The 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions Opening Plenary began on the evening of October, 15, 2015 with a traditional Grand Procession led by Indigenous Elders of the Welcoming Indigenous Nations from the Great Salt Lake region, the Great Basin, and the State of Utah; the Paiute, the Ute, the Goshute, and the Navajo.
Each marcher advanced from the back of the PlenaryHall toward the stage in lively step with the deep bellowing of a drum circle performing on stage, walking to a heartbeat rhythm that pumped life into the 2015 Parliament for the next fve days.
Next to join the procession were global religious leaders in traditional regalia. The Girl Scouts of America followed, presenting the fags of each of the countries represented by guests of the 2015 Parliament. The procession enveloped th plenary hall as impromptu participants joined the Parliament’s Board of Trustees, all culminating in a room so electrifed that thousands of attendees erupted together in chants, joyous shouts, calls, and song. This Parliament opening was alive, in a way unlike any before.
Standing center on a stage lined with dignitaries, Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid declared the Parliament open with a soaring tribute to people of faith working with each other, and with a solemn prayer for the sincerity of political leaders. For the frst time, an anthem written for the event, “Earth Is Calling,” was sung in dedication to the Parliament, lyrically adopting the sacred calling of creation to “reclaim humanity.”
Dr. Robert Henderson, Parliament Trustee and member of the Baha’i faith, and Derrick Harkins, Senior Vice-President of Union Theological Seminary, hosted the Opening Ceremony. With charm and acumen, they moved attendees through a unique line-up of dignitaries and religious leaders who offered the prayers of diverse spiritualities. In keeping with the tradition of amplifying diverse voices, prayers from Zoroastrianism, the Baha’i faith, and Paganism were offered with equal reverence as those of the largest religions of the world.
Each of the welcoming addresses enabled hosts and sponsors of the Parliament to share their particular calling to engage a global interfaith movement. The International capital of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints welcomed the Parliament with an address from Elder L. Whitney Clayton, followed by addresses from Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Salt Lake City and County Mayors Ralph Becker and Ben McAdams.
In a seismic endorsement of the work of the interfaith movement in 2015, U.S. Ambassador of International Religious Freedom and longtime Parliament fixture Rabbi David Saperstein applauded the Parliament for the honest attention to women’s voices and human rights that would defne the gathering.
Bringing the room to its feet with a roaring applause, Saperstein echoed the rallying cry from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof who said:
The Greatest Threat to Extremism Isn’t Drones Firing Missiles — It’s Girls Reading Books.
And with that, the Parliament was primed for serious work.