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Savoring Taste of Interfaith Langar Ten Years After Barcelona Parliament

By Rev. John Strickland

The Sikhs erected what was a place of worship and education. It was beautifully done in a huge tent-like structure. They offered food to everyone for a noonday meal. Upon entering the structure, we removed our shoes. I discovered that after the meal the shoes had been cleaned! What a wonderful loving gesture.

We were then directed to the floor that served as the dining hall. Long rolls of paper on the floor served as our dining table. Most of us sat on the floor to eat. A few tables were scattered about for those who needed to sit on chairs. But most of us opted to sit on the floor. On the floor were Americans in American-casual attire. Some Catholic nuns were wearing their tradition habits. Some men were in business suits; others wore blue jeans and t-shirts. There were men and women from the East in colorful robes. All were served scrumptious meals and water – as much as anyone wanted. The servers were pleasant, kind and courteous. People of different cultures, faiths and clothing came together in love, with open minds, receptive hearts and smiling faces. It was truly what the culture of the 1960s might call “A Love In.” Peace, love and food – that was the experience (not to mention clean shoes!).

This is the impression that stayed with me: One could talk about peace, diversity and understanding. There were fantastic speakers, programs and performances, but in the communal meal, lovingly served without being for a donation, we experienced what was the best of interfaith. Hungry people were fed. Diversity was honored. People were happy and were filled with love and nutritious food.

What remains with me is the conversations I had with attendees at the end of the Parliament. Yes, we loved the venue on the coast of Spain. We loved the city of Barcelona. We loved the gatherings. And what I heard most from the fellow-attendees was the langar. People prepared and served the food. Participants ate, met, mingled with others and were filled. It was a palpable example of peace and loving service in action. Five years before the Barcelona Parliament, I had gone to Cape Town by myself. I came home aglow with love and appreciation for all faiths. I really wanted my wife to have a similar experience. I went to my denomination’s headquarters to plead with them to have a large presence in Barcelona. They did and I was proud of them. It is one thing to talk a good talk, but the Sikhs walked their talk.

Someone has said, “I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” What I saw was people serving one another and loving one another. I was honored to participate. I am grateful to have the opportunity to share my reminiscences. Diverse cultures and religions, good food and humble servant leadership — what could be better? I can’t think of one thing!

Reverend John Strickland attended seminary at Unity School of Christianity, Unity Village, MO. In 1999, Rev. Strickland’s representation at  Unity’s delegate to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa marked a strong interfaith commitment. By 2003, Rev. John received the Light of God Expressing Award, the highest honor within Unity, at the Annual Minister’s Conference in Kansas City. During December of 2009, he led a contingent of Unity members to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia. At present, Rev. Strickland resides and serves in the Atlanta, GA region. 

Parliament Ambassador Meets Dr. Jane Goodall in New Zealand

Dr. Jane Goodall with Parliament Ambassador Robert Mackay.

Dr. Jane Goodall visited New Zealand this week on her latest round of tours promoting her work and the launch of Roots and Shoots in New Zealand all the while celebrating her 80 years.

The UN Messenger for Peace caught up with one of the Parliament’s International Ambassadors in New Zealand, Robert Mackay while in Wellington.

Dr. Goodall was a key speaker at the 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona and is a leading conservationist and primatologist.

For more information on Jane or her Institute click here.

For more information on the Roots and Shoots Initiative click here. 

Parliament History Sets Stage for Future Interfaith (PICTURES)

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

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

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

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


1893 Parliament

The Birth of a Movement

Chicago, USA

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

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


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

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

 

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

-Swami Vivekananda


1993 Parliament

Towards a Global Ethic

Chicago, USA

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

 – Sarah Stockwell


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

-Marcus Baybrooke
                                    

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

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

– Tenzin Gyatso, the XIVth Dalia Lama

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

– Sarah Stockwell

 

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

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


1999 Parliament

A New Day Dawning

Cape Town, South Africa

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

 -Dr. Ishmael Noko


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

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

 

 

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

 


2004 Parliament

New Pathways to Peace

Barcelona, Spain

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

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


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

– Shaku Soyen

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

 

 

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

- Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh Ji, GNNSJ


2009 Parliament

Hearing Each Other, Healing the Earth

Melbourne, Australia

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

-Valarie Kaur


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

-
Queen Rania of Jordan

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

 

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

-Ruth B. Sharone, Minefield & Miracles

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

– Ms. Allison Bash, CT, USA

 

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

 


A Legacy for the Future


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

– Ms. Hettie Gats, Cape Town, South Africa

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

– Rev. Pete Woods

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

-Abdul Malik Mujahid

PWR Barcelona Speaker Shirin Ebadi Urging Arab Women to Keep the Faith

The 2003 Iranian Nobel Laureate said that the main obstacle for post-revolutionary Arab women is a “patriarchal culture” that imposes a false interpretation on Islam.

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)– On the sideline of an April 2 conference hosted by Columbia University Law School, Shirin Ebadi, who in 2003 became the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, briefly discussed the consequences of the Arab uprisings on women with Women’s eNews. The Iranian lawyer‘s answers were translated from Persian by her translator Shirin Ershadi.

Shirin Ebadi Greeting Audience at Columbia Law School
Courtesy of Columbia Law School, Photo by Bruce Gilbert

Q: The Arab uprisings brought hope when they started in Tunisia. We now see that women’s rights are endangered. Have these uprisings been a good thing for Arab/Muslim women?

A: It has been good, but not enough. The voice of Arab women has been heard and that’s why I am saying it has been good; but unfortunately some countries want to retract the rights that women gained in the past. I am very glad that women are resisting. Women will only attain their rights when they learn how to resist dictators and oppressors.

Q: What is the main obstacle for women’s rights in these societies?

A: I think it’s the patriarchal culture. The patriarchal culture uses everything to legitimize itself. In Islamic countries, they interpret Islam in such a way that it is against women, whereas Islam has a different interpretation. With a correct interpretation of Islam, we can respect women’s rights.

Q: The Arab uprisings seem to have energized women to fight for their rights. Can we say that we are witnessing a rebirth of the Islamic feminism?

A: I have issues with “Islamic feminism. ” Feminism means equality of rights between men and women. Then, it is not Islamic. However, a Muslim woman can be a feminist.

Q: Speaking of feminism, we have lately witnessed extreme manifestations of feminism in Muslim-dominated countries, such as the ones inspired by the Ukrainian group Femen. Last month, a young Tunisian woman posted topless pictures of herself online with the words “my body is mine, nobody’s honor” written across her breasts and stomach. What is your take on this type of expression?

A: Here, the issue is the issue of freedom. People have to be free to do what they want to do. Of course, freedom is not unlimited and the limit of everyone’s freedom is the freedom of others. Therefore, if one’s freedom doesn’t hurt the other person we cannot limit it.

Q: In 2009, after the contested reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranians took to the street but their attempt to defy the regime resulted in a huge crackdown. Can the Arab uprisings be an inspiration for the Iranians who want change?

A: What I can tell you is every day the number of those who oppose the government increases. Iran is like a volcano, any minute the lava may come out. So wait and see what happens.

Opposition to Sanctions

During the Columbia University law conference, Ebadi reiterated her opposition to economic sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program.

The lawyer, who in 1970 became Iran’s first female judge, lives in exile in London and fiercely opposes the current Iranian regime. But she said economic sanctions “affect Iranian people and increase the corruption within the government.” Instead she recommended “political sanctions” that would “specifically target” members of the regime and “third countries where Iranian officials enter and have assets.”

She suggested, for example, to “target international satellites that broadcast Iranian propaganda in non-Persian languages. ” She said that today in Iran “16 TV stations hold propaganda of Iran in non-Persian. ” She also recommended sanctioning companies that provide the Iranian government with technology used for repression.

Shirin Ebadi is well-known for her defense of human rights, particularly those of women and children. At an April 2 awards dinner, she received the Wolfgang Friedmann Memorial Award from the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law. Since 1975, the prize has honored outstanding contributions to the field of international law. Ebadi was also honored as a Women’s eNews 21 leaders for the 21st Century in 2004.

Hajer Naili is a New York-based reporter for Women’s eNews. She has worked for several radio stations and publications in France and North Africa and specializes in Middle East and North Africa. Follow her on Twitter @H_NAILI

THE PARLIAMENT OF THE WORLD’S RELIGIONS MUST GO ON

The Council that convenes the Parliament of the World’s Religions is faced with an enormous one-time financial challenge we must immediately overcome to continue to exist. By April 13, 2013, we can raise the $150,000 needed to go on. 

In just two days, generous gifts granted through our fundraising site on CauseVox and direct commitments have totaled more than $35,000.

CPWR Executive Director Dr. Mary Nelson says each Board Trustee is meeting equal fundraising goals through personal outreach. By helping us meet this challenge, the Board of Trustees can free the Parliament to carry on the mission of creating peace in the world through interfaith harmony by:

  • Convening the next Parliament event
  • Widening our connections and keep encouraging local interfaith event
  • Celebrating our deep 120 year history
  • Honoring our leaders and MOVE FORWARD TO A FUTURE WITH HOPE

“Our problem started when a bomber attacked Madrid just weeks before the 2004 Barcelona Parliament,” says Mary Nelson. To explain further why the Parliament is acting fast, Nelson continues,

A last-minute loan became necessary to carry out the event.  But a life changing Barcelona Parliament was held, bringing people together to overcome fear through interfaith action.

Why now?  A Spanish court judgment of $276,600 against the Parliament slowly came to the U.S. Courts. On March 21, 2013, the U.S. court upheld the debt against the Parliament. We were advised we had at least three months,  but court papers served last week gave us until April 17,2013.

The CPWR Board met and said we dare to do the impossible; the work of the Parliament must go on. To protect the celebration of our 120th Anniversary this year, we had raised $126,600 in our earlier efforts. The need now is $150,000 more.

In a few short days, by internet, direct solicitation, Board efforts, we have an additional $35,000 in hand. And we’ve just started. You can help make the difference.

Reasons to donate are many and personal, but the hundreds stepping in already have  shared that the Parliament:

  • “…teaches tolerance”
  • “…is a vehicle for peace in the world,”
  • “…was the highlight of my life.”
This is the hour that we must come together. If we care about the Parliament, NOW is the time. If you care about the Parliament, please give generously. Your gift of at least $100, or whatever you can give, can help build hope for the future.

PLEASE. BE A HOPE BUILDER TODAY.

www.parliamentofreligions.causevox.com

I got chatting with a rabbi who, it turned out, was good friends with some of those I’d already met … we swapped stories and experiences; the richness of conversations like these was inspiring. As the rabbi said to me, ‘It’s not about religions, it’s about relationships.’
Sean Rose, Faith Acts Fellow
Tony Blair Foundation
Melbourne Parliament, 2009

Experiencing the Hospitality of Sikhs

At the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona, Sikhs served food to all who were hungry, a service called langar. Photo by Rowan Fairgrove.

by Rev. Susan Baller-Shepard
from Huffington Post

Twenty-five years ago, I worked in Walsall, England, in the West Midlands, near Birmingham. Birmingham is a city known for many things, including having the largest Sikh gudwara outside of India.

In Walsall, in Caldmore (called “Karma”), I worked with countless Sikh families and experienced incredible hospitality from all of them. I was moved by the family cohesiveness and equality expressed within the Sikh families with whom I worked. I had never known any Sikh families before I met those in Walsall.

In 2004, while attending the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona, Spain, the Sikh community at the Parliament hosted langar for thousands of us daily. We would enter a tent at lunch time, remove our shoes, put a covering on our heads and sit down with thousands of others to have a vegetarian meal. As a Presbyterian minister, I was struck by this hospitality to strangers. The Christian tradition speaks a great deal about hospitality, because Jesus was all about it: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

Click here to read the full article

Sitting in the Heart of the World

by Ellen Grace O’Brian
Vice-Chair, CPWR Board of Trustees

As a practitioner of yoga, I was aware of the Parliament of the World’s Religions as the watershed interreligious event that opened the door to yoga in the West through Swami Vivekananda’s dynamic presence at the first convening in 1893. What I didn’t know was that beginning in 1993, this powerful global event was now occurring approximately every five years and was open to everyone with an interest in the interreligious movement. Although I had heard about the Parliaments in Chicago (1993) and South Africa (1999), it wasn’t clear to me how to participate and that it was something that could so profoundly affect my life and my community.

Curiosity has a way of helping us discover doorways that we didn’t know existed. In 2002, I learned about a local group of people meeting in someone’s home to talk about the next Parliament event slated to convene in Barcelona in 2004. Between homemade soup, networking, and sharing about why we thought it could make a difference to bring people together, I found myself on the path to the fourth global parliament event. This local connection with people who had been to other parliaments, and those who, like me, were just learning about it, was invaluable. It provided inspiration as well as information. Little did I know I was already engaged in one of the hallmarks of the Parliament: bringing people together in ways that empower and equip them to solve the problems we face in our world today.

When I checked in at my first Parliament in Barcelona, I was overwhelmed by the abundance of programs and events, the sight of so many people from different religious traditions and far reaches of the globe engaging in dialog, and the inspiration that pervaded everything from the meeting place to the program book. After a time of prayerful consideration about what I should chose amidst such rich opportunity, I dove in. One of the things I decided to participate in was a dialog with others who were concerned about the rise of religiously motivated violence in our world.

The dialog group I was assigned to included a Hindu man from India; a Muslim woman from Egypt, a Christian seminary student from the US, a Catholic woman from Rome, and a Lutheran man from Switzerland. We were provided with some questions to reflect upon and discuss. Why was this issue important to us? What in our own experience had contributed to why we cared about violence in our world? What could we see ourselves doing we returned home to our own communities that would make a difference?

As I sat with this group of people from religions, countries, and viewpoints different from mine, something became apparent that changed everything for me: we all shared a deep concern about this issue and a belief, grounded in our diverse traditions, that peaceful change was possible. The experience of connection across differences was profound, I felt like I was sitting in the heart of the world. We were inspired to return home and engage in action. Then it came to me. I live in a large, diverse, metropolitan area. I realized that if people who were concerned about the rise of violence in our own community gathered together, that group would look very much like the one I was with in distant Barcelona. And, with a similar rich diversity, we could find ways together to begin to solve this problem.

When I returned home with this inspiration from the Parliament, I reached out and was joined by leaders from different faith communities, educational institutions, government and nonprofit organizations, students and community members who met to convene a community nonviolence conference. Inspired by the Parliament model, hundreds of people have attended these conferences over the years and brought forth their own commitments to action.

Whenever I think about what the Parliament does, or what it means to attend such a global gathering, I remember my experience of sitting in the heart of the world. And I think about what happens when people come together and share their deepest concerns and aspirations for a peaceful world.

Rev. Ellen Grace O’Brian is the Spiritual Director of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, a ministry in the tradition of Kriya Yoga. She was ordained to teach in 1982 by Roy Eugene Davis, a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda. She is the author of several books on spiritual practice and is the editor of the quarterly magazine, Enlightenment Journal.

Rev. O’Brian is the Founder of Meru Seminary, training leaders in the Kriya Yoga tradition, as well as Founder and Chair of the community nonprofit educational organization, Carry the Vision, which provides educational programs in nonviolence. She received the 2008 Human Relations Award from the Santa Clara County Office of Human Relations recognizing her contribution to positive human relations and peace in Santa Clara County. She serves as a member of the Advisory Council of the Association for Global New Thought; on the Executive Board of the International New Thought Alliance; and as Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.

Vivekananda speaks to Norway

by William Lesher

The hearts and prayers of people of goodwill everywhere go out to the people of Norway and to the families of those killed and wounded in the recent bombing and senseless slaying of young people.  It is especially painful when such tragic acts are in any way associated with misguided religious overtones.

The poignant words of Swami Vivekananda in his opening speech at the first Parliament in 1893 come readily to mind:

“Sectarian bigotry and its horrible descendent fanaticism have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair.”

How relevant this 118 year old statement is to this current situation.  Vivekananda ends by declaring, “ But their time has come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolls this morning may be the death knell of all fanaticism…”

Given the aura of contentiousness, conflict and confusion that hangs over the global social order today, it is doubtful that violent acts against people and property can be prevented.  It is, nevertheless, Vivekananda’s fervent hope that still motivates the Parliament of the World’s Religions and all expressions of the interreligious movement.

At the Barcelona Parliament in 2004, hundreds of participants attended workshops on “Religiously Motivated Violence” and made commitments to stand with people of other faiths whenever lives are threatened or property is defaced or destroyed.  Currently the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions encourages religious and spiritual communities everywhere to adopt a “Solidarity Pledge” as a minimal expression of their harmony, support and respect for people of other faiths.  In the greater Los Angeles area where I live, a group has recently formed called “Interfaith Witnesses for Peace,” pledged to gather on short notice, as a silent testimony to peace, wherever a religious community is threatened.

The tragedy in Norway is another occasion for us all to reassess our personal commitment and that of our religious communities, to active expressions of peace-building.  Are we building bridges to other faith communities?  Are we teaching and preaching respect for other religions, providing opportunities to learn what others believe and how to best share our beliefs with them?  Are we exploring ways to work together for the common good?  Are we mobilized to act, as a powerful presence of solidarity and love when tragedy strikes.

It is our engagement in interreligious actions like these that keep Vivekananda’s fervent hope alive.

Lessons from My Journey

Trustee Cornerby 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.

Ireland Remembers Friar Donal O’Mahoney

From Irish Times

Fr Donal O’Mahony, OFM Cap: FR DONAL O’Mahony, who has died aged 74, was an inspiring Christian, a tireless peace campaigner and a truly remarkable priest in an age when the traditional leadership role of the clergy is diminishing.

A member of the Capuchin order, following the Franciscan way of life, he was a champion of the poor and will long be remembered as the founder in 1978 of Threshold, Ireland’s main non-profit national housing advisory organisation.

In his capacity as a known peace-maker, he acted as mediator in several high-profile kidnappings, including the abduction 35 years ago of Dutch industrialist Tiede Herrema by an IRA splinter group. Extremely modest, he never talked about it in public later.

Threshold had its roots in the run-down flats of Dublin where the archbishop had appointed him as chaplain to the flat-dwellers in 1978.

His involvement with people at the coalface of Ireland’s housing problem honed his interest in social justice, especially the plight of down-and-out emigrants who had returned, hoping to make Ireland their home, only to fall through the cracks of society, ending up in exclusion and grinding poverty. He also worked with the street girls of the inner city.

Essentially, he founded Threshold as a peace and justice project, focusing specifically on housing and homelessness. It is a registered charity with offices in Dublin, Cork and Galway. Its fundamental work is advising people on their housing rights.

In a tribute to Fr O’Mahony, Threshold’s chairperson, Aideen Hayden, said his work “touched some of the most vulnerable people in Irish society”.

Seeing housing as a basic dignity, she added that “he understood that people didn’t just need a roof over their heads – they needed a home”.

An unsung hero, his career path reads like the CV of a high-flying international diplomat.

In Rome, he was appointed secretary general of his order’s worldwide division for Justice, Peace and Ecology; he taught for a year at Berkeley in California as a visiting scholar; worked with Pax Christi both in Ireland and Holland; and was declared Franciscan of the Year by an American religious journal.

In South America and South Africa, he participated at UN meetings on the environment and sustainable development; set up workshops in Ethiopia and Eritrea on alternatives to violence; and addressed the Parliament of the World’s Religions at Barcelona.

In 2008, he received a Peace Award from the Interfaith Foundation of South Africa.

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