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A Reflection on the Life of Nelson Mandela from Dr. Robert Henderson, Parliament Trustee

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.

Dr. Robert C. Henderson, Elected Member of National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions Trustee

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.

CPWR Chair Urges Interfaith Cooperation on Water Security

Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, the Council’s Chair of the Board of Trustees, championed interfaith collaboration as one of the greatest forces for water conservation, protection and positive consumer change.  Imam Mujahid was among the speakers for the United Nations’ World Water Day Conference in Chicago, hosted by the Office of the Governor.

World Water Day has been observed on March 22nd since 1993 voted by the United Nations as “a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.”  This year’s theme was “Water and Food Security: the world is thirsty because we are hungry.” Food security and water access are linked, as the UN projects that by 2025, over two-thirds of the world population could be living in conditions of water-scarcity or under water-stress. Further, 70% of the world water supply is used for food production, which is not sustainable, and climate change is a direct impact of overconsumption and ineffective consumption. Mujahid reminded his fellow religious leaders that America is indeed a religious nation, so by harnessing that collective religious responsibility, religious Americans can have a direct impact on water, food, and fuel usage. With 15% of all food in the US going to waste, Mujahid urged all present to reinforce the message “consume less, share more,” and to “share a message of hope”, in order to create a more sustainable future for water usage and food production, and to fulfill a collective responsibility as people of faith to use our given supply responsibly.

Trustee Emeritus Swami Varadananda, long-time Parliament organizer and manager of the Vivekananda Vedanta Society in Chicago, reflected on how CPWR had highlighted these issues at past Parliaments in Cape Town (1999) and Barcelona (2004), where lack of water accessibility and food insecurity in relation to sustainability were addressed.

The Dr. Robert Henderson, Vice-Chair for the Council and also an elected member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, spoke to the group about building awareness around clean water access and food insecurity, especially with youth in religious communities. He suggested as well the importance of recording and sharing local initiatives to aid the hungry with the interfaith community at large to maintain momentum and education.

The second half of the meeting was hosted by members of Faith in Place, a Chicago-based interfaith organization that advocates “stronger congregations for a sustainable world.”

In the spirit of CPWR, this meeting brought together people of faith to discuss and work toward action around vital issues that impact people locally and globally.

Council Welcomes New Trustees

In a commitment to extending its reach to diverse religious and spiritual communities, the Board of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, at its October 24-25, 2010 meeting, elected seven new Trustees for a three-year term:

Ms. Anju Bhargava (Hindu)
Mr. Kirit Daftary (Jain)
Dr. Robert Henderson (Baha’i)
Ms. Mary Nelson (Christian)
Mr. Christopher Peters (Native American)
Dr. Anantanand Rambachan (Hindu)
Mr. Kuldeep Singh (Sikh)

The Council also welcomed to their inaugural meeting four Trustees who were elected in April 2010:

Mrs. Ginny K. Jolly (Sikh)
Dr. Leo D. Lefebure (Catholic)
Rabbi Brant Rosen (Jewish)
Dr. Robert P. Sellers (Christian)

(For more detailed bios, please see below)

The roots of the Council go back to the historic 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, hosted in conjunction with the World Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, marking the first time in history the traditions of East and West met for formal interreligious dialogue.

Chicago was the site for the centennial celebration of this event with the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions, held in August of that year. Subsequent Parliament events have been held in Cape Town, South Africa in 1999, Barcelona, Spain in 2004, and most recently, Melbourne, Australia in 2009.

Parliaments of the World’s Religions are the largest and most diverse interreligious gatherings in the world. 6,500 participants from over 80 countries representing over 200 religious, spiritual and traditional communities attended the most recent Parliament in Melbourne.

The Council is also establishing a network of locally based interreligious movements in over 70 cities worldwide.

The Council is governed by a board of 35 Trustees, with persons of Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Jain, Jewish, Hindu, Indigenous, Pagan, Sikh, Zoroastrian, and humanistic traditions.

BRIEF BIOS OF NEW TRUSTEES
COUNCIL FOR A PARLIAMENT OF THE WORLD’S RELIGIONS

Elected October 2010

Ms. Anju Bhargava (Hindu)

Anju Bhargava is a Strategic Business Transformation and Risk Management professional and management consultant. She has provided thought leadership in the public and private sectors, published papers and received many awards.  She is the only Hindu American appointed to President Obama’s Inaugural Advisory Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and was the only Indian-American to serve in the Community Builder Fellowship, President Clinton’s White House initiative.  She is the Founder of Hindu American Seva Charities, which is now a national movement for Hindu faith-based community service programs addressing social issues.  For more than twenty years she has been a Hindu representative to the Interfaith Clergy Association of Livingston, New Jersey.  An ordained pujari, she strives to combine philosophy and practice from a contemporary view and is active in Hindu education. She blogs “On Faith” for the Washington Post.  She was a founding member of the New Jersey Corporate Diversity Network and is the President of Asian Indian Women in America (AIWA).

Mr. Kirit Daftary (Jain)

Kirit C. Daftary is a leader in the North American Jain community and is active in a number of organizations including the Jain Association of North America (JAINA) which he has served as president and the local Jain Center of North Texas of which he has also been the head.  Currently, he is the President of Anuvibha of North America, a UN/NGO organization based in India and spiritually guided by Acharya Mahapragya Ji, the disciple of Acharya Tulsi. Kirit has a passion for the message of non-violence and the promotion of peace and harmony and is a frequent speaker including at universities. Since 2006, he has been associated with Parliament activities and was an Ambassador of the 2009 Parliament as well as active in the site selection process for 2009. He is a metallurgical engineer and received and M.B.A. and an M.A. from Wayne State University. He currently owns a successful import company dealing with India, China and Korea.

Dr. Robert C. Henderson (Bahá’i)

Robert C. Henderson is a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, the national governing body of the American Bahá’í community. He has extensive experience in the fields of business, government, and education. He co-founded Henderson Zorich Consulting, which specializes in management consulting and leadership and diversity training, with his daughter, Dr. Camille Henderson. His clients have included such Fortune 100 companies as Amoco, AT&T, General Electric, Hallmark, Mobil, United Technologies, and Xerox, as well as the Chicago White Sox. Dr. Henderson served as a Federal Commissioner of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission and designed and led meetings of California Supreme Court members, judges and lawyers to establish a California State Supreme Court Commission on Race and Ethnic Bias.  Dr. Henderson’s public speaking engagements are numerous; highlights include a plenary address given at the invitation of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to the international conference, “Educating Girls: A Development Imperative,” and an address to an “Education Against Hatred” Seminar at Haifa University sponsored by the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.  He was invited by President Clinton’s Advisory Board on Race to participate in the religious forum held in Louisville, Kentucky. Robert Henderson holds a doctorate in Education from the University of Massachusetts (1976).  He has published several articles and books on management systems and in-service training programs.

Ms. Mary Nelson (Christian – Lutheran)

Mary Nelson has spent the last forty years working in faith-based community development on the west side of Chicago, seeking to carry out the asset based community development principles in concrete ways through her leadership of Bethel New Life, Inc.  She received an MAT from Brown University and a PhD from Union Graduate School.  Her focus has been community based planning and development, and Bethel New Life, under her leadership, grew from an all-volunteer organization to a nationally recognized community development corporation. Mary transitioned in 2006 from the leadership of Bethel New Life into a senior associate/President Emeritus position. She is former chair of the Board of Mid American Leadership Foundation, Woodstock Institute and National Congress for Community Economic Development. She is on the national Boards of Sojourners (currently as Chair) and Christian Community Development Association.  She has also had a number of government appointments.  Mary has been teaching graduate university courses for over fifteen years and does workshops on community development and faith based community development all over the world.  She is currently the coordinator of the Loyola University (Chicago) Institute of Pastoral Studies (IPS) Masters in Social Justice and Community Development.

Mr. Christopher Peters (Native American)

Christopher Peters (Pohlik-lah/Karuk) was born and raised on his people’s territories in northwestern California. He is President and CEO of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development, a Native led Indigenous Peoples public Foundation which supports grassroots Indigenous communities in the Americas and beyond. For more than thirty-five years his work has focused on grassroots social justice organizing, protecting sacred sites, working for holistic community renewal, rebuilding traditional economies, and supporting cultural revitalization efforts. Chris is a well-known and leading advocate for the protection of Native American prayer places and ceremonial life with long experience and expertise on the legal aspects of these issues. He has fought on the frontlines of environmental justice struggles to protect aboriginal ecosystems from the devastating effects of clear-cut logging, dam development, mining, recreational development and the negative impacts that the nuclear industry and globalization has inflicted upon Indigenous Peoples and homelands. Chris has a B.S. degree from the University of California, Davis, and an M.A. degree from Stanford University.

Dr. Anantanand Rambachan (Hindu)

Anant Rambachan, an internationally known scholar of Hinduism, is Professor of Religion and Chair of the Department of Religion at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, where he has taught since 1985. A native of Trinidad, he received the M.A. and Ph. D. from the University of Leeds, England. He is the author of many books including The Hindu Vision (1992), Gitamrtam: The Essential Teaching of the Bhagavadgita [Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1993), and The Advaita Worldview: God, World and Humanity (2006). He has been active in interfaith programs with the World Council of Churches as well as the Vatican for twenty-five years as well as in the local setting in Minnesota. He is widely respected as a spokesperson for Hinduism and a bridge-builder between Hindus and other religious communities.

Mr. Kuldeep Singh (Sikh)

Mr. Kuldeep Singh has lived in the US since 1971 and “is probably known to and respected by nearly every Sikh in the United States,” according to Tarunjit Singh Butalia. He is currently President of Sikh Youth Federation-USA, established in 1968. He was Chairperson (1998 -2001 and 2003 -2004) of the World Sikh Council-America Region, which is the representative body of Sikh Gurdwaras and other Sikh institutions in the USA. He actively participated in the formation of the World Sikh Council and in 1996 was unanimously selected as the founder-coordinator of the World Sikh Council-America Region. He has organized Sikh youth camps in the summer for the last thirty-seven years for Sikh youth from across the US and Canada. He is an able fundraiser within the Sikh community. He is a sought-after speaker and has spoken at nearly every national and international Sikh conference and seminars and also organizes many such events.  He helped organize the Sikh presence at the Chicago 1993 Parliament and provided assistance in encouraging Sikhs from across the world to attend the Melbourne 2009 Parliament, at which he was a major speaker.

Elected March 2010

Mrs. Ginny K. Jolly (Sikh)

Ginny K. Jolly is on the board of FATEH (Fellowship for Activists To Embrace Humanity) a nonprofit organization involved in service projects for the community.  She has been instrumental in aligning with other organizations like Habitat for Humanity, March of Dimes, and Make a Wish Foundation to arrange many service projects in the Chicago community. To give something back to the community, which she strongly promotes, she has adopted a special needs child from Vietnam.  She is using her Masters of Nutrition education in effectively managing two GNC stores and helping clients in their health needs. An aspiring Sikh, and proud mother of three, Jolly was on the PTO for Willow Creek School for four years in charge of the school’s cultural programs.

Dr. Leo D. Lefebure (Catholic)

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.

Rabbi Brant Rosen (Jewish)

Rabbi Brant Rosen has served as rabbi of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) in Evanston, IL, since 1998. A long-time activist for peace, social justice and human rights, Rabbi Rosen is the co-founder of Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza serves as the co-chair of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbnical Council. Rabbi Rosen’s writings appear regularly in his blog, Shalom Rav, and he has published articles for the Huffington Post, the Chicago Tribune and the New York Jewish Week. In 2008, Rabbi Rosen was honored by Newsweek magazine as one of the Top 25 Pulpit Rabbis in America.

Dr. Robert P. Sellers (Christian – Baptist)

Dr. Robert P. Sellers is Connally Professor of Missions at Hardin-Simmons University in Texas. In the graduate seminary program, his classes emphasize cross-cultural living, the Global Church, Two-Thirds World and liberation theologies, world religions, and interreligious dialogue. He’s taught in Canada and Mexico, Great Britain, Eastern and Western Europe, Eastern and Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. Along with Muslim and Baptist partners, Rob plans periodic national conferences. He also is active nationally as a member of the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches and internationally through the Baptist-Muslim Relations Commission of the Baptist World Alliance.