Parliament of World Religions – an overview

By Teresa Kotturan

New York, November 8, 2018: (Sister Teresa Kotturan, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, was one of the participants at the seventh Parliament of World Religions that ended on November 7 at Toronto, Canada. The Indian nun represented the Sisters of Charity Federation NGO at the United Nations. She summarizes her experience at the November 1-7 parliament that brought together more than 7,500 people from 80 countries representing more than 200 religious groups.)

Justice is a religious practice and we cannot separate faith and justice, for justice is an expression of our faith. We need to be allies for people living in poverty, on the margins. We cannot do it alone – collaboration with others is very important. We need to be relentless in our advocacy, until systemic change happens. Each one of us is a leader and need to create ecumenical movements for justice.

The parliament was a place that truly promoted engagement among various spiritual and religious traditions for harmony that would lead to concrete actions. In the midst of all diversity, one could feel at home among the participants and interact freely.

The rituals, talks and other activities created a receptive ambiance, compelling the participants to go forth act to reverse and change the way we are living for understanding and reconciliation at the local level. Translate our beliefs into action.

There were hundreds of sessions and to single out one as the most attractive is doing injustice to the parliament. The one important component this year was the inclusion of women’s assembly into the parliament.

At the previous parliaments women’s assembly was held separately, prior to the event. This year the theme was: Women’s Dignity Across the World’s Wisdom Traditions and Society and all the speakers were women.

Another first is – the election of the first woman as the chair of the parliament of World Religions – Audrey Kitagawa from Honolulu, Hawaii. In her concluding speech she had asked the men ‘to keep the doors open, for we women are coming in.”

Another major shift was the prominence given to the indigenous peoples. The plenary session on November 2 was indigenous assembly – spiritual evolution of humanity and healing our Mother Earth.

Climate Assembly was another important session where the urgency to act to change our lifestyle for the survival of our planet and all beings was brought home to all.

Other plenaries on Justice and reconciliation, countering war, hate and violence were all powerful.

For the first time the Vatican was invited to speak at the parliament and Vatican was represented by Joshstrom Isaac Kureethadam, coordinator of the Sector of “Ecology and Creation” at the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

His presentations during Climate Action on Laudato Si and the plenary – countering war, hate and violence – on the Catholic Church’s efforts for peace making during the past 50 years were superb. He represented Pope Francis very well.

There were plenty of Indians and Indian origin people at the parliament. There was a strong presence of the saffron brigade, many from the right. They had threatened Swami Agnivesh and had asked him to refrain from speaking.

On October 30, prior to the plenary, there was police presence in the assembly and many of the right wing groups did not come for the session.

Sikh presence, participation and service in the form langar (community kitchen) were prominent. They provided free vegetarian lunch to all the participants for five days. This was really commendable.

The Sikh speakers brought up the 1984 massacre of the Sikhs in India at every venue they spoke and the lack justice for this heinous crime against the Sikh community. It is a wound that is not healed and will not until justice is done.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan, an Indian origin Dalit Rights Activist, story teller, and filmmaker was very effective in showcasing the structural injustices perpetrated by caste and the human rights abuses on Dalits in India.

Gandhi and non-violence received a lot prominence in this age where race, caste, religion gender orientation are fragmenting our world with hatred, xenophobia, etc.

Besides James Lawson, who worked with Martin Luther King, an Indian speaker I heard was Rama Subramanian of Samanvaya.

There is a Declaration on “Towards a Global Ethic: Initial Declaration” and all are invited to sign on.

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