From February 1st through February 7th, on the official observance of the United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week, the Parliament joined international partners for Holy Land, Living Water. Presented by Unity Earth, the United Religions Initiative (URI), and EcoPeace Middle East, Holy Land, Living Water was a historic week-long pilgrimage across the Holiest Sites of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, along a path through the Jordan River Valley, where water has played a vital role in the sustenance of the region. Its scarcity has become amplified by climate change and population growth. In addition, some of the founding stories of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are set along the Jordan River banks and the valley contains sites sacred to half of humanity.
This event also commemorated the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week of 2020, with nearly 100 international delegates, among them Parliament Chair Audrey Kitagawa, from a wide array of cultural and faith backgrounds coming together to share spiritual practices, values and visions of a more just, peaceful, sustainable and harmonious world.
Parliament Chair, Audrey Kitagawa, participated in a panel and gave a speech as part of the U-Nite Concert. Enjoy recordings from the gathering below.
Want to learn more about the programming, explore short summaries and enjoy images from each day of the gathering below.
The journey began with an inspiring night of sharing, homogenizing, and messages of interfaith cooperation, hope, peace, and unity from the Chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions Ms. Audrey Kitagawa, Rev. Deborah Moldow, Chief Phil Lane Jr. and other prominent religious leaders. This welcome dinner, hosted by Executive Director of Unity Earth Ben Bowler, took place by the Dead Sea, famous for its religious significance and numerous mentions in the Bible. It is the lowest and most mineral-rich body of water in the world. The gathering set the stage for a week of visits to the sacred sites of the Holy Land.
The Parliament Chair and Unity Earth participants visited the sacred site of Mount Nebo, an important place of pilgrimage where Moses saw the Promised Land before he died. The group paid their respects at the commemorated site, the Memorial Church of Moses and the Siyagha (monastery). They gathered in front of the Brazen Serpent Monument, symbolic of the bronze serpent Moses created in the wilderness and the cross Jesus was crucified. Father Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam and Rev. Sylvia Sumter offered blessings, prayers, and messages of hope. Banners of peace, unity, and reverence toward water were displayed.
At sunset, Dr. Mindahi Bastida Muñoz led the group in the Four Directions Water Ceremony by the Dead Sea, a Native American blessing that calls on the Four Directions (East, North, West and South). The ceremony was conducted by First Nations elders who recognize the sacredness of water, the interconnectedness of all life and the importance of protecting our water from pollution. The ceremony on the Dead Sea was significant because of the reduced water flow.
An ecology conference was held by the Dead Sea concerning the Holy Land and the Jordan River. Faith leaders from around the world discussed the intersection of faith, ecology, and the importance of water for supporting human life as well as its spiritual significance. Ben Bowler emceed the event. Yana Abu Taleb, Nada Majdalani, Ambassador Mussie Hailu, Professor Kathryn Libal, and His Highness Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Nuaimi gave presentations. Gidon Bromberg moderated a diverse five-person panel of prominent faith leaders to discuss the ecological and spiritual significance of water in general and the Jordan River in particular. The panelists were the Parliament Chair, Ms. Audrey Kitagawa, Father Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam, Rabbi Gabriel Hagai, Haji Syed Salman Chishty, and Ven. Dr. Phramaha Boonchuay Doojai.
Various members of the group chanted for peace in a circle as they created a mosaic of flags representing all of the countries in the world.
The sacred Al-Maghtas Baptism Site on the Jordan River is considered the third holiest place in Christianity. It is the official baptism site of Jesus, called Qasr al-Yahud, where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. The group gathered in the pavilion near the bank of the river for a prayer for the Jordan River. Religious leaders of different faiths gave their blessing to the River. Faith leaders from Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Indigenous traditions blessed members of the group with the holy waters on the bank of the Jordan River.
The group visited the Abu Obeida Mosque in the Jordan Valley. After the group’s meeting with the Imam of the Mosque and other elders, Ms. Kitagawa paid her respect to the tomb of Abu Obeida al-Jarrah, one of the blessed ten companions who was promised entry into Paradise by the Prophet Mohammed. The mosque is a large complex that includes the shrine of Abu Obeida al-Jarrah, a museum, a beautiful garden, a library containing books on Islamic theology and Islamic history, water fountains and ablution rooms.
The Monastery of the Temptation, a Greek Orthodox monastery built on the slopes of the Mount of Temptation is situated 350 meters above sea level, overlooking the city of Jericho and the Jordan Valley. According to the Gospels of Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4:1-13), this sacred site is where the devil tempted Jesus as he fasted for forty days and forty nights. The group was able to view the stone, which, according to tradition, Jesus sat during one of his temptations. The Mount of Temptation is also sometimes referred to as Mount Quarantania, which arises from the Latin word quarentena, meaning 40.
Ms. Kitagawa visited the Church of Saint Catherine, located within the Church of the Nativity Compound in Bethlehem. It stands on the site where Jesus appeared before Saint Catherine of Alexandria in the 4th Century and predicted her martyrdom.
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is widely considered one of Christianity's holiest sites. It is also recognized as the oldest Christian Church in daily use. The group visited the Church of the Nativity, constructed over what Christian tradition has identified as the birthplace of Jesus. Located underneath the Church, in the Grotto of the Nativity, a silver 14-pointed star is embedded into the marble floor to mark the exact place of Jesus’ birth.
The Western Wall is the only surviving remnant of the Second Temple of Jerusalem and was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. It has also been called the “Wailing Wall”, referring to the practice of Jews weeping at the site over the destruction of the Temples. Because of the Temple mount’s entry restrictions, the Wall is the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray. As traditionally done by the Jews who come to pray at the wall, Ms. Kitagawa, wrote a message on a piece of paper, placed it in the wall and said a prayer.
The following day, the Garden of Gethsemane was visited. It is where Jesus came to accept his coming betrayal, as well as the place where Judas led officials on the night of his arrest according to the gospels. A very old olive tree on the outer edge of the garden is believed to be where Jesus last prayed.
The Church of All Nations, a Roman Catholic church, also known as the Basilica of the Agony, is adjacent to the garden and the Rock of Agony enshrined in a section of bedrock is where Jesus is said to have also prayed before his arrest.
Next, the group visited the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, also known as the Church of Assumption, and paid their respects at the altar in front of Mary’s Tomb. The New Testament says nothing about the death and burial of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, but a strong Christian tradition places her tomb in this church. A large crypt containing an empty tomb of Mary is all that remains of an early 5th-century church. This church is possibly the "oldest" near-complete religious building in Jerusalem. It is also the burial site of Mary’s parents and her husband, Joseph.
Surrounded by ancient walls, the Old City of Jerusalem is home to holy sites such as the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which date back to the 4th century. The Via Dolorosa is a processional route in the Old City, believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to His crucifixion. Ms. Kitagawa stopped at the Fifth Station along this path, the Chapel of Simon of Cyrene. She placed her hand on the stone near the corner of the wall, that is believed to be an imprint made when Jesus stumbled and rested his hand upon the wall to keep his balance.
Ms. Kitagawa visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one Christianity's holiest sites, enclosing Jesus’ Crucifixion Site, the Stone of Unction (where Jesus was laid down after being removed from the crucifix and prepared for burial) and His Tomb, and the Edicule, from which it is said Jesus was resurrected after 3 days.
More than 800 years ago, two Muslim families were assigned the responsibility of the opening and closing of the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre—the Nuseibeh family as the doorkeepers and the Joudeh family as the key keepers. Their roles as neutral guardians of the church amongst multiple Christian denominations are symbolic of interfaith peace, respect, and cooperation. Mr. Wajeeh Nuseibeh, current custodian and doorkeeper of the Nuseibeh family, shared about the history and significance of his family’s role.
The water ceremony was conducted as part of Healing Water Healing Woman a worldwide movement to bridge the spiritual with the practical as part of a collective intention and action towards co-creating the cultural and environmental conditions for all women and all waters to thrive. The participants believe that when women and water thrive, all parts of the whole planetary biosphere will also thrive. Ms. Kitagawa was one of the 10 women in a water ceremony held at dawn on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias). It was a sacred ceremony dedicated to healing women and healing water. It was a four directions water ceremony conducted by female Indigenous spiritual leaders, to honor the Holy Land, the Dead Sea, and the Jordan River.
A ceremony led by Chief Phil Lane Jr. and Indigenous Spiritual Elders was held at a gathering site at Megiddo, also known as ‘Armageddon’, named in the Book of Revelation as the setting for a future battle between the forces of good and evil. Ms. Kitagawa and other prominent spiritual leaders participated in a special ceremony for Peace and Healing. It expanded the blessings of global waters from the previous water ceremonies at the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee and put forth messages and prayers of hope, unity and a call for peace to prevail on earth.
Visiting the Druze community in Isifya, Israel, the Mayor of Isifya joined with leaders of the Christian, Jewish, Druze and Muslim faith in a showing of solidarity, peace, and cooperation. The Druze community in Israel consists of Arabic-speaking believers from an 11th Century off-shoot of Ismaili Shiite theology. They were officially recognized in 1957 by the government as a distinct ethnic group and an autonomous religious community, independent of Muslim religious courts. They have their own religious courts, with jurisdiction in matters of personal status, and spiritual leadership, headed by Sheikh Muwafaq Tarif. Druze are Arabic speakers and their culture is, to a large extent, Arab.
In the evening, the group attended the U-NITE Celebration of UN World Interfaith Harmony Week to the Holy Land in 2020. It included international and regional musicians, youth and ambassadors for peaceful co-existence across the world. Speeches from Ms. Kitagawa, Einat Kalisch-Rotem (the mayor of Haifa) and His Highness Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie. The concert showcased the new Cafe Jallal intercultural musical project by the Gil Ron Shama Ensemble, Rocky Dawuni, and Pato Banton.
The Closing Ceremony was held at the Beit Ha`Gefen, the Arab-Jewish Cultural Center in Haifa, founded on the principle of cultural and spiritual unity. Ms. Kitagawa, Chief Phil Lane Jr., and other faith leaders were invited to give final thoughts, prayers and messages of peace and interreligious harmony. Some participants shared their experiences on the Holy Land trip as well as personal stories. The gathering ended in song and celebration.
Ms. Kitagawa and the group visited the Bahá'í Gardens and walked the beautiful, immaculate grounds surrounding the Shrine of the Báb. The Shrine stands in the middle of the gardens, with nine terraces above it and nine below it, in honor of the first 18 disciples of the Báb. The main principles of the Bahá'í faith are equality between all men, unity of all religions, harmony between religion and science, and harmony between man and nature.