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How the Interfaith Community Can Advance the UN’s Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda

Ms. Sara Rahim and Mr. Tahil Sharma secure their grounds passes to the United Nations Headquarters in NYC as representatives of the Parliament of the World’s Religions at the 65th Annual UN-DPI NGO Conference in August, 2014.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions UN-NGO Representatives affiliated to the United Nations Department of Public Information say attending the 65th Annual UN-DPI NGO conference in New York City August 27 – 29, 2014  was a great experience for the interfaith movement to build relationships with other NGOs  invested in advocating for the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda.

“How A Global Ethic Can Contribute to the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda: An Intergenerational Discussion” paired the Parliament’s UN Youth Representatives Ms. Sara Rahim, and Mr. Tahil Sharma, with members of the Parliament UN Task Force and co-sponsors exploring how activism for the SDGs can be enhanced by civic society through the foundational documents on Human Rights including the Global Ethic, the Earth Charter, the Charter of Compassion, and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

The Panelists Representing the Parliament and Co-Sponsoring Institutions:

  • Dr. Kusumita Pedersen, Chair of the Parliament UN Task Force, Parliament Trustee, and Co-Chair of the Interfaith Center of New York
  • Monica Willard, Representative of the United Religions Initiative to the UN, UN NGO Committee Co-Chair
  • Rev. Father John Pawlikowski, Parliament Trustee
  • Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti, Parliament Trustee
  • Sr. Joan Kirby, The Temple of Understanding
  • Ms. Sara Rahim, Parliament UN Youth Representative
  • Mr. Tahil Sharma, Parliament Un Youth Representative

Connecting institutional and grassroots advocates, the UN-DPI conference format includes plenary speakers, workshops and panels equipping thousands of participants with new strategies. In proving the value of face-to-face networking opportunities, assemblies like this serve to enhance sustainable action and resources directed toward implementing the UN’s Development Goals.

Tahil Sharma and Sara Rahim report on their experience both as presenters and participants of workshops and plenaries paying special attention to five takeaways the interfaith community can use to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda:

The first three observations come from Sara Rahim:

“We have a duty to be bold. That is what people want. That is what the world needs.” – Ms. Susana Malcorra, UN Chef de Cabinet UN-NGO 2014

Between August 27-29, Tahil Sharma and I attended the 65th Annual UN DPI/NGO conference held in New York City, which drew in over 2,000 NGO representatives from over 117 countries. Earlier this year, we were chosen to serve as the Parliament of the World’s Religions Youth Representatives to the United Nations.

These past few months leading up to the conference, we brainstormed ways in which we could share our experiences with the greater civic community. We submitted a workshop panel that would explore how a Global Ethic could contribute to the Post-2015 Development Agenda, and were thrilled to be notified that we had been selected to present at the conference.

On August 27, Tahil and I quickly registered for the first day of the conference and made our way through UN security. In line, I met dozens of NGO representatives from around the world, who shared with me their field of work and what inspired them to attend the conference.

While this conference would clearly focus on the role of civil society and key global issues, I wondered how it might be possible to increase collaboration among interreligious groups. Faith-based organizations were certainly leading grassroots initiatives in their local communities, but how could we take that one step further? During the Opening Session, I observed several main themes that resonated with me regarding the role of interfaith at the UN.

1. “People are the center of development” – Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund

Refocusing efforts towards protecting people’s dignity is crucial, as we often forget the inherent link between human rights and development. Interfaith groups can continue to pave the path towards conflict resolution and community building in a way that ensures all voices can be a part of the conversation. As expressed by Dr. Osotimehin, focusing specifically on women and youth can help achieve universal goals of poverty reduction and education. I see an opportunity for interfaith groups to continue to advocate for women and youth as part of their initiatives.

2. The Importance of Setting Concrete Goals

Ambassador Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of United States to the United Nations, stated that encouraging civic society to work more closely with government would require an outcomes-driven process. The need for setting measurable, concrete goals for the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda can combat the criticism that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are too abstract and intangible. Powers also recommended focusing on peace and global governance as a basis for development. Passing just laws and creating credible institutions is one of the most sustainable ways to improving development. I personally recognized this vision, as it aligns with Parliament’s mission to mobilize faith leaders in their communities towards creating a peaceful, just, and sustainable world. Interfaith work isn’t just a ‘feel good mission’, but it also has the potential to measure impact and offer tangible results.

3. Inclusion of the Disabled, Indigenous, and Youth

Ms. Maryanne Diamond, Chair, International Disability Alliance, assessed that persons who live with disabilities, 80% of whom are in the developing world, severely lack access to education, healthcare, and other basic resources. She offered a major critique that the previous MDG’s lacked inclusivity of disabled and indigenous populations. One of the biggest outcomes of this conference would be the revision and inclusion of minority groups into the agenda. Of these minority groups, I saw the role of youth as a major key player towards development. Tahil and I both recognized our own experiences in which interfaith had been a tool to mobilize people of all backgrounds towards a common goal. The NGO community, particularly interfaith and faith-based organizations, must continue to think in innovative ways to collaborate across sectors and be inclusive of all minority voices.

Tahil Sharma observes points 4 and 5: 

4. Building Community through Forgiveness

The Representatives at the NGO conference represent great diversity across fields of expertise and demonstrate profound willingness to make a difference in the world. This point was addressed in a special keynote at the Permanent Mission of the United States the United Nations by Ambassador Elizabeth M. Cousens who resides on the UN Economic and Social Council and serves Alternate Representative to the UN General Assembly. With fellow representatives being as young as 14 years old, their ability to tackle major subjects, refute claims and develop productive dialogue with the ambassador was an important point to make on how the eagerness of the coming generations to foster change was taking place. The ambassador, herself, made note of this: “We need your voice, your ideas, and your insistence about what matters… You need to hold our feet to the fire in making sure that we count it.”

This proved the vitality of inter-generational conversation that we emphasized in our workshop about the creation of influential documents like the Charter for Compassion, the Earth Charter and the Global Ethic of the 1993 Parliament. Several individuals across cultures, faith traditions and ages participate in making these paths for change make the impact which really matters.

My first example is a man who is legally blind, and arrived with a guide at his side; his name was Takashi Tanemori, a hibakusha, or Atomic Bomb Survivor, from Hiroshima who was present for our workshop. Seeking revenge for the death of his family, he traveled to the United States for opportunity and suffered prejudice, discrimination and mistreatment for decades, even while discovering faith and service through Christian organizations. But, in an instant, an epiphany of forgiveness and understanding made him turn his story become a force to educate and serve people. Dedicating his life to speak against the struggles of his life, his transformation and “how communication between people and countries is the answer to lasting peace throughout the world.” (Taken from his bio.) He spreads his message of understanding, love and forgiveness through lectures, poetry, art and through the writing of his own book, Hiroshima: Bridge to Forgiveness, having shared his message with thousands of people around the world. The same man has experienced worlds of transition was the same man that commended the work that Sara, myself and the other panelists of our workshop dedicated ourselves to in creating bridges of understanding and respect. He only complimented our experience with his story and his message of compassion and clemency.

5. The Strength of Grassroots Advocacy

Another individual that caught my attention started off as a social media interaction between the person and Sara. His name was Syed Mahmood Kazmi, a college graduate from our age group, but a man who was leagues beyond my intelligence, capability and humility. A native from Kashmir, Pakistan, his dedication to education and supporting marginalized and oppressed communities throughout South Asia has made waves through the international community, especially as an Emergency Response Team Leader in Pakistan Red Crescent Society, provides First Aid and Search & Rescue. This, all while serving as an Intern and Advisor for the International Office of Migration in New York City proved to me that there is no limit to the power in your stride to revolutionize the way we think and act. It was a privilege to even associate myself with him, but his drive and grace also serve as a reminder that my call to action will never cease.

The workshop and conference experience sent me home with a new energy to excel in my work, to inspire others, to educate communities about the world and to provide what communities need to flourish and live better lives. At certain moments, I thought my work with domestic communities had no significance in the bigger picture, but people from all over the world proved our small actions prove to be revolutionary. Giving lectures, building community beds for organic vegetation to feed the less fortunate people and building relationships between communities was always the right thing to do, but now I see it as the normal thing to do. There is normalcy in instilling peace and stability in humanity.

All in all, the 3-day conference served as a platform for individuals, stakeholders, and NGO society to come together. This success was not just because of the number of people who participated in the event, but because all players came together to draft a powerful declaration to action. Our roles as interfaith leaders challenged us to think innovatively about how a Global Ethic could efficiently push for the Post 2015 Agenda. We found that there are multiple opportunities for collaboration in a way that moves from dialogue to producing tangible results. We walked away with not only a better understanding of what sustainable development means, but also how interfaith action can bridge the gap towards inclusivity and peaceful governance.

THE 2015 PARLIAMENT OF THE WORLD’S RELIGIONS WILL BE IN SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH IN OCTOBER 2015

THE 2015 PARLIAMENT WILL BE IN SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH IN OCTOBER 2015

Salt Lake City, USA – Sept 9, 2014 – The Parliament of the World’s Religions announced today that it will bring the world’s largest and most historic interfaith gathering to Salt Lake City in October 2015, marking its return to the United States for the first time in 22 years.

What: 10,000 attendees from 80 countries and 50 religious and spiritual traditions

When: October 15 – 19, 2015

Where: Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

“The Parliament is the largest summit of interfaith activists around the globe which provides listening, learning and sharing opportunities,” says Imam Malik Mujahid, Chair of the Parliament Board of Trustees.

Imam Mujahid further stated that, “at this juncture in human history when hate, fear and anger is rising in America and across the globe, It is important that faith communities, rise with a loving, caring relationships, even if we do not agree on some issues.”

Global Interfaith Leaders Joined Us in Sharing Today’s Momentous News

Dr. Arun Gandhi, Grandson of Mohandas Gandhi and Parliament Trustee

Recalling the vision of his grandfather said, “’A friendly study,’ Gandhi believed,’ of all the scriptures is the sacred duty of every individual.’ He made the friendly study and found that none of the religions of the world had the whole Truth. The Truth can only be realized when one has an open mind and a willingness to learn from all different religions the bits of Truth they have. This essentially is what the Parliament is encouraging on a mass scale.”

 

Creating Compassion with the Parliament 

Andrew Himes, Executive Director of the Charter for Compassion

In his comments today, Andrew Himes, Executive Director of the Charter for Compassion, highlights that “The Charter for Compassion, a vision of Karen Armstrong when she accepted the TED Prize in 2008, has today inspired a global compassion movement aimed at focusing the world’s attention on how to bring the principle of the Golden Rule to life in concrete, practical, measurable ways in our communities, institutions, and relationships worldwide. A central thought motivating the Charter from the beginning was that communities of faith can play a significant leadership role in creating a thriving, sustainable, peaceful world. Today, we join with our friends and partners in the Parliament of the World’s Religions in calling for a gathering of people from many different religions to declare that compassion is at the center of our common dream for a world of peace and justice.”

Connecting Our Interfaith Communities

Chair of the North American Region of the United Religions Initiative Sande Hart

Chair of the North American Region of the United Religions Initiative Sande Hart says her experiences serving as an Ambassador to the Melbourne Parliament were invigorating to her leadership in multiple peace initiatives. Envisioning the 2015 Parliament summit today, Hart drew upon the shared values linking those across the interfaith communities, stating, “Today more than ever, it is critical that we know one another and come together, united shoulder to shoulder to heal all that threatens justice, our homes, our communities, our countries, Earth and all living beings.”

A Warm Welcoming from Salt Lake City 

Scott Beck, President and CEO of Visit Salt Lake 

The opportunity to host the world’s faiths in Salt Lake is a prospect Scott Beck, President and CEO of Visit Salt Lake, says he is glad to support. “The world is no stranger to Salt Lake, and we are no stranger to the world. Salt Lake has hosted various international gatherings, including the 2002 Olympic Games and Rotary International. We are excited to again welcome a national and international audience to experience what Salt Lake has to offer, both physically and spiritually,” said Beck.

“Here, Parliament attendees will find a welcoming and religiously diverse community. And they may just feel a little bit at home as they explore a region where more than 100 languages are spoken in our schools and businesses.”

Previous Parliament guests have included the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Jimmy Carter, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Queen Noor of Jordan, Dr. Jane Goodall, Dr. Karen Armstrong, Swami Vivekananda, Rabbi David Saperstein, Dr. Hans Kung, Deepak Chopra, and Amma the Hugging Saint.

Learn more about the 2015 Parliament here.

Register Now for Super Saver Rates with 60 Percent Savings for all and 70 Percent Savings for Students!

 

Tuesday Press Conference Will Announce the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

PRESS CONFERENCE TO ANNOUNCE
THE 2015 PARLIAMENT


On September 9, 2014, the leaders of the interfaith movement will hold a press conference to announce the dates and the location of the 2015 Parliament.

Top leaders of the Parliament, URI, Charter for Compassion and the Grandson of Gandhi will address the press conference.

As the hate, anger, and fear is rising in the USA, the interfaith movement with its loving compassionate relationship must rise to the occasion.

Here are the names of the Parliament leaders and some of our cherished partners who will deliver this momentous news: 

  • Parliament Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid
  • Parliament Executive Director Dr. Mary Nelson
  • Grandson of Gandhi, Arun Gandhi, a Parliament Trustee
  • Executive Director of the Charter for Compassion Andrew Himes
  • United Religions Initiative Chair North America Sande Hart

You Can Register Tuesday September 9 for the Next Parliament

As soon as the press conference has taken place, we will send out an announcement of the dates and the location and the registration will begin immediately.

803 Interfaith Activists Have Voted For the Next Parliament

803 people have submitted their ideas and opinions about the next Parliament. They have told us how much in registration fees they prefer, which speakers they would like to hear from and have suggested how to engage young adults in the interfaith movement. We have read them and are implementing much of their advice.

If you have not responded to this survey yet, it still time to do so. Tuesday will be too late. 

Click Here To Submit Your Opinion

It only takes a few minutes!

ABOUT THE 2015 PARLIAMENT PRESS CONFERENCE SPEAKERS

The Tech Wiz Wiring Compassion Across the World, Andrew Himes 

Mr Himes is the executive director of the Charter for Compassion, launched in 2008 by TED.com and Karen Armstrong, with the mission of supporting the emergence of a global compassion movement. He is the author of The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family.  He was born into a leading fundamentalist family of the 20th century and went on to organize for social justice and civil rights in Alabama in the 1970s. As a technology pioneer, Himes was the founding editor of the first tech-journal at Macintosh, lead the team developing the world’s first website at Microsoft, and became its first internet publishing director.

Connect with the Charter for Compassion

The Woman Waging Peace, URI North America Chair, Sande Hart

Sande Hart is the Chair for the North America Region of the United Religions Initiative, Head Coach of The Compassion Games International, Chief Compassion Officer of Compassionate California, President of the women’s interfaith community building organization S.A.R.A.H. (Spiritual And Religious Alliance for Hope) and Co-Founder of I Am Jerusalem/ Board Member of The Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics and serves on Boards a number of interfaith organizations and the UN NGO Cities Peace Team to promote International Day of Peace. Sande is the author of Make A Difference 101, Community Service; A Practical Step-by-Step Guide for Kids and workshop facilitator.

The Parliament Leader and Community Builder Dr. Mary Nelson

Dr. Mary Nelson is the Executive Director of the Parliament. She retired after 30 years as President of Bethel New Life, Inc. a nationally recognized community development corporation on the west side of Chicago. Nelson is the creator of an asset-based model of community development taught nationally and internationally in communities, universities and seminaries on asset-based community. She serves on a number of Boards and Commissions and is the most recent past Chair of the Board of Sojourners, a national faith, policy and advocacy organization.

About The Chair of the 2015 Parliament

Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid

Imam Mujahid was thrice selected as one the 500 most influential Muslims in the world in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Imam Mujahid is president of Sound Vision Foundation, which produces Radio Islam, America’s only daily Muslim call-in talk show. Imam Mujahid has written extensively on religion, public policy and applied aspects of Islamic living. As the national coordinator of the Bosnia Task Force, USA, he successfully led efforts to declare rape as a war crime.

The Grandson Carrying Gandhi’s Legacy Forward, Dr. Arun Gandhi

The 5th Grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, Arun Gandhi was born in Durban South Africa. Dr. Gandhi was sent by his parents to India when he was 12 years old so that he could live with and learn from his grandfather. It was there he learned the principles of non-violence that he continues to espouse today. Dr. Gandhi spent much of his adult life in India inspiring massive social and economic changes for oppressed families and children.After coming to the United States in 1987, he started the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in 1991 and in 2008 Dr. Gandhi started the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, with its mission to build basic education schools for the very poor children of the world. Dr. Gandhi has taken the message of nonviolence and peace-making to hundreds of thousands of high school and university students throughout the United States and much of the Western world, and has authored several books. 

Connect with Gandhi Worldwide
Education Institute

Parliament Ambassador Bridging Global Interfaith Organizations

As a Parliament Ambassador, Karen Hernandez focuses on illustrating the West Coast’s interfaith work through profiling organizations from San Francisco and beyond. This month’s post features the United Religions Initiative (URI) located in San Francisco.

From left: Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat, Parliament Ambassador Karen Hernandez and Father Gerald Musa from the Imam and the Pastor Panel, then presenting on contemporary and historic Christian – Muslim relations in Nigeria and Nigerian History at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia.

Founded by The Right Reverend William Swing, San Francisco-Based United Religions Initiative has been building bridges the last 14 years at the grassroots level around the world. As noted on their website, URI’s Mission Statement says,

URI is a global grassroots interfaith network that cultivates peace and justice by engaging people to bridge religious and cultural differences and work together for the good of their communities and the world. We implement our mission through local and global initiatives that build the capacity of our more than 600 member groups and organizations, called Cooperation Circles, to engage in community action such as conflict resolution and reconciliation, environmental sustainability, education, women’s and youth programs, and advocacy for human rights.

At the crossroads of incredible interfaith work, URI is an organization that, when they say works at a grassroots level, they mean grassroots. Governed by Trustees, with 12 Trustees newly elected, for a total of 28 Trustees from over 16 countries, and with staff in all the major regions of the world including Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Multi-Regions/Transnational, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, as well as the North America Region, and with active participants in 640 Cooperation Circles, in over 84 countries – URI epitomizes grassroots interfaith work at its best.

Designed purposefully to enable the voices of those on the ground and those dedicated to the harmony of and in their homelands, the crux of URI is the Cooperation Circles. The Cooperation Circles are holistically independent and they fund, as well as organize themselves. Some circles are less than ten participants, and some have thousands of participants. Some of the amazing work the Cooperation Circles have done worldwide include rescuing child soldiers in the Ugandan civil war; brokering a truce between factions of the Christian church in Kerala, India; helping religious and cultural minorities in the conflict-prone province of Mindanao, Philippines have their voices heard by government officials in Manila; as well as facilitating urban reforestation in New Delhi, India. URI has proven time and time again that working at the grassroots level can and does make quite an impact in the world.

URI and the Parliament have a rich history together. Besides myself as a bridge of both organizations, long-time colleague at URI, Sally Mahe, has been building bridges with both organizations for years, and Sande Hart, URI’s Interim Regional Coordinator for North America, is also actively working with the Parliament.

Building off of a quote by Mahatma Gandhi, URI’s Executive Director Victor Kazanjian often speaks about URI as a movement. “Gandhi-ji said, ‘I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings. My wisdom flows from the Highest Source. I salute that Source in you. Let us work together for unity and love.’ Let us work together for this unity and love, and for justice and for peace for all through interreligious understanding and cooperation. For this light, this love, is at the heart of all religious and spiritual traditions, and also at the heart of this movement that we call the United Religions Initiative.”

As I find myself an Ambassador of the Parliament and a Consultant with URI, I am living and working in-between these two amazing organizations dedicated to peace work, interfaith work, and letting people create this work in a way that is tangible, successful, as well as incredibly powerful and life-changing, for people all over the world. Both URI and the Parliament are committed to creating sustainable peace and relationships. This, for me, is incredibly important, and I am proud to serve in this capacity where I can be a witness to this movement in our lifetime.

The Parliament and URI Call for Peace and Prayers in Africa

As our united prayers continue for the peoples of the Central African Republic, Nigeria, and Kenya, we now mourn the lives lost through escalating acts of violence throughout the continent.

The global interfaith communities of URI and the Parliament call for love and solidarity to bring our human family closer and to hold our guiding institutions accountable to ending violence.

“We send strength and resolve to our sisters and brothers who work fearlessly in the face of present danger, and offer our support to the interfaith and community-building efforts we know will bring peace and healing to these regions,” said United Religions Initiative’s Executive Director the Rev. Victor H. Kazanijan, Jr. in a statement after bombings in the regions of Western and Central Africa this past week.

On behalf of the Parliament, Executive Director Dr. Mary Nelson says, ”We call on the common values of love and compassion that arise out of our faith to respond in these positive ways to strengthen and support those who are seeking healing. We pray for the peacemakers, the Muslims and Christians in African nations bravely banding together in the face of violence, upholding faith and their moral will to protect one another.”

The Parliament and URI acknowledge that acts of terrorism and violence run counter to the teachings of peace, love and tolerance that lie at the root of all religious and spiritual traditions.

The global interfaith community welcomes all praying for peace to join us in solidarity.

The Parliament and URI Issue Joint #LoveAlert for #Kansas

Global Interfaith Movement Acts for Kansas on Holy Weekend

 

We, the global interfaith community, cherish the principle of shared humanity and champion the Golden Rule as the guiding principle of each of the world’s great spiritual and religious communities. We unite as neighbors in our call for harmony, compassion, and peaceful relationships everywhere.

Sunday’s tragic hate shootings in the Kansas City area urgently signal why interfaith cooperation must become stronger to ensure all people are exposed to the beautiful lessons we learn from each other in diverse communities.

We invite all people to join with the United Religions Initiative (URI) and the Parliament of the World’s Religions in coming together to amplify action for peace:

“The hearts and prayers of our interfaith and inter-cultural family go out to those affected by this terrible tragedy,” said the Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian, Jr., Executive Director of URI.  “Around the world, we affirm our promise to cultivate peace in the midst of difference, to promote enduring interfaith cooperation, and to show love in the face of hate.  May peace and healing find those shaken by this loss.”

Dr. Mary Nelson, Executive Director of the Parliament concurs, “in the face of violence and hate, we people of spirit and faith are challenged to proactively reach out in love and reconciliation.  Now is the time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

From Thursday April 17 through Sunday, April 20, we call for #LoveAlert messages to spread the goodness of interfaith cooperation around the world.

Ways to observe your solidarity include:  Fasting, lighting candles, and inviting your neighbors to your interfaith community events.

Use our tools to overcome hate! The Parliament’s  Faiths Against Hate webinars  train interfaith advocates and URI’s Talking Back to Hate campaign’s toolbox is full of effective best practices in a variety of materials.

Interfaith cooperation is happening; we as partners in the movement for peace affirm that deep interfaith relationships bring everyone closer together to overcome fear and embrace others as neighbors.

By bravely speaking out and acting together, we at the Parliament and URI invite all to work with us to correct injustice and make peace possible for all.

 

Remembering Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati

Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati

Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati

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.

Click here to read article featuring remembrances of Arlo Guthrie

Click here to read the full obituary

URI: Cultivating Peace from the Inside Out

URI Youthby Rev. Charles P. Gibbs
Executive Director, United Religions Initiative

At the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, I had lunch with Dadi Janki, the senior leader of the Brahma Kumaris, who had been an inspirational friend for fourteen years. Dadi told me the story of a queen who lost a precious necklace and sent people to the farthest reaches of her kingdom to search for it. The search continued unsuccessfully until the day one person went up to the queen and pointed out that the necklace wasn’t lost, but was around her neck.

“That’s the way it is with peace,” Dadi said. “We spend so much time looking here and there for peace when it is inside us all the time, waiting to be discovered and cultivated.”

When I think about United Religions Initiative (URI), an organization I helped found in 2000 and which I have served as executive director of ever since, I think about this, about cultivating peace—both the peace inside us as individuals and the peace inside our human community.

At our annual fundraising event in San Francisco this year, we honored one of our member organizations from Barcelona, Spain, the interreligious dialogue arm of the UNESCO Centre of Catalonia. In her speech, Elisabeth Lheure, a URI Trustee who is also a mediator for the Centre, spoke of its success in facilitating the funeral of a prominent Muslim in a Catholic church in a diverse Barcelona suburb where there was no Muslim worship space large enough.

“That was possible because of almost six years of daily working in that area,” Elisabeth told us. “Six years during which we seeded empathy and understanding; six years during which we’ve had workshops on religious diversity at schools, exhibitions about religious pluralism, some open doors days of the different religious communities, etc., and of course a very active interfaith dialogue group. Six years during which we’ve done several direct mediations of religiously motivated conflicts.”

Six years of cultivating peace.

In the hundred-plus years since the convening of religious leaders at the first ever World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, the interfaith movement has grown tremendously. And it has also evolved, from a movement focused on dialogue among leaders to one that acknowledges the importance of personal transformation and grassroots relationship-building—of cultivation—to interreligious peace.

Much like the first Parliament, URI was inspired by a top-down vision, a vision of United Nations-type body where disputes could be aired and mediated in the conference room rather than on the battlefield. The idea for it came to then-Episcopal Bishop of California, the Right Reverend William E. Swing, in 1993 after he was asked by the United Nations to host a large interfaith service in San Francisco for the 50th anniversary of its charter signing. He asked himself, “If the nations of the world are working together for peace through the UN, then where are the world’s religions?”

But the resistance he encountered among dozens of leaders he queried led him somewhere else entirely: to the people. At the grassroots of the world’s religions, more than anywhere else, he found people ready to open hearts, link arms, and create a new global hope through interfaith cooperation.

Today, URI is a vibrant community of nearly half a million people working around the world toward a common purpose – “To promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings.”

What this means in practice is different for each of the 500 locally-rooted interfaith Cooperation Circles that make up our network. For some, it means simply opening up a dialogue where none has been before. For others, it means working across religious lines to provide humanitarian aid and health care, build schools, or plant trees. For still others it means spreading a message of tolerance through art, music and the media. But all share in URI’s vision, and count themselves part of our global community.

Community is, in many ways, what URI’s work is all about. We believe that peace comes when people start seeing themselves as part of one another, as part of a whole, interdependent web.

When Peace Kawomera, a URI Circle in Uganda, organized Muslim, Jewish, and Christian farmers to work together to grow and sell fair-trade coffee, they not only reaped the benefits of cooperative production and marketing, but they began to see that the “other” could be their friend, their coworker, and their partner. This personal and relational transformation is the smallest seed of peace, the seed of an active community of citizens working together locally and globally to make their shared world a better place.

What we do at URI is cultivate those seeds: help people reach inside of their own hearts, their own homes, their own communities, find that peace for themselves and then extend it into the world through cooperative action. If we can succeed in that, in laying the groundwork for peace and positive change from the ground up, then we will have come a long way toward reaching the vision of interfaith harmony sparked by that seminal interfaith gathering of 1893. We will have found our necklace.