The largest interfaith gathering in the world will take place on December 3, 2009, in Melbourne, Australia, under the auspices of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. Religious and spiritual communities and other people of goodwill will be addressing international concerns about the environment, peace, poverty, and the need to deepen awareness of global interconnectedness. An emphasis on the pivotal role of indigenous peoples in healing the earth will also be prominent. Australian Professor Joy Murphy Wandin, the Senior Woman of the traditional owners of this land, the Wurundjeri people, will welcome participants. It is noteworthy that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently apologized for past harm committed by the government to the Aboriginal people.
On Sunday, April 19th, in an event mirroring this upcoming conference, a pre-parliamentary event “Hearing Each Other, Healing the Earth” was held at the World Peace Ikeda Auditorium hosted by the Soka Gakkai International [SGI]. Yoland Trevino, the Global Council Chair of United Religions Initiative, gave the keynote address. Ms. Trevino, of Mayan ancestry, set the tone for the Australian conference quoting Lila Watson, an Australian Aborigine woman:
If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
This pre-parliamentary conference will be explored in greater detail in a follow up article. But first, a brief virtual tour and statements from some of the people in attendance will be presented. Upon entering at the auditorium level, a visitor is greeted by people displaying information from some of the following groups:
The Sufi Order International
This organization is an interfaith approach to spiritual practice, and seeks to bring together clergy and people of all faiths as a founding principle. “Toward the One, united with all” is a phrase that captures this idea. An example of this unity is practiced at a Universal Worship Service ceremony held in a shared space at The Village (343 S. Church Lane, West Los Angeles) on the 4th Sunday of each month. At the Village, Rabbi Miriam Harwell (Ahavat Torah), Dr. Janet Bregar (Village Church) and Noor-Malika Chishti (Musallah Tauhid) are the respective leaders of their Abrahamic congregations that all worship in a shared space, Village Church. The three communities share in holy day celebrations, and in environmental and social projects. Their goal is to become an interfaith resource center; other ideas include an interfaith pre-school where holy days of the world traditions would be recognized.
The Village celebrates the Universal Worship Service, a ceremony that represents an ideal put forth by Hazrat Inayat Khan (Founder, the Sufi Order International) in 1921 to bring all of the world’s religions together in order to promote tolerance, understanding and spiritual awakening for humanity. They offer a prayer service, kindling lights for the world’s religions and all of the prophets who have come to earth to further the experience of love by human beings. For further information, please call Noor-Malika Chishti at 310-575-1972.
- The Salaam Shalom Educational Foundation focuses on Jewish and Arab children in Twinned classes using recognized teaching methods to promote moral imagination in high-conflict areas. These methods teach understanding at an early age and developmental level to establish conflict resolution and related skills.
- The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. This is a project of the InterReligious Council of Southern California.
- Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace. Their slogan is “Religious Communities Must Stop Blessing War and Violence.”
- Global Spiritual Citizenship seeks to build a bridge to our collective future with a focus on spirituality, practicality, and universality.
I would encourage each of you to explore these resources in greater detail.
Here are some statements from a few people, selected at random, who attended this event. They were asked why they came and what significance it held for them.
“I came to celebrate the beauty of the interconnections of the human family coming together to care for the earth and each other.” - Agape Church, female.
“This event is about cultural peace, harmony, happiness, and communication. I hope it will inspire people to go back to their community and daily life to share their kindness with others. One person can make a difference: look at what that Scottish singer--Susan Boyle--did to lift our spirits. It was not just her voice but also her spiritual humility…her kindness and willingness to share.” – Soka Gakkai International (Buddhist), male.
“We all need a better understanding of how people communicate spiritually and also in the materialistic world. Bridging those two dimensions leads to growth and integration.” - Chirothesian [Modern Essene], female.
“Learning from people with different faith traditions will bring us all closer. That is why I came to this conference.” - Muslim, male.
One phrase I heard from many people during the day was that we must learn to see the divine in one another at all times. Biblical scholar Karen Armstrong expands on this idea, how religious tolerance is prescibed worldwide.
Whichever religious tradition I study, I find that the heart of it is the idea of feeling with the other, experiencing with the other, compassion. And every single one of the major world religions has developed its own version of the Golden Rule. Don't do to others what you would not like them to do to you.
Gene Rothman, DSW, LCSW, is a retired social worker active with local interfaith groups in Culver City as well as with the Social Action/Social Justice Council of the National Association of Social Workers.