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Remembering Cape Town’s Heart of Interfaith Father John Oliver

Remembering Cape Town’s Interfaith Guru, Father John Oliver. Founder of Cape Town Interfaith Initiative, Primary organizer of Cape Town Parliament of the World’s Religions 1999, Facilitator of Cape Town’s entree to the Compassionate Cities Network, and community man of honor. Died July 4 2013 at 65 years old.

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.

 

 

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.

Desmond Tutu Video on PeaceNext and YouTube

From a recent e-mail sent to all members of PeaceNext.org,

Dear PeaceNext friend,

We’d like to thank you for strengthening the interfaith movement through your
presence on PeaceNext. We are happy to share the release of Desmond Tutu’s 2014 Parliament Bid address – made first available here to our PeaceNext community.tutu-screenshot

Now on to the video… on May 20, Archbishop Desmond Tutu shared an inspiring message with the 2014 Parliament Bid Teams. He addressed the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the 1999 Cape Town Parliament and also recognized the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative’s celebration of the official launch of the Charter for Compassion in South Africa. To begin the celebration, Karen Armstrong, a featured speaker of the 2009 Parliament also delivered a compelling message. Representatives from the Bid Cities, now narrowed down to Brussels, Belgium; Dallas, Texas, U.S.A; and Guadalajara, Mexico, were in attendance at the Chicago viewing along with friends and Council Trustees.

Click here to watch the video. The video is also being featured on PeaceNext‘s main page.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Address 2014 Parliament Bid Teams

UPDATE: Archbishop Tutu’s address was recorded and will be available through PeaceNext.org. If you haven’t joined already, sign up to PeaceNext today to receive up-to-the-minute postings and updates on the 2014 Parliament and the work of the Council.

Join the inter-religious movement online today at PeaceNext.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU TO ADDRESS
2014 PARLIAMENT BID TEAM

Chicago, Illinois (May 20, 2010) – Archbishop Desmond Tutu will deliver a special address on Thursday, May 20 at 1 PM CST to the bid/audit teams for the 2014 Parliament of the World’s Religions, welcoming them to the bid process and emphasizing the dramatic impact that hosting the Parliament can have on their cities. Reverend Tutu will appear from Cape Town, South Africa, via live-stream video, as that city marks its 10th anniversary of hosting the 1999 Parliament of the World Religions and celebrates the Parliament’s enduring legacy on the city, its institutions and its people.

Archbishop Tutu’s address takes place as part of the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative and the launch of the Charter for Compassion in South Africa. Karen Armstrong – renowned religious scholar and featured speaker at the 2009 Parliament in Melbourne, will also speak via a pre-recorded address from Cape Town.

Rev. Dirk Ficca, Executive Director of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, reflecting on Desmond Tutu’s long-standing support of the Parliament, observed, “Since his extraordinary leadership in the effort to dismantle Apartheid in South Africa, Archbishop Tutu has been an icon of the interreligious movement. With the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994, Desmond Tutu has been in the forefront of the ongoing task to create a more just and equitable society in South Africa. Like Archbishop Tutu, we are immensely proud of the role the 1999 Cape Town Parliament played in this historic process of national reconciliation.”

The Council is pleased to announce the three participating bid cities: Brussels, Belgium; Dallas, Texas, USA; and Guadalajara, Mexico. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada was present to audit the bidding process.

UPDATE: Archbishop Tutu’s address was recorded and will be available through PeaceNext.org. If you haven’t joined already, sign up to PeaceNext today to receive up-to-the-minute postings and updates on the 2014 Parliament and the work of the Council.

http://www.peacenext.org/

Contact: Alisa Roadcup, Communications Director
(312) 629-2990 x. 237
alisa@parliamentofreligions.org