The Parliament hosted the second modern-day Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa in December 1999, attended by 7,000+ global participants.
The 1999 Parliament of the World’s Religions was a celebration of hope and a vision of possible futures. It also gave powerful testimony to the good hearts and goodwill of the many thousands of people––from every part of the world, and from almost every religious and spiritual tradition––who believed that this gathering could indeed be the harbinger of a new day dawning.
At the 1999 Convening, the Parliament presented a new document A Call to Our Guiding Institutions addressed to religion, government, education, the arts, media, science and medicine, intergovernmental institutions, and civil society. It invited these institutions—in the light of the Global Ethic—to reflect on and transform their roles at the threshold of the next century.
The 1999 Parliament of the World’s Religions explored a number of themes, including:
The 1999 Parliament of the World’s Religions offered countless opportunities for discovery and inquiry—enabling participants to meet their own and others’ traditions at deeper levels.
Participants daily encountered others whose practice, work and commitment could enrich their own. The Parliament created a setting in which it was possible to renew ties with adherents of one’s own traditions, while forming bonds with persons of other faiths and cultures.
At the 1999 Parliament, the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions presented a new document, A Call to Our Guiding Institutions, addressed to religion and spirituality as well as to several other of the world’s guiding institutions.
This Call explores new modes of creative engagement of each institution with every other and with the critical issues which confront the planetary community. Distributed to all participants, the Call was the centerpiece for the work of the 1999 Parliament Assembly, a gathering of religious and spiritual leaders, scholars, and activists, joined by representatives of the other guiding institutions. Assembly participants met during the final three days of the Parliament, working to envision hundreds of new projects/gifts of service that might be created around the world.
The 1999 Parliament inspired hundreds of individuals, organizations, and religious and spiritual communities to offer gifts of service, which will make long-term differences in the world. Participants received a copy of the 1999 Parliament Book of Gifts, which featured over four hundred exemplary projects offered on the occasion of the Parliament.
The 1999 Parliament brought the religions of the world together, in a spirit of hope and possibility, at a critical moment in the history of South Africa. Its people, its traditions, and its rich story provided some of the Parliament’s most profound experiences.
The 1999 Parliament Convening was quite simply one of the richest offerings of religious, spiritual, cultural, and critical issues programs ever assembled. Presenters include religious and spiritual leaders, scholars, activists, and experts addressing an extraordinary range of vital topics ranging from the history and teachings of most of the world’s religious traditions, to encounter and dialogue between traditions, to explorations of some of the most critical problems facing Africa and the world today. Each day was filled with a tremendous variety of offerings, including prayer and meditation sessions; lectures; seminars, and workshops; symposia (one- to four- day programmes on a single theme); performances; interreligious celebrations; and evening plenaries. At times, as many as fifty separate presentations were taking place.
Throughout the eight days of the Parliament, participants engaged in over 860 programs, lectures, performances, symposia, plenary sessions, and workshops. In general, the programmatic offerings at the 1999 Parliament fell under three broad rubrics: identity, dialogue, and the critical issues confronting the planetary community at the approach of the 21st century. The program emphasized issues of religious, spiritual, and cultural identity, approaches to interreligious dialogue, and the role of religion in response to the critical issues facing the world today.
Indeed, the 1999 Parliament of the World’s Religions offered countless opportunities for discovery and inquiry. Through lectures, workshops, and plenary sessions, through worship, prayer, or meditation, and through chance meetings with people from around the world, the Parliament offered everything from occasions for personal spiritual growth and exposure to transformative approaches to social engagement, to new friendships, and an enduring experience of the sacred.
Each evening, 1–7 December, a Plenary Session was held in the Good Hope Centre. Since participants had spent each long day attending numerous sessions, the emphasis at the plenaries was on music, dance, video, etc. Each evening focused on a particular way of giving to others and to the world.
The document A Call to Our Guiding Institutions served as the centerpiece for the working sessions of the Assembly. The Call—the result of a three-year drafting process—is addressed to eight of the world’s most powerful and most influential institutions, inviting each to reflect on and redefine its role for a new century.
This document was introduced at the 1999 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa. The Call to Our Guiding Institutions is an appeal for active, ongoing dialogue about the creation of a just, peaceful, and sustainable future.
One of the most exciting and rewarding dimensions of the 1999 Parliament was the Gifts of Service project. PoWR staff worked for nearly two years to identify communities and groups willing to offer their “Gifts” (projects undertaken to relieve suffering, promote harmony, and build a better world) on the occasion of the Parliament Convening. At the Registration center in Cape Town, participants received, along with their Program catalog and copy of the event’s signature document, A Call to Our Guiding Institutions, a copy of the 1999 Book of Gifts, with descriptions of over 300 projects now underway in various parts of the world.
The Next Generation coordinator in South Africa,
engaged the younger children of Cape Town through the Peace Flags Project. The project served as a vehicle to bring together the children of Cape Town. Moreover, selling Peace Flags raised funds to cover costs for the Next Generation plenary, to provide food and transportation for participants from the townships, as well as other miscellaneous costs related to the Next Generation. Flags lined the streets and decorated venues during the event.
In Zulu, Vukani means “wake up” –– a fitting name for the Parliament’s daily newsletter. Each day in the Cape Times, one of Cape Town’s leading newspapers, a special section was devoted to the Parliament. Each issue contained photos and coverage of the day’s events, including: highlights for upcoming days; interviews with presenters, participants, and religious and spiritual leaders; schedule changes and corrections; and other daily news. Vukani proved to be a wonderful source of information for Parliament participants and for all Capetonians.
In addition to the morning prayer and meditation sessions, each evening a moving half-hour celebration (readings, song, and prayers from various communities) was held in the lovely outdoor setting of the District Six Stage (and on one occasion at the Good Hope Centre, prior to the evening plenary session). Religious leaders from many traditions offered prayers and blessings, and a rich variety of musical offerings made these celebrations an unforgettable part of the Parliament experience for many participants.
Some of the most exciting and informative programs at the Parliament took place in the context of Symposia. Each Symposium was an extended series of presentations, discussions, workshops, etc., focused on a single topic or issue; each extended from 1–7 days. All but one of the Symposia were held in the Robert Leslie Building at the University of Cape Town. The South Africa Forum was convened in the Commerce Auditorium on the Cape Technikon campus.
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