interfaith at the UN.
1. “People are the center of development” – Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund
Refocusing efforts towards protecting people’s dignity is crucial, as we often forget the inherent link between human rights and development. Interfaith groups can continue to pave the path towards conflict resolution and community building in a way that ensures all voices can be a part of the conversation. As expressed by Dr. Osotimehin, focusing specifically on women and youth can help achieve universal goals of poverty reduction and education. I see an opportunity for interfaith groups to continue to advocate for women and youth as part of their initiatives.
2. The Importance of Setting Concrete Goals
Ambassador Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of United States to the United Nations, stated that encouraging civic society to work more closely with government would require an outcomes-driven process. The need for setting measurable, concrete goals for the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda can combat the criticism that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are too abstract and intangible. Powers also recommended focusing on peace and global governance as a basis for development. Passing just laws and creating credible institutions is one of the most sustainable ways to improving development. I personally recognized this vision, as it aligns with Parliament’s mission to mobilize faith leaders in their communities towards creating a peaceful, just, and sustainable world. Interfaith work is not just a ‘feel good mission,’ but it also has the potential to measure impact and offer tangible results.
3. Inclusion of the Disabled, Indigenous, and Youth
Ms. Maryanne Diamond, Chair, International Disability Alliance, assessed that persons who live with disabilities, 80% of whom are in the developing world, severely lack access to education, healthcare, and other basic resources. She offered a major critique that the previous MDG’s lacked inclusivity of disabled and indigenous populations. One of the biggest outcomes of this conference would be the revision and inclusion of minority groups into the agenda. Of these minority groups, I saw the role of youth as a major key player towards development. Tahil and I both recognized our own experiences in which interfaith had been a tool to mobilize people of all backgrounds towards a common goal. The NGO community, particularly interfaith and faith-based organizations, must continue to think in innovative ways to collaborate across sectors and be inclusive of all minority voices.
Tahil Sharma observes points 4 and 5:
4. Building Community through Forgiveness
The Representatives at the NGO conference represent great diversity across fields of expertise and demonstrate profound willingness to make a difference in the world. This point was addressed in a special keynote at the Permanent Mission of the United States to the United Nations by Ambassador Elizabeth M. Cousens who resides on the UN Economic and Social Council and serves as an Alternate Representative to the UN General Assembly. With fellow representatives being as young as 14 years old, showing an amazing ability to tackle major subjects, refute claims and develop productive dialogue with the ambassador, an important point on how the eagerness of the coming generations to foster change was taking place. The ambassador herself made note of this: “We need your voice, your ideas, and your insistence about what matters… You need to hold our feet to the fire in making sure that we count it.”
This proved the vitality of the kind of inter-generational conversation we would emphasize in our workshop about the creation and implementation of influential documents like the Charter for Compassion, the Earth Charter and the Global Ethic of the 1993 Parliament. Several individuals across cultures, faith traditions and ages must participate in making these paths for change to make the impact which can really matter.
My first example is a man who is legally blind, and arrived with a guide at his side for our workshop; his name was Takashi Tanemori from Hiroshima, and he is a hibakusha, or Atomic Bomb Survivor. Seeking revenge for the death of his family, he traveled to the United States for opportunity and suffered prejudice, discrimination and mistreatment for decades, even while discovering faith and service through Christian organizations. But in an instant, an epiphany of forgiveness and understanding made him turn his story become a force to educate and serve people. Dedicating his life to speak out against the struggles he experienced throughout his life, he describes his transformation and “how communication between people and countries is the answer to lasting peace throughout the world.” (Taken from his bio.) He spreads his message of understanding, love and forgiveness through lectures, poetry, art and through the writing of his own book, Hiroshima: Bridge to Forgiveness, having shared his message with thousands of people around the world. This same man who has experienced worlds of transition was the same man who commended the work that Sara, myself and the other panelists of our workshop dedicated ourselves to: creating bridges of understanding and respect. His sharing complimented our experience with his story and his message of compassion and clemency.
5. The Strength of Grassroots Advocacy
Another individual who caught my attention sprang from a social media interaction between Sara and fellow attendee, Syed Mahmood Kazmi, a college graduate from our age group, and a man who was leagues beyond my intelligence, capability and humility. A Kashmir, Pakistan native, he is dedicated to education and supporting marginalized and oppressed communities throughout South Asia. His work includes serving as an Emergency Response Team Leader in Pakistan Red Crescent Society providing First Aid and Search & Rescue. Additionally, Kazmi serves as an Intern at the Office of the Permanent Observer to the United Nations International Organization for Migration, New York. Proving to me that there is not any limit on the power in your stride to revolutionize the way we think and act. It was a privilege to associate with him, but his drive and grace also reminds me that my personal call to action must never be silenced.
The workshop and conference experience sent me home with a new energy to excel in my work, to inspire others, to educate communities about the world, and to ensure communities are provided what is needed to flourish and produce better lives. At certain moments, I thought my work with domestic communities lacked significance in the bigger picture, but people from all over the world proved our small actions are revolutionary. I have always known that lecturing, building community beds for organic vegetation to feed people, and building relationships between communities was the right thing to do, but now it seems like the normal thing to do. There is normalcy in instilling peace and stability in humanity.
All in all, the 3-day conference served as a platform for individuals, stakeholders, and NGO society to come together. This success was not just because of the number of people who participated in the event, but because all players came together to draft a powerful declaration to action. Our roles as interfaith leaders challenged us to think innovatively about how a Global Ethic could efficiently push for the Post 2015 Agenda. We found that there are multiple opportunities for collaboration in a way that moves from dialogue to producing tangible results. We walked away with not only a better understanding of what sustainable development means, but also how interfaith action can bridge the gap towards inclusivity and peaceful governance.