Attending my first Parliament of the World's Religions conference was a deeply enriching experience. This conference served as a powerful reminder of the importance of interfaith dialogue in today's world. I was very impressed at the number of different religions that were represented. In a time when division often takes precedence, the Parliament provided a remarkable platform for diverse religious and spiritual traditions to come together, fostering mutual respect, cooperation, and harmony.
One of the many parts of the event that touched me profoundly was the Sikh guru langar tradition, which embodied the spirit of hospitality and compassion. Food, an important source for sustenance, was provided every single day to over six thousand attendees, embracing the concept of charity and providing cooked meals for all, no matter one's status or representation. This tradition resonated deeply, illustrating the interconnectedness of faith and service to those in need.
The presence of luminaries like Fr. Richard Rohr, my beloved teacher and the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, who always taught us to be acutely aware of the sacred in all things, to embody compassion for all, and the presence of the sacred feminine. He reminded us of the magnitude and importance of rituals, the power of our consciousness, our sacred experiences, our interconnectedness with the universe, the gifts that nature gives us to help us in our path, and the courage to recognize the divine in us. Mathew Fox talked about paying attention to nature speaking to us and through us, and the significance of indigenous songs, dance, and reverence for the earth. Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith talked about the power of intuitiveness and Agape love that accepts, includes, and welcomes ALL people as they are, and encourages standing up against social injustice. Khaled Abu Awad, a Muslim Palestinian whose brother was killed by an Israeli soldier, shared the power of making a choice to become an ambassador of peace, promoting nonviolence, reconciliation, and transformation.
Hearing stories of peace and justice efforts among Palestinian Christians, Muslims, and Israeli Jews, as well as the experiences of Rohingya refugees working selflessly against all odds so other Rohingya refugees can thrive in foreign countries, was truly inspiring. These narratives exemplified the transformative power of faith in fostering understanding and working towards peace, justice, and positive change.
I take away many more wonderful and inspiring speakers and events. Over and over again, I experienced what Barbara Brown Taylor coined as "holy envy," leaving my soul elevated, hopeful, and my heart space expanded. Above all, leaving me in awe – awe of our human capacity to love and heal.
I can't help but be reminded of my upbringing in Sierra Leone, my first home, where interreligious coexistence is an integral part of life. I am reminded and continue to be deeply appreciative of the strength and resilience it brings to communities. Multifaith prayers, interfaith events, and multifaith marriages have contributed to our unity and harmony and has kept us a resilient people. This is our way of life. The Parliament's mission aligns closely with these values, showcasing the potential of interfaith engagement to create a stronger, safer, thriving, and more compassionate society.
I reflect and appreciate also the generosity and hospitality displayed by the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, who invited Healey International Relief Foundation to the parliament and added a wonderful touch to my experience, underscoring the significance of service and kindness across faiths.
Yes, attending the Parliament of the World's Religions conference reaffirmed my belief in the transformative power of interfaith dialogue. It emphasized the crucial role of religion and spirituality in addressing global challenges from an ethical standpoint, and served as a reminder of the potential for positive change when diverse traditions come together with open hearts and minds.
In Peace and Gratitude,
August 24, 2023
Photo: Meeting with our hosts and partners Tzu Chi Foundation