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The Opening Ceremony and Plenary

An opening ceremony for the history books! Inspiring keynotes, sacred blessings, and messages of hope from around the world were just a few of the highlights from the Opening Ceremony and Plenary of the 2021 Parliament of the World’s Religions, streamed on Saturday, October 16th.

The opening ceremony began with land blessings from Indigenous leaders from five regions of the world: Africa, Europe, Asia, North America, and Central America. The blessings set a tone for the next 48 hours of the 2021 Parliament, one that emphasized the sacred beauty of the world’s religious and spiritual traditions while acknowledging the importance of the interfaith movement and the critical issues affecting our world.

Keynotes delighted in the unprecedented online gathering of the interfaith movement and celebrated the theme of the 2021 Parliament Convening, emphasizing the importance of its call to “compassion in action”. Nobel Peace Laureate Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Chief Rabbi David Rosen KSG, CBE, Prof. Azza Karam, and Rt. Rev. William E. Swing shared deep introspectives on their interfaith experiences and emphasized the importance of relationship building, entrenched in the understanding highlighted by Professor Nokuzola Mndende in her opening prayer, “I am because we are and since we are, therefore I am.”

Individual reflections on belief were also a critical part of the Opening Plenary. Prayers and keynotes representing unique faith traditions, including leaders of faith who had never been able to participate in the past such as Ming Hua Lin, a female Tao priest; Galaikai Patjaljinuk, a Puringou or Shaman of Taiwan – as well as world figures including a letter from His Holiness Pope Francis. 

The COVID-19 pandemic, war, hate speech, and the environmental crisis emerged as critical issues from the diverse keynotes. Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, H.E. Cardinal Peter Turkson, and Dharma Master Cheng Yen emphasized that abuse of nature and all of creation have led to an existential crisis now facing the entire planet. Sharing calls to action to people of faith and the leaders of these communities in moving forward with a shared responsibility for humanity, animals, nature, and Mother Earth herself. In the words of Dr. Jane Goodall, “I’m told that over 70 percent of the people on the planet belong to a faith group and this means that the leaders of the world’s religions have a hugely important responsibility to raise awareness and urge their followers to take action to protect the natural world. Encourage them to obey the golden rule that’s shared by every single major religion, do to others as you would have others do to you. And it’s necessary now to make clear that others must include animals and Mother Nature.”

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