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What If All the World’s Religions Came Together to Discuss Our Humanity?

Well, that’s exactly what just happened! Last month a very significant event quietly occurred in the United States. I say “quiet” because as amazing as this event was, there was hardly any media recognition about it. In October of 2015, Nobel Peace Laureates, religious leaders, global thinkers, and interfaith activists gathered in Salt Lake City for the Parliament of the World’s Religions (Congress of the Religions). The Parliament is the oldest (1893), the largest, and the most inclusive gathering of people of all faith and traditions. Traditionally, the Parliament occurs every five years. This year 10,000 people, 80 nations, and 50 different faiths came together to learn, dialogue, and pray with each other.

The theme for this year’s gathering was “Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity.” Additionally, the Parliament focused on three critical issues facing our world; climate change and care for creation, income inequality and wasteful consumption, and war, violence and hate speech. One of the featured speakers was Dr. Jane Goodall. Goodall, now 81, called upon religious leaders from all over the globe to use their influence to affect policies on environmental issues. Goodall told a Salt Lake television reporter that she has a favorite religious leader. "I think Pope Francis should be canonized on the spot, he's absolutely amazing," Goodall said. "He gives me more hope than almost anybody else alive at this time today."

Besides the various inspirational speakers and their important messages, the Parliament also featured films, discussion groups, Tibetan Buddhist Monks who created a mandala, and several artists and musicians who shared their talents.

At the Oct. 17 vigil Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, Benedictine Father William Skudlarek, secretary general of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, was the principle celebrant, and Father Don Rooney, president of the Catholic Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers (CADEIO), was the homilist. Father Martin Diaz, pastor of the Cathedral of the Madeleine, concelebrated with many visiting priests. “This has been a time of grace and growth, and following Pope Francis’ expressed desire, it has been a time for us to encounter people of all faiths to plant seeds of peace and hope for our world,” Fr. Rooney said in his homily. “The Parliament of the World’s Religions is a gathering of people of different religions; we Christians are involved in the work of dialogue, an enterprise of holiness, which takes place between people often of very different experiences, beliefs and backgrounds.”

Personally, I wish I could have attended the parliament because everything I have read about it says that the experience was so uplifting and inspirational. In particular, writer John Halstead from the Huff Post wrote “Everywhere I looked, I was surrounded by expressions of the sacred. From the Buddhist sand mandala to the Jain shrine, from the smell of burning sage being used by First Nations people in ceremony to the sounds of myriad forms of sacred music to the diverse expressions of faith in dress and habit. There were robes and head coverings of every conceivable color and form. The orange robes and bald heads of Buddhist monks and the turbans and beards of Sikh men were the easiest to identify. But they were only the tip of the iceberg. The sacred was present everywhere I looked and in every voice I heard.”

There has been talk that the Parliament will now occur every two years instead of five. I hope this is true and that I might one day be able to witness this display of all the world’s religions together. Until then, I encourage you to visit their website and learn more about the Parliament. For those of you who work with youth, the Parliament’s webpage offers some excellent video clips to share.

Peace, Shalom, Namaste!

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