Preparing for the Parliament of World Religions

by Rev. Dr. Marcus C. R. Braybrooke

by Rev. Dr. Marcus C. R. Braybrooke

Swamis, imams, rabbis, priests and gurus and their followers across the world are preparing for a pilgrimage to Australia for the fifth Parliament of World Religions, meeting in Melbourne from December 3-9. 

The first Parliament, often seen as the birth of the Interfaith movement, met in Chicago in 1893. It was hundred years later before the next Parliament, also in Chicago. Much of the twentieth century was shaped by Secularism, Communism and Fascism – all hostile to religions, which themselves were still competitive rather than co-operative. Even so, the importance of understanding between members of the world religions was slowly being recognised, thanks to the International Association of Religious Freedom and the World Congress of Faiths, founded in 1936 by the explorer and mystic Francis Younghusband, and the growing academic study of world religions.

The 1966 Second Vatican Council decree Nostra Aetate encouraged Christians to appreciate and dialogue with adherents of other religions. Some Christians and Buddhists worked together for peace in Vietnam and a wider interfaith coalition – now known as Religions for Peace – was created to oppose nuclear weapons.

By 1993, when the centenary of the first Parliament of Religions was celebrated at events in UK, India, Japan, as well as Chicago, Communism had collapsed. The 1993 Parliament emphasised the moral values which religions share. Toward a Global Ethic called on believers to commit to non-violence, a just economic order, tolerance and truthfulness and gender equality.

At the next Parliament in 1999, members of ‘The Guiding Institutions’ of civil society were, with limited success, encouraged to join the dialogue. More important, meeting in the new multi-racial and multi-religious South Africa, the Parliament showed religions’ usefulness in strengthening social cohesion.

Following the 9/11 attack, the emphasis of the 2004 Parliament was on showing that in no religion’s authentic teaching, is there justification for killing innocent people. Meeting in Barcelona, where from Europe one can see the coast of Africa, the need for a dialogue of civilizations was obvious. Four key issues were highlighted – access to clean water, the plight of refugees, cancellation of poor nation’s debt and reducing religiously motivated violence.

Meeting at the same time as the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference and with the active participation of many Aboriginals, the danger to the environment will be high on the agenda of this year’s Parliament. The overall theme is ‘Make a World of Difference: Hearing each other, healing the earth.’ The focus will be on the environment, peace, overcoming poverty, and strengthening global interconnectedness. Some may ask whether travelling from Europe to Australia is good for the climate, but the distance for Australians to Copenhagen is the same and participants are encouraged to offset their carbon footprint.

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