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Connecting across boundaries at the Parliament of World Religions

The Parliament of the World’s Religions is the oldest, largest, most diverse and inclusive global interfaith event. The Parliament was created to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities and to foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions to achieve a just, peaceful, and sustainable world.

This was the seventh world gathering since the very first Parliament in 1893 in Chicago. The Parliament convened again in Chicago to mark its 100th anniversary in 1993. Since then it has been held in Cape Town, Barcelona, Melbourne, Salt Lake City, and now for its 125th anniversary, in Toronto, Ontario.

This year’s gathering at the beginning of November drew approximately 10,000 people of faith and conscience representing 80 nations and more than 200 spiritual traditions. Lisa Gosiaco and Catherine Carmel attended from Olympia. Lisa is the Co-Executive Director for Interfaith Relations and Catherine is Board Vice-President of Interfaith Works. IW is a non-profit association of faith communities and individuals of diverse faith traditions that has evolved over the last 44 years in Thurston County.

“It’s really difficult to find the words to describe this experience,” said Lisa. “The energy of openness and respect toward one other was very powerful, as well as the call to action in addressing global concerns.”

A diverse group of renowned speakers and presenters addressed significant topics confronting religious communities across the globe. Plenary sessions, panels and workshops covered many issue tracks, including:

  • Indigenous Peoples – the spiritual evolution of humanity and healing our Mother Earth
  • The dignity of women across the world’s wisdom traditions
  • Climate Action – care for our earth, responsibility for our future
  • Justice—advancing concrete change toward a just, peaceful, and sustainable world
  • Countering war, hate and violence
  • Interfaith Understanding
  • Science and Religion
  • The next generations – interfaith has no age; youth voices for change

Lisa reported that she “greatly admired religious historian and author Dr. Karen Armstrong since reading several of her books, and for her work creating the Charter for Compassion.” Lisa added that she is “in awe of the work that physicist, author and ecofeminist Dr. Vandana Shiva has done in India to protect water and native seeds, often battling against GMO corporations. Both of these women are true heroes to me, and I so appreciate that the Parliament offered the opportunity to see and hear them.”

Members of the Sikh community offered daily lunch for all attendees from their tradition, known as Langar —a free meal served without distinction as to religion, caste, gender, economic status or ethnicity. Langar was established in Sikhism to reject the Hindu caste system where people of different castes aren’t allowed to eat together. Catherine and Lisa enjoyed partaking of this communal meal, which united Parliament attendees and offered the opportunity for a close connection with one another while enjoying vegetarian Indian foods.

One of the many things Lisa acknowledged from this experience is an appreciation for Interfaith Works’ long history of promoting dialogue across faith traditions: “It was encouraging to realize that Interfaith Works’ early commitment to interfaith dialogue was unique for that time, and has resulted in the many programs and organizations that serve our local community. One of the workshops I attended discussed Best Practices in Promoting Interfaith Dialogue. It was clear that Interfaith Works has already achieved success in creating opportunities for dialogue and collaboration. I came away with a deep appreciation for those who started this work in the early 1970s, and for each person who has been part of moving the organization forward. We have an amazing legacy to build from, and I’m excited to see where we go from here.”

Watch highlights from the Parliament of the World Religions gathering here. Visit Interfaith Works for more information about their many programs and projects.

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