Archive for the ‘Interreligious Movement’ Category
This synopsis of the Evangelii Gaudium of Pope Francis was composed by Trustee Emeritus of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Dr. Leo D. Lefebure. The delivery of part 1 emphasized the mission of the Catholic Church in the world, and explores Pope Francis’ stance on Interreligious Relations in part 2.
This week, Time Magazine announced its selection of Pope Francis as the Man of the Year for 2013, commenting: “Rarely has a new player on the world stage captured so much attention so quickly—young and old, faithful and cynical—as has Pope Francis.
In his nine months in office, he has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time: about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power.” (Read more: The Choice: Nancy Gibbs on Why Pope Francis Is TIME’s Person of the Year 2013 | TIME.com)
Earlier, on Nov. 24, 2013, Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation, the first of his Pontificate, and the first major statement of his program. The great theme of Pope Francis is expressed in the title: Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel. For Francis, this is the central Christian response to God’s coming into our lives. In the Catholic tradition, popes regularly promulgate an Apostolic Exhortation in the wake of a particular Synod of Bishops; but rarely if ever has an Apostolic Exhortation aroused the type of interest, both positive and negative, that The Joy of the Gospel has evoked.
I. The Mission of the Church in the World
Despite the overarching tone of joy, Pope Francis has grave concerns about the world today. At the beginning of the Apostolic Exhortation, he sets forth a stark warning:
The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades (#2).
Francis laments that too often Christians do not witness to the joy and beauty of the Gospel. He calls for Christians to witness to the Gospel not by proselytization but rather by attraction through living lives of joy and beauty (#15). He endorses the “way of beauty” (#167). Francis warns: “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter” (#6). While he is aware of the difficult times in all lives, he trusts: “Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” (#6). The ancient prophet Zephanaiah promised that God will rejoice over us as at a festival, and so Pope Francis tells us evangelizers should not look like they are coming from a funeral!
The basis of the mission is the love of God that comes to Christians a sheer gift and offers us friendship with God, who brings us beyond ourselves, frees us from our narrowness and self-absorption. Francis invokes the ancient principle: “Goodness tends to spread” (9). He quotes from the document issued by the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007, which he had a major role in drafting: “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others” (#10).
Francis calls Christians to reach out to everyone without exclusion, stressing what is beautiful, grand, appealing, and most necessary (#35). He recalls that Thomas Aquinas taught that mercy is the greatest of all virtues and should be at the center of the presentation of the Gospel (#37). Francis calls Christians to be like the Prodigal Father in the parable (#46). He tells us that “the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is room for everyone, with all their problems” (#47).
Francis affirms that the Church has a mission to all, especially to the poor. Francis repeats to all of us what he used to tell the priests and people of Buenos Aires: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (#49). He notes that the call of Jesus echoes through the centuries to us:
“Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37; #49).
Francis also reflects on the economic structures that perpetuate poverty. He questions why we worry more about the stock market going down by a few points than about the poor who die on the streets. He recalls the commandment not to kill as a call to safeguard the value of all human life. Francis applies this commandment against an economy of exclusion and inequality, stating: “Such an economy kills” (#53). He questions: “Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown out while people are starving?” (#53) He warns against the globalization of indifference and the idolatry of money as a new golden calf (##54, 55). Francis sets forth the basic principle: “Money must serve, not rule!” (#58)
Despite the stern warnings against these and other dangers, Francis rejects pessimism, recalling the words of Pope John XXIII in opening the Second Vatican Council in October 1962, looking beyond the predictions of gloom to the hope: “In our times, divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations” (#84). It is this hopeful note of confidence in God’s grace that shapes Francis’s message.
Francis reflects on the implications of the Incarnation: “The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness” (#88). Francis stresses the dignity of baptism as the foundation of Christian identity and the mission of lay people in transforming the world (##102-104). He calls on all Christians to “listen to young people and the elderly. Both represent a source of hope for every people. The elderly bring with them memory and the wisdom of experience, which warns us not to foolishly repeat our past mistakes. Young people call us to renewed and expansive hope, for they represent new direction for humanity and open us up to the future, lest we cling to a nostalgia for structures and customs which are no longer life-giving in today’s world” (#108).
II. Interreligious Relations
Pope Francis situates the mission of the Church in the context of fostering respectful and friendly relations with other religious traditions. He affirms the special bond between Christians and the Jewish people because of our common heritage: “We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant has never been revoked, for ‘the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable’” (Rom. 11:29; #247). He deplores the past hostility in this relationship: “The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians” (#248).
Pope Francis strongly supports interreligious initiatives in the context of seeking peace and the flourishing of life for all: “An attitude of openness in truth and in love must characterize the dialogue with the followers of non-Christian religions. . . . Interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as other religious communities” (250). Francis endorses the interreligious attitude commended by the Catholic bishops of India of “being open to them, sharing their joys and sorrows” (#250). Francis explains the hoped-for result of such an attitude of openness: “In this way we learn to accept others and their different ways of living, thinking and speaking. We can then join one another in taking up the duty of serving justice and peace, which should become a basic principle of all our exchanges. A dialogue which seeks social peace and justice is in itself, beyond all merely practical considerations, an ethical commitment which brings about a new social situation” (#250).
Francis stresses the importance and the transformative power of listening: “Efforts made in dealing with a specific theme can become a process in which, by mutual listening, both parts can be purified and enriched. These efforts, therefore, can also express love for truth” (#250). Francis is aware of the important differences among various religious traditions and does not wish to ignore or minimize them: “A facile syncretism would ultimately be a totalitarian gesture on the part of those who would ignore greater values of which they are not the masters. True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being ‘open to understanding those of the other party’ and ‘knowing that dialogue can enrich each side’” (#250; quoting Pope John Paul II). Regarding how to handle the disagreements among different religious traditions, Francis stresses honesty, mutual respect, and trust.
Pope Francis emphasizes the importance of good relationships between Christians and Muslims: “We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition” (#253). Francis acknowledges the difficulties in relations in many settings and advises: “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (#253).
According to Pope Francis, the grace of God that Christians experience in Jesus Christ can nurture and shape the lives of followers of other religious paths as well. Christians do not have a monopoly on grace and can learn from other traditions: “The same Spirit everywhere brings forth various forms of practical wisdom which help people to bear suffering and to live in greater peace and harmony. As Christians, we can also benefit from these treasures built up over many centuries, which can help us better to live our own beliefs” (#254).
Francis also reaches out to those who do not belong to any particular religious tradition: “As believers, we also feel close to those who do not consider themselves part of any religious tradition, yet sincerely seek the truth, goodness and beauty which we “believe have their highest expression and source in God. We consider them as precious allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building peaceful coexistence between peoples and in protecting creation” (#257). Francis trusts that reflection on ethics, art, and science and about the human search for transcendence can serve as “a path to peace in our troubled world” (257).
Despite all the difficulties facing the global community, Francis encourages us:
“Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment” (#109).
He closes the Apostolic Exhortation with a prayer to Mary:
“Give us a holy courage to seek new paths,
That the gift of unfading beauty
May reach every man and woman” (#288).
About Author 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, including Revelation, 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 of the World’s Religions Trustee Dr. Arun Gandhi shares this discussion starting-reflection on enemies and debates, especially in the interfaith context, in remembrance of the lessons in non-violence he learned from his grandfather, Mohandas Gandhi.
Lately there has been a lot of talk about “enemies” and how to deal with them. Inevitably, this leads to a heated “debate” and I find both these concepts repugnant since they form the foundation of what I call the Culture of Violence.
If there is anything I have learned from Gandhi’s writings and the lessons he taught me as a young boy entering his teens is that humankind is inexorably dominated by a Culture of Violence. Over generations the roots of this culture have run deep dominating every aspect of human life — from parenting at home to governing nations. The salvation, according to Gandhi, lies in each of us “becoming the change we wish to see in the world.”
During the struggle for India’s freedom from British Colonialism one rule that was observed strictly was never to dehumanize the British as “enemies”. Even when someone made a joke Grandfather would admonish the person and insist that we root out all words from our vocabulary that dehumanize people. Dehumanization is the first step in justifying violence and war. When we learn to respect everyone as human beings — even those with whom we may have differences of opinion — we will reduce violence.
Whenever possible Gandhi entered into a “discussion” with the British, never a “debate”. A discussion implies an openness to understand the other’s point of view and arrive at an amicable understanding whereas a debate implies there is only one Truth and the person with the gift of the gab can overwhelm the other.
A very potent example of this is religion. There are endless debates about which religion is the best and everyone claims they have the whole Truth. This attitude has led to wars, violence, massacres and genocides in the name of God. Yet, unfortunately, we are unwilling to accept that there are many aspects to one Truth. If we continue to debate this point we will never arrive at any understanding.
Religion, my Grandfather used to say, is the spiritual Mount Everest. All of us are trying to scale this peak and we choose different paths to get to the top. Since all the paths are equal why should it be a matter of contention which path one chooses to take? The important objective is for every individual to get to the top by making a sincere and committed effort. It needs no organization — just individual commitment and dedication.
Incidentally, I am offering these thoughts for a discussion, not a debate!
Dr. Arun Gandhi - Born 1934 in Durban South Africa, Arun was sent by his parents to India when he was 12 years old so that he could live with and learn from his grandfather, Mohandas Gandhi. It was then that young Gandhi learned the principles of non-violence that he continues to espouse until today. Dr. Gandhi spent much of his adult life in India working as a journalist and promoting social and economic changes for the poor and the oppressed classes. Along with his wife Sunanda he rescued about 128 orphaned and abandoned children from the streets and placed them in loving homes around the world. They also began a Center for Social Change which transformed the lives of millions in villages in the western state of Maharashtra. In 1987 Arun came to the United States and in 1991 he started the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. In 2007, the Institute was moved to the University of Rochester, New York. In 2008 Arun resigned from the Institute to begin the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, with its mission to build basic education schools for the very poor children of the world. The first school will open shortly in a depressed village in western India (www.gandhiforchildren.org). Arun Gandhi has taken the message of nonviolence and peace-making to hundreds of thousands of high school and university youth around the United States and much of the Western world. His publications include The Legacy of Love; The Forgotten Woman: The Life of Kastur, wife of Gandhi, and several others.
As the world mourns the death of President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, affectionately known as Madiba, it is important that we don’t get too embroiled in sentiments and, in our grief, make the mistake of consecrating his message with his physical body. Like the thousands whom we revere as great people, Madiba was not great by birth, but became great through commitment and dedication to moral values. All of us are endowed with the same measure of commitment and dedication but we tend to use it more for material aggrandizement rather than to enhance our moral and ethical values.
An Indian Government official reportedly said in his condolence message that if the apartheid government had not incarcerated President Mandela for 27 years he would have changed the face of Africa long ago. Implying that those 27 years were wasted. Perhaps some of those years were excessive, but there is no escaping the fact that it was the incarceration that gave Madiba the opportunity to do some soul-searching and turned him from a revolutionary to a revered leader.
Through his life Madiba showed the world that adversity can be good if we use it with understanding. Many a leader who have gone through the same kind of adversity as President Mandela has come out more bitter and violent than ever because they wallow in self-pity. Madiba and others like him used adversity to make a positive change in themselves and their thinking. In a very true sense Madiba became the change he wished to see in the world, to use Gandhi’s famous quotation.
Madiba loved his country more than he loved himself. He was determined to do what was right and good for the country and not be filled with hate and vengeance against those who oppressed him. He had a vision for South Africa where all human beings could live in peace and harmony. It was a vision that has been shared by many leaders of the world, including Gandhi, but it is a vision that has not been realized quite simply because we have chosen the path of materialism rather than moral values. Gandhi warned us that materialism and morality have an inverse relationship. When one increases the other tends to decrease. In a highly materialistic world there is ample evidence today of declining morality. In fact the decay is so overwhelming that it denigrates the very concept of civilization. Is a civilization measured by its material achievements or by its moral integrity? If Madiba could change from being a revolutionary to becoming a revered world leader can we not change from being selfish to being selfless in the service of the world?
Born 1934 in Durban South Africa, Arun was sent by his parents to India when he was 12 years old so that he could live with and learn from his grandfather, Mohandas Gandhi. It was then that young Gandhi learned the principles of non-violence that he continues to espouse until today. Dr. Gandhi spent much of his adult life in India working as a journalist and promoting social and economic changes for the poor and the oppressed classes. Along with his wife Sunanda he rescued about 128 orphaned and abandoned children from the streets and placed them in loving homes around the world. They also began a Center for Social Change which transformed the lives of millions in villages in the western state of Maharashtra. In 1987 Arun came to the United States and in 1991 he started the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. In 2007, the Institute was moved to the University of Rochester, New York. In 2008 Arun resigned from the Institute to begin the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, with its mission to build basic education schools for the very poor children of the world. The first school will open shortly in a depressed village in western India (www.gandhiforchildren.org). Arun Gandhi has taken the message of nonviolence and peace-making to hundreds of thousands of high school and university youth around the United States and much of the Western world. His publications include The Legacy of Love; The Forgotten Woman: The Life of Kastur, wife of Gandhi, and several others.
We all knew of Nelson Mandela’s state and his age. Yet, his death is still a tremendous loss to all of us who learned to struggle against all odds from the man who put his trust in the humanity of his oppressors, the leaders of South Africa’s apartheid system. He wrote a new chapter on the power of dialogue which he, a helpless prisoner, initiated with his powerful captors. And he did all of this without losing his dignity, without compromising his principles, and without being intimidated by the power of the apartheid regime.
It was because of the power of his non-violent struggle, as well as his compassion toward those who took almost all of his youth from him, that I went to South Africa, despite all odds, to attend the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1999. It was my way of celebrating the power of peaceful struggle. Mandela may not be big on religion, but he sure was high on the ideals of humanity. That is where I made my personal commitment to the interfaith movement, which believes in and promotes the power of dialogue and human relationships.
I had the honor of meeting one of Nelson Mandela’s “comrades”, Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada, at the Radio Islam studio in Chicago. He was among those imprisoned at Robben Island along with Mandela. It was after talking with him that I learned how Mandela transformed the life of this young rebel into positive energy for change.
In today’s world, where hate is rising, the people of love and humanity, those of faith and the “nones”, need to rise as a force for positive human relationships. In a world where one-third of humanity is obese while another third sleeps hungry, let’s share more and consume less.
Let us remember together as we mourn together, that “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself.” Long Live Madiba!
Imam Dr. Abdul Malik Mujahid
Chair of the Board of Trustees
Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions
A few years ago I was standing in Nelson Mandela Square in the center of a large shopping mall in Sandton, South Africa admiring the famous 20 ft. statue of Mandela.
As I stood there, one after another Afrikaner families walked up to the statue and took photographs of their blond haired blue-eyed children. One could not help but think that the parents of these children were not raised to admire Mandela, but to fear him and what they had been taught he stood for.
Nevertheless, on this warm evening, they patiently coaxed their children to stand straight and tall at the feet of the great man.
What powers of spirit and vision could bring such transformation? Perhaps it was the unimpeachable integrity of moral stamina undiminished by 27 years of imprisonment.
Or the indomitable will inspired by the vision of social justice that he bent to the task of exorcising the spirit of apartheid—employing the tools Truth and Reconciliation instead of bloodshed to shepherd a nation, conceived in social injustice, to a united future.
Nelson Mandela birthed a new South Africa and in so doing revitalized the spirits of moral excellence and social justice among people in every land. Like South Africa, we all have much yet to do in the quest for truth, reconciliation, and unity. But thanks to Mandela, we have a model to follow. A model of true faith steeped in patience, an unbending vision of social justice without shortcuts or compromise.
Mandela was committed to religion as a powerful agent of change. “Without the religious institutions, he explained at the Parliament of the Worlds Religions in Cape Town, “I would not be here today.”
“You have to have been in a South African jail under apartheid where you could see the cruelty of human beings to each other in its naked form. “…Religious institutions and their leaders gave us hope that one day we could return.”
He explained that Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish religious groups were instrumental in providing him and other young blacks with an education – and later in giving comfort to political prisoners and their families.
As grateful recipients of Mandela’s precious gifts to humankind, perhaps each one of us might arise and struggle to return the favor in the name of our many faiths. We must work together to carry on the mission that Nelson Mandela gave his life to: to build a world inspired by love and guided by the principle of true justice, that we are all one family—bound together by bonds and ties that are stronger than blood. Nelson Mandela his gone from us now, but his spirit must live on in our hearts and guide our service to God, to our nations, and to one another.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, ‘Madiba,’ has now passed into the Light. He was here now he is everywhere. He reminded us that although we have the machinery of war, it is only by our nonviolent choices that we can create the machinery of peace. With tireless passion, immense heart, an extraordinary mind and unfathomable self-sacrifice, he forgot himself into immortality and showed us how to establish the beloved ultimate economic world community.
Lawrence Edward Carter Sr., Ph.D., D.D., D.H., D.R.S., D.H.C.
Dean, Martin Luther King International Chapel
Professor of Religion, College Archivist and Curator
Founder, Gandhi, King, Ikeda Institute for Global Ethics and Reconciliation
Trustee, Council for A Parliament of the World’s Religions
On the day the Nelson Mandela has died, the Parliament of the World’s Religions remembers a speech that shook the souls of Interfaith fourteen years ago to the day. Speaking on the evening of Sunday, December 5, 1999, the former and first black president of South Africa told the thousands gathered about how interfaith cooperation was the only peaceful means to end Apartheid.
Master of ceremonies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Unfortunately, I must tell a story, which in gatherings of this nature I have told more than a hundred times. Because that story puts in context some of the remarks that have been made here about one individual. This is when I spent a holiday in the Bahamas in 1993. I met some tourists — a man and a wife — as I was taking a walk and the man stopped and said, “Mr. Mandela.”
I said, “Many people mistake me for that chap.” And he said, “Would I be entitled to take you for that chap?” I said, “You’d be doing what many people are doing.” He then turned to his beloved wife and said, “Darling, Mr. Mandela.”
She was totally unimpressed.
She said, “What is he famous for?” And the husband in his embarrassment dropped his voice and said, “Mr. Mandela, Mr. Mandela.” And the woman insisted “I asked what is he famous for?” And before the husband answered she turned to me and said, “What are you famous for?”
I couldn’t answer the question.
But there is another incident near, at home, when a five-year-old lady — I was told by security that she was at the gate. And I said, “Let her come in.” And they said, “She is very cheeky” I said, “Precisely for that reason let her come in.” And indeed she was quite a lady because she just stormed into my lounge without knocking, did not greet me and the first remark was, “How old are you?” I said, “Well, I can’t remember, but I was born long, long ago.” She said, “Two years ago?” I said, “No, much longer than that.”
She suddenly changed the topic and said, “why did you go to jail?” I said, “Well, I didn’t go to jail before because I liked. Some people sent me there.”
I said, “Some people did not like me.” And she said, “How long did you remain there?” I said, “Now I can’t remember.”
I said, “No, more than that.” Then she says, “You are a stupid old man, aren’t you?” And having made that devastating attack, she sat down with me and joked with me as if she had paid me a compliment.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, I hope at the end of my speech if you feel that I have not risen to expectations, I hope you will be more diplomatic than that young lady.
The truth of the old African proverb that we are people through other people is tonight very evocatively being demonstrated by this gathering of so many people from all parts of the world. This coming together here in this southernmost city on the African continent of representatives from such a wide range of the faiths of the world simbolizes the acknowledgement of our mutual interdependence and common humanity. It is to me a humbling experience to be part of this moving expression and reaffirmation of the nobility of the human spirit. This century has seen enough of destruction, injustice, strife and division, suffering and pain and of our capacity to be massively inhuman the one to the other. There is sufficient cause for being cynical about human life and about humanity. This gathering at the close of our century serves to counter despair and cynicism and calls us to a recognition and reaffirmation of that which is great and generous and caring in the human spirit. We are being reminded in the words of the psalm that we were indeed created a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor.
I accept with humility and great appreciation the honors that you have sought fit to bestow on an old man in the years of his retirement. If nothing else, it demonstrates that old age still intimidates people into paying respect and homage.
I accept these awards not merely on my behalf. I do so in recognition of the three persons after whom the awards are named and in celebration of what they stood for. I wish through the receipt of these awards to identify with those values which they represented so powerfully in their respective lives and works a commitment to peace, nonviolence and dialogue.
I also dedicate these awards to those millions and millions of ordinary unsung men and women all over the world who throughout this century courageously refused to bow to the baser instincts of our nature and to live their lives in pursuit of peace, tolerance, and respect for differences.
Even in the closing decade of the century, we have witnessed how internecine strife degenerated into genocide with former neighbors participating in the slaughter of each other. This century, unfortunately, had too many leaders attempting to exploit communal differences for their own political ends. In most instances, it was the resolve and the determination of ordinary citizens to resist this course to destructive sectarianism that saved our world from even more instances of genocide and violent conflict. It is them the decent, general citizenry who we salute at the close of the century that has its share of war and strife. We have had men who were so arrogant that they wanted to conquer the world and turn human beings into their slaves. But the people always put an end to such men and women. Alexander the Great thought he could conquer the world. Caesar also had the same ambitions. Napoleon almost succeeded in laying the whole of Europe at his feet. And during our time, there emerged Hitler who did exactly the same thing. But it was the ordinary people, not kings and generals, it was the ordinary people, some of whom were not known in their own villages who put an end to those tyrants — to those dictators. And it is for that reason that the real leaders of the world are those who for 24 hours a day think in terms of the poorest of the poor. It is those men and women who know that poverty is the single most dangerous threat to society in the world today.
In our country, my generation is the product of religious education. We grew up at a time when the government of this country owed its duty only to whites: a minority of less than 15 percent. They took no interest whatsoever in our education. It was religious institutions whether Christian, Moslem, Hindu or Jewish in the context of our country, they are the people who bought land, who built schools, who equipped them, who employed teachers, and paid them. Without the church, without religious institutions, I would never have been here today. It was for that reason, that when I was ready to go to the United States on the first of this month, an engagement which had been arranged for quite some time, when my comrade Ibrahim told me about this occasion I said I would change my whole itinerary so I would have the opportunity to appear here.
But I must also add that I do appreciate the importance of religion. Apart from the background that I’ve given you, you’d have to have been in a South African jail under apartheid where you can see the cruelty of human beings to others in their naked form. But it was again religious institutions, Hindus, Moslems, leaders of the Jewish faith, Christians, it was them who gave us the hope that one day we would come out. We would return. And in prisons, the religious institutions raised funds for our children who were arrested in thousands and thrown into jail.
And many when they left prison had a high level of education because of the support we got from religious institutions. And that is why we so respect religious institutions and we try as much as we can to read the literature which outlines the fundamental principals of human behavior like the Bhagavad Gita, Koran, the Bible and other important religious documents. And I say this so that you should understand that the propaganda that has been made, for example about the liberation movement in this country, it is completely untrue. Because religion was one of the motivating factors in everything that we did.
In some respects, the turn of the century is an arbitrary happening in the cycle of human life where there is always change from one day to the other. In other respects, it provides us with the symbolic opportunity to take stock of the substance of our lives and of what lies ahead.
As we approach the 21st century, we cannot but be starkly aware that we stand at a crossroads in our history. That the general citizenry to which we referred — those women, men and children who merely desire and have inalienable right to lead a decent life — continue to suffer deprivation and poverty. The world is still marked by massive inequality. In too many parts of the world warfare and violent conflict still reign. The powerful dominate at the expense of the poor and the vulnerable. The symbolic turn of the century calls us to a commitment to make the coming century one in which these and other issues of human development are fundamentally addressed. We shall have to reach deep into the wells of our human faith as we approach the new century. No less than in any other period of history, religion will have a crucial role to play in guiding and inspiring humanity to meet the enormous challenges that we face. In our South African society, we have identified as a crucial need for our efforts at material and social development and new construction to be matched and accompanied by what is called an RDP of the soul — a moral reconstruction and development program. That is no less true of our entire world.
The world is undergoing a profound redefinition of values and modes of perception. The globalization of the world economy and the outstanding advances of communications technology have drawn all of us together into a smaller world. Those technical advances might, however, also have contributed to a growing confusion of values as people seek to find their localized places in that globalized world. The escalation of poverty in a world that is at the same time marked by such opulence and excessive wealth, the suffering and marginalization of vulnerable groups at a time when the concepts of democracy and equality are supposed to have become universal, the growing degradation of the environment often caused by the greed of industrial development. These are but some of the contradictions that at heart are moral and ethical questions. And on the level of personal life as the world supposedly becomes smaller, the loneliness of individual human beings across the globe increases.
Religion, like all other aspects of human lives, of course faces its own challenges. We have seen how religion at times provided the basis and even gave legitimization to violent expressions of intolerance and conflict. Tragically, religion sometimes seemed to have lost its ability to hold people to good values and to inspire in them those articles and approaches that transcend the narrow and immediate considerations. Religious leaders, institutions and adherents now once more need to draw upon those critical resources that have made it such a central part of human life throughout the ages. Few other dimensions of human life reach such a massive following as the religious. Its roots are in every nook and cranny of society where political leaders and the economically powerful have no sway. The religions and faiths of our world have pondered over and listened. Hence the importance to once again draw on those forces of spirituality and innate goodness.
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.
Full text of speech by Nelson Mandela at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Cape Town, South Africa, December 1999. Transcribed by Gillian Hagerty, “The Word Foundation.”
It is a warm reunion with Kusumita P. Pederson of New York who has now returned to the Parliament Board of Trustees following re-election after the mandatory time-off period required after a previous completed terms has completed.
Reaction from the Parliament Board Chair is bright. Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid describes, “she is a walking interfaith dictionary of America. I have never found Kusumita refusing anything which strengthens interfaith. I am pleased to welcome her back to the board. As the co-chair of the Interfaith Center of New York, she brings strength to our board, as well as much needed connectivity between the local realities and the global scene.”
IFNCY has been gracious to the Parliament as a co-host of the Long Island Faith Against Hate Day of Learning and Relationship held this past June, and through co-sponsoring and cross-promoting an upcoming webinar.
With Pederson returned to the Board, this solidifies a blossoming practice of global-local organizational partnerships which are helping strengthen the interfaith movement.
Dr. Kusumita P. Pedersen was Professor of Religious Studies at St. Francis College in New York. She received her Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Columbia University. She was previously Executive Director of the Project on Religion and Human Rights; Joint Secretary for Religious Affairs of the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders on Human Survival; and Executive Director of the Temple of Understanding. She is currently Co-Chair of the Interfaith Center of New York.
A Preface by Imam Dr. Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair of the Board of Trustees
Human interconnectedness has been transformed dramatically by technology. However, our hearts and our minds are yet to be aligned with the God-given ideals of sharing more and consuming less to achieve better results for the humanity.
In a world where more than a billion people live under two dollars a day; where 45 million people are fleeing conflict and persecution; where fear, hate, and anger are rising, we have a responsibility to be good neighbors, to be compassionate, and to live by the Golden Rule.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions has been ahead of its time in envisioning a better future. Almost a century before the word “global village” was introduced in 1962, the Parliament literally invented the gift of interfaith for our world.
It was also well ahead of its time when the Declaration Toward a Global Ethic was issued at the 1993 Parliament. For the first time in history, representatives of all of the world’s religions agreed on the shared ethics that are grounded in their own religions and traditions:
• The principle of shared humanity
• The Golden Rule of reciprocity
• A commitment to peace and justice
In the last 20 years since the signing of this declaration, people have collected more than 700,000 pieces of content on this topic. There are organizations that have been established based on its theme. Some of these include the Global Ethic Foundation, the Institute for Global Ethics, and the Global Ethics Network. We have also seen the development of campaigns based on topics we advanced, such as the Charter of Compassion, a Charter of Forgiveness, A Common Word Between Us and You, and campaigns to promote the Golden Rule.
So at this juncture, on the 20th anniversary of the 1993 Parliament, we at the Parliament reaffirm our commitment to interfaith harmony by reissuing the Global Ethics and by reasserting our mission: to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities, and to foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions in order to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world.
We must learn the forgotten lesson that “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself.”
Let us, then, friends, share more and consume less!
Let us work hand in hand to change ourselves while saving the only planet we have.
May God open our hearts toward our neighbors. May our Creator open the hearts of our neighbors toward us. Amen.
This preface leads the 2013 reaffirmation of the vision of the Global Ethic penned by Parliament Chair, Imam Dr. Abdul Malik Mujahid on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the document. Join Imam Mujahid, the Parliament, and this generation’s voices for peace by signing the 2013 Call to Live Out the Vision Toward a Global Ethic!
Sharing Sacred Spaces via Hyde Park – Kenwood Interfaith Council
We are excited to announce three new dates for the winter and spring in the Sharing Sacred Spaces program, which offers an opportunity to visit diverse spaces used for different kinds of spiritual practice and to forge friendships and common understanding among different communities.
Friday, February 7 at 6 pm – Taizé Hyde Park
Hosted by Calvert House, 5735 S. University Ave.
Sunday, March 9 at 3 pm – Congregation Rodfei Zedek
5200 S. Hyde Park Blvd.
Sunday, May 18 at 3 pm – Shambhala Meditation Center
37 N. Carpenter St. (in the West Loop)
The Sharing Sacred Spaces approach to encouraging interfaith dialogue was inspired by architect Suzanne Morgan who is the “Sacred Spaces Ambassador” for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. Morgan says, “Spaces become sacred through the meaning they have for their constituents. Sharing that meaning can build bridges of trust and reduce social tension and cultural misunderstanding. Sacred spaces are healing places. They help all of us to become whole by connecting us to the divine.”