As a Parliament Ambassador, Karen Hernandez focuses on illustrating the West Coast’s interfaith work through profiling organizations from San Francisco and beyond. This month’s post features the United Religions Initiative (URI) located in San Francisco.
Founded by The Right Reverend William Swing, San Francisco-Based United Religions Initiative has been building bridges the last 14 years at the grassroots level around the world. As noted on their website, URI’s Mission Statement says,
URI is a global grassroots interfaith network that cultivates peace and justice by engaging people to bridge religious and cultural differences and work together for the good of their communities and the world. We implement our mission through local and global initiatives that build the capacity of our more than 600 member groups and organizations, called Cooperation Circles, to engage in community action such as conflict resolution and reconciliation, environmental sustainability, education, women’s and youth programs, and advocacy for human rights.
At the crossroads of incredible interfaith work, URI is an organization that, when they say works at a grassroots level, they mean grassroots. Governed by Trustees, with 12 Trustees newly elected, for a total of 28 Trustees from over 16 countries, and with staff in all the major regions of the world including Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Multi-Regions/Transnational, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, as well as the North America Region, and with active participants in 640 Cooperation Circles, in over 84 countries – URI epitomizes grassroots interfaith work at its best.
Designed purposefully to enable the voices of those on the ground and those dedicated to the harmony of and in their homelands, the crux of URI is the Cooperation Circles. The Cooperation Circles are holistically independent and they fund, as well as organize themselves. Some circles are less than ten participants, and some have thousands of participants. Some of the amazing work the Cooperation Circles have done worldwide include rescuing child soldiers in the Ugandan civil war; brokering a truce between factions of the Christian church in Kerala, India; helping religious and cultural minorities in the conflict-prone province of Mindanao, Philippines have their voices heard by government officials in Manila; as well as facilitating urban reforestation in New Delhi, India. URI has proven time and time again that working at the grassroots level can and does make quite an impact in the world.
URI and the Parliament have a rich history together. Besides myself as a bridge of both organizations, long-time colleague at URI, Sally Mahe, has been building bridges with both organizations for years, and Sande Hart, URI’s Interim Regional Coordinator for North America, is also actively working with the Parliament.
Building off of a quote by Mahatma Gandhi, URI’s Executive Director Victor Kazanjian often speaks about URI as a movement. “Gandhi-ji said, ‘I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings. My wisdom flows from the Highest Source. I salute that Source in you. Let us work together for unity and love.’ Let us work together for this unity and love, and for justice and for peace for all through interreligious understanding and cooperation. For this light, this love, is at the heart of all religious and spiritual traditions, and also at the heart of this movement that we call the United Religions Initiative.”
As I find myself an Ambassador of the Parliament and a Consultant with URI, I am living and working in-between these two amazing organizations dedicated to peace work, interfaith work, and letting people create this work in a way that is tangible, successful, as well as incredibly powerful and life-changing, for people all over the world. Both URI and the Parliament are committed to creating sustainable peace and relationships. This, for me, is incredibly important, and I am proud to serve in this capacity where I can be a witness to this movement in our lifetime.
Featured Image courtesy of Design Envy
Above Right: From left: Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat, Parliament Ambassador Karen Hernandez and Father Gerald Musa from the Imam and the Pastor Panel, then presenting on contemporary and historic Christian – Muslim relations in Nigeria and Nigerian History at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia.