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Rev. Stephen Avino Addresses the Closing Plenary

Rev. Stephen Avino, joined by Rev. Alvin Bibbs, addresses the Closing Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA. The Closing Plenary was sponsored by The Fetzer Institute.

Rev. Stephen Avino: I’m sure you’re sick of seeing me, but I’m here for one more speech. Way back before the pandemic even began in that seemingly prehistoric era, I was reading John Henry Barrow’s book on the 1893 Parliament and I thought to myself, the 130th anniversary is coming up. So I reached out to Reverend Vance Henry in the City of Chicago. I spoke with the different faith communities. I talked to our Board and it became clear that everyone was hungry for the Parliament’s comeback to Chicago.

And I stand here today overjoyed and happy to have been with you guys for the last five days. There’s a lot of people to thank for the last five days. I’ll start with my amazing staff, our three Miriams: Miriam Quezada, Miriam Balinsky, and Miriam Renaud. Emma, Susan, Flynn, Danny, Ian, Emily, Jesse, Nisha, Muriel, and Shannon. And last but not least, Molly, who actually started the same day as me 11 years ago. She left for a while and she’s come back and it’s been clear she’s a vitally important member of our team. They’ve worked so hard for hours and hours for almost a year and a half on this event and had to deal with the unfortunate software issues we had on Monday. And I want to apologize to all of you for that. We did not see that coming. And both the way that my staff handled it was graceful and admirable. And let’s give them another round of applause.

Like I said, there are so many people to thank. I could stand here for hours and hours. I’m not going to do that, I promise. But I want to thank my partners in crime in this, Nitin Ajmera and Phyllis Curot, and the incredibly supportive Board of Trustees that I have, our Circle of Patrons, our speakers, our presenters, our sponsors and donors, all of you in the audience today, and the amazing folks at Serafin, the work of our vendors, Congressman Rush and our host committee members, Mary Nelson for hiring me back in the day, our volunteers, and my loving supportive family who are here today who instilled me with a work ethic to get this done.

So Sunday evening I took a boat cruise with many of you. It was a lot of fun. It was actually the boat that I worked on in college, and I started to think about how much has changed since I became involved with the Parliament. It’s truly amazing to see all of your smiles and all of the joy of coming back together after some of you have been to all of the Parliament, all the modern Parliaments at least, and that’s the beautiful thing about the Parliament is the people that you meet, the people that change your life, that give you hope, that really fill your heart with joy to see, but make no mistake, we are in a bubble. 

We spent the last five days in a bubble and it was a good use of time, it was a really good bubble, but it’s a bubble. In order to make actual change in the world, we have to get outside of this bubble. My great hope for the last five days is that you bring what you’ve learned and bring it to your own communities and make some real change in this world.

Lake Michigan right outside here and Lake Huron together are the world’s largest body of freshwater. All of you got to go outside in the last five days and see how beautiful it is on the terrace. It has been the source of drinking water for 40 million people, and I just, even looking at it, I’m filled with awe and wonder. It’s truly sacred, as is our planet. But unfortunately, we do have a crisis. 

You learned about it this week, but you’ve learned about it for the last 20, 30 years. We need to do something about this crisis. We need to make changes now. My nieces are in the audience, and I don’t want to give them the responsibility to clean up our mess. We cannot wait any longer.

We need to divest from fossil fuels, and we need to respect that everyone has the right to a healthy environment. I also hope you’ve learned this week how religion is being misappropriated all over the world to upend democracy, to divide us all. In 1893, Chicago was a boom town, and people were saying things like, “This is the end of an era that the world will be peaceful now. Let us not be so naive. Let’s not walk away thinking things like that.” Like I said, we are in a bubble. Within 20 years after the 1893 Parliament, World War I would break out. 

Don’t let evil take over this world again. Don’t let evil convince you that communities of color, the LGBT community, immigrants are the problem. Fascists are here to divide us and conquer us, and we as people of faith have to stand up and say, “No, we will not accept that.” We all need to protect the truth. We need to protect voting, and we need to protect our pluralistic society, and love our differences. 

The kingdom of God, or goddess, is within you. We all learned from Jesse Jackson last night, we are somebody. We can make a difference, we can go out there, we can create, we can change the world, and it’s time. In fact, we have an opportunity right after this Parliament to do so, to make some difference. And I’d like to bring up Reverend Alvin Bibbs to talk to you a little bit about that today. Thank you and have a safe trip home.

Rev. Alvin Bibbs: Well good afternoon everybody. My name is Reverend Alvin C. Bibbs Sr. I’m the Chicago Outreach Manager for the One America Movement, which we’re laser-focused on dismantling toxic polarization around the world. And all of us have an opportunity to do that. 

Friends, Chicago has had over 12,000 new migrants arrive from the Southeast borders. We have been walking and loving upon them as a welcoming city and are helping to provide food, shelter, community, housing, and major resources. Tonight we have two large-scale community back-to-school events to prepare our new neighbors for school starting on Monday.

Yes, you can clap on that. So, friends, we would like to have you join us this evening as we provide an opportunity to bless over 400 of these new migrants at two different locations here in the southwest side of Chicago. We’re going to have Disney characters, we’re going to have ponies, we’re going to have petting zoos, we’re going to have reptiles and games and food and free backpacks along the way.

And friends, the bottom line is that we’re going to love up on our new neighbors tonight like never before in the city of Chicago, and we need your hands, we need your help. We’re going to have buses, yes, we’re going to have buses that’re going to be leaving the McCormick place at 5:15 this evening at gate 31. Don’t just meet me there friends, I want you to beat me there. See you later today, God bless you.

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