Archive for the ‘1999 Parliament – Cape Town’ Category
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
The Birth of a Movement
“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
Towards a Global Ethic
“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
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.”
New Pathways to Peace
“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
Hearing Each Other, Healing the Earth
“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.”
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
Via Kathe Schaaf, Women of Spirit and Faith:
Attention women of the CPWR community: Women of Spirit and Faith hosts a collaborative blog ‘The Divine Feminine’ on the Patheos.com media platform. You are invite to contribute a post during the month of February exploring the following question:
Women of Spirit and Faith was born at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions, where we saw an opportunity to invite women who are ‘spiritual but not religious’ into the interfaith conversation and to affirm the spiritual leadership of all women.
We are continuously inspired and energized by the wisdom of the women who have joined the WSF community. Their creativity and passion are one of the many forces shifting and changing the interfaith community, which we see rapidly evolving beyond dialogue and into a living experience of co-creation, collaboration and support. Tell us what you see happening in your life.
Send a blog of 100-800 words to Divine Feminine blog to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a one-sentence bio and a photograph of yourself.
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.”
With sadness the Parliament of the World’s Religions shares a heartfelt reflection on the sudden July 4 passing of South Africa’s Father John Oliver, who founded the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative in South Africa. The organization built out of the 1999 Parliament remains the heart of interfaith in the city so many cherish for its legacy of interfaith triumph.
Chair Gordon Oliver says the loss of the city’s “interfaith guru” leaves a gaping hole in the entire community. Remembered for a smile CPWR Chair Emeritus Jim Kenney will never forget, Father John Oliver’s relationship to the Parliament inspired a complete trust so persuasive, it would be his influence in securing District Six the site of a Parliament staged to celebrate Interfaith’s greatest success at the turn of a millennium.
Kenney, “Fr. John was one of my closest colleagues and very best friends during the three years that my wife, Cetta, and I spent in Cape Town, Jo-burg, and Durban, planning the 1999 Parliament of the World’s Religions. John was an “early adopter” of the philosophy/theology of pluralism. He was brilliant, compassionate, and so very well versed in the religions of the world, and the religions of southern Africa. He was a passionate advocate, often against the will of his own Archdiocese, of African Traditional Religion.”
This marriage to the Parliament thrived over a decade and a half. Only weeks before his passing, Father Oliver delighted CPWR’s Ambassador Advisory Committee through an applying to become an Ambassador of the Parliament, renewing a long-term commitment to keep CPWR alive in South Africa.
Under a year ago, the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative hosted CPWR Trustee Emeritus Yogacharya Ellen Grace O’Brian. Her words describe a man whose name will become synonymous with Interfaith in the movement.
Fr. John Oliver was a passionate man—on fire for truth, justice and real peace. He dedicated his life to those efforts as an Anglican priest and tireless supporter of interreligious harmony. Last fall, as a representative of CPWR, I visited the offices of the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative and had the privilege of spending time with him, his colleagues in interfaith work, and his beloved family. I came away transformed by his presence. He was tireless in his work for peace and relentless in his deep soul-search for truth, which included the willingness to explore beyond the boundaries of his own tradition. He was profoundly interested in the inter-spiritual dimension of interfaith work. He yearned to go beyond interfaith dialog to discover an even deeper place to connect to others. He loved South Africa and the community he served at St. Mark’s in District Six. When I asked him if he would come to the US, he replied, “Why would I do that?” The heart and soul of South Africa spoke deeply to him. His life and legacy speaks deeply to us about many important things, not the least of which is what becomes possible when a person catches an interfaith vision for peace and has the courage to pursue it.
Further accomplishments of the recently retired champion include his work as the primary organizer to bring Cape Town into the worldwide network of Compassionate Cities through the Charter for Compassion.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions shares our love and support to the city of Cape Town and the wider Western Cape, the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative, with prayers for the countless friends mourning Father Oliver. Official memorial action in honor of his achievements and gifts to the Parliament will be undertaken by our full board and emeriti in the coming months.
In 1993, the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions staged the first and biggest inter-religious gathering in 100 years. Commemorating this landmark anniversary year of 2013 we are:
120 Years Ago - The World’s Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago during the 1893 World’s Fair, hailing representatives of faith groups never previous known to the western world and giving world-wide recognition to the peace and harmony cultivated by inter-religious fellowship and cooperation. It is the site where Swami Vivekananda changed the world of religious thought with his now famous speech.
25 Years Ago - The planning for 1993 began in the basement of a Hyde Park Chicago church where religious leaders recognized the opportunity to again invest the world in interfaith dialogue.
20 Years Ago - The Parliament of World Religions in the Palmer House Hotel of Chicago convened more than 8000 people joining together for the first and largest global interfaith gathering in a century. There a breakthrough document, Towards A Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration drafted by Hans Kuns was signed by numerous faith leaders, officially establishing the ongoing work of the CPWR.
…TO MOVE FORWARD
…by canvassing scrapbooks, white papers, phone lists, and the Parliament’s internet community comprising the last two and a half decades.
We invite the attendees, organizers, and friends of the 1993 Chicago, 1999 Capetown, 2004 Barcelona, and 2009 Melbourne Parliaments of the World’s Religions to reunite with us through our “Looking Back to Move Forward” series of 2013 programs.
Here’s what we’ll be doing:
Highlighting the stories of the Council’s friends, many who planned 1993 and continued to serve the organization by joining the board, volunteering, and attending subsequent Parliaments.
Featuring you! Did you attend 1993 in Chicago? What about 1999 in Capetown, or Barcelona in 2004? Did you feel connected to a movement because of those experiences? Please share these memories with us. Maybe you’ve been to all of the Parliaments, and your time in one of them inspired the life you’ve been living differently the past few years. How were you changed?
Exploring how “interfaith” has evolved over the last twenty years through Parliament events. It is time to mark 20 years of the Parliament movement by documenting surprise lessons, unexpected answers, and new questions to pursue.
Updating our community on the changing face of this movement and staying current. Momentum in interfaith today has sprouted major growth in youth inter-religious organizing, initiated history-making interfaith discussions, connected groups across polar spiritual, geographic, and digital lines, and defined new relationships between the religious and secular communities. Guiding institutions and and faith-based organizations are constantly discovering new pathways to becoming cooperative entities. The study of religions now considers the cooperative nature of diverse faith groups, going beyond the traditional comparative religions study. We will be present in these conversations as we plan our next steps, and share our findings through our Global Listening Campaign, Faiths Against Hate Campaign, and Parliament newsletters.
Celebrating our successes. Chicago is still the Council’s base, and as we look back on all the connections we’ve made all across the globe from our offices here, we want to reconnect. Later this year we will be announcing exciting plans to invite our Parliaments friends to a can’t-miss anniversary event here in Chicago.
Please connect with us at email@example.com and share your best memories, experiences, and lessons learned from the relationship you’ve built with the Parliament. Kindly include your name, location, Parliament(s) attended and years, as well as any contact information you are comfortable sharing. If you have recommendations or wishes for future Parliaments, we would be delighted to read about this, too.
Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, a former Brooklyn Jewish housewife turned Guru, lost her battle with pancreatic cancer last week at her home, Kashi Ashram, an interfaith spiritual community, which she founded 35 years ago in the central Florida town of Sebastian. A memorial service will be held at Kashi Ashram on Ma’s birthday, May 26, and will be open to the public.
Thousands followed Ma’s teachings and way of life through a network of affiliated communities and charities throughout the globe. As actress Julia Roberts said, “There are a few people in one’s life that create only the warmest and most powerfully positive impact imaginable. Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati was one of those people to me and my family. She was a beautiful person who shined with love and understanding in all ways. Kashi Ashram was created out of her devotion to all who sought her wisdom and ideas. Her transition was deeply sad news and yet, as with all she did, it has brought me even closer to her words and her teachings. May we all look upon one another with loving kindness in her name and in the memory of all Mothers who love and teach us all.”
Founded by Ma in 1976, Kashi Ashram blends Eastern and Western philosophies. The Ashram sits on 80 acres at the banks of the St. Sebastian River and has dozens of temples and shrines to many diverse religions and spiritual paths. People from all walks of life are welcome and embraced at Kashi and encouraged to worship and coexist in harmony. Kashi Ashram affiliates have been opened in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, and Santa Fe.
Ma was the founder of Kashi Church Foundation, The River School, The River Fund, Kashi School of Yoga, the Village of Kashi, and By the River affordable senior housing. Her present and past affiliations include Trustee Emeritus of the Council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Advisory Board Member of Equal Partners in Faith, Advisory Board Member of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, Advisory Board Member of the Gardner’s Syndrome Association, Delegate to the United Religions Initiative, Member of the Board of Directors of the AIDS care organization Project Response, and member of the Parliament’s General Assembly. Ma also founded orphan centers in Uganda and India.
by Helen Spector, CPWR Trustee
When Rev. Dr. David Ramage recruited me in 1990 to serve on the Board of Trustees leading up to the 1993 Parliament, I was not engaged in or much aware of the inter-religious movement.
My commitment to the Council’s work caught fire when I joined a group of Trustees to travel to Cape Town in 1998, to meet with our organizing counterparts and talk with leaders from all the faith communities who would support the Parliament in 1999 in Cape Town. From that visit and my work since, I have come to see clearly the power of the interfaith experience and the positive impact of Council’s community organizing approach.
During our visit, we each were asked to meet individually with leaders from different faith traditions. Although I am Jewish, I had done considerable consulting with the Episcopal Church in the United States, so I visited with the Dean of St. George’s Cathedral. He spoke with great energy about the glory days of interfaith in Cape Town during the struggle to overthrow apartheid, when every few weeks, leaders from all faith communities would meet to map the next steps in their powerful strategy of standing and marching forward together.
When he had finished his story, it seemed that a great sadness overwhelmed him, and he sat quietly for a few moments. I asked him what he hoped would come from organizing and holding the Cape Town Parliament, and he said in a very quiet voice, “Since our victory in overcoming apartheid, we have not met again. I hope that we will find a way to come together again as leaders of faith and share our hopes for rebuilding our country.”
In the years since that meeting, I have had the opportunity to witness the formation of the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative, which just observed its 10th anniversary on May 10, 2010. Gordon Oliver, CTII Chairman, credits the Parliament event as the organizing impetus for this vibrant and growing local inter-religious movement.
More recently, Dr. Gary Bouma, Chair of the Board of Management in Melbourne, has shared with us that “before PWR 2009, 3 or 4 cities in Melbourne (which is itself divided into over 20 separate cities with their own mayors, councils and local responsibilities) had interfaith councils; now all but one do. This is a HUGE result!”
While these stories show what tangible results look like when local communities get inspired and connected, I learned something else in Cape Town, something perhaps even more important about our work of interfaith.
In the lead up to the 1999 Parliament event, The Cape Times daily newspaper sponsored a 13-week special section—“One City, Many Faiths.” Monday through Friday, the paper carried four full pages of stories and information about five different faith traditions—Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and African Independent traditions—which have significant populations in the city. The publisher organized discussion groups, luncheon meetings of leaders, and interviews with people on the street to keep this initiative highly visible and energized.
After the Cape Town Parliament was over, I talked with the publisher, asking him what results he had seen from this massive initiative. “None,” he said. I was stunned. This was a huge investment of energy and resources! What did he mean he hadn’t seen any results?!
Then he told me the lesson that we all must remember: “We cannot tell you what the results are, because we have no way to count the number of hate crimes, attacks and killings that did not happen because someone walking on the street no longer saw a person who dresses differently or worships differently as someone to be feared.”
The world is full of stories like these that we will never hear. Yet we know that the inter-religious movement helps us to see each other as people with whom we share human experiences, even while we know we differ on how we worship and what we believe.
Mrs. Helen Spector joined the Board of CPWR in 1990 to help plan the 1993 Parliament Centenary Celebration. As a professional facilitator and Organizational Development consultant, Mrs. Spector has used her skills to further the values and goals of CPWR. She served as co—chair for the Site Selection task forces for the 2004, 2009 and 2014 Parliament events. She now lives in Portland, Oregon and continues as a Trustee of the Council.