Happy All Saints Day to all saints and all saints in training! This day we celebrate both the canonized Saints (with a capital “S”) and all the saints we have ever met or known. Perhaps you have family members or friends or know fellow parishioners who you pretty well expect are saints, even if they are not canonized, i.e. declared so by the Church. Today we celebrate them all!
I have just returned from a wonderful conference in Salt Lake City, Utah called the Parliament of the World’s Religions. The first of these gatherings promoting interfaith dialogue and cooperation was held in Chicago during the 1893 Columbian Exposition. It was revived in 1993 as the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Since then it has been held every five years, in Cape Town, South Africa; Barcelona, Spain; Melbourne, Australia and now in Salt Lake City, Utah. I had the great pleasure of attending the one in Melbourne as well.
This is a BIG conference: 9,500 participants, from 70 different countries, representing 50 world religions. It is quite amazing to rub shoulders and converse with Jains, Bahais, Moslems, Hindus, Jews, Shieks, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Taoists, Indigenous folk (in this case, Ute Indians), and a collection of Wiccans, Mother Goddess worshippers, Gaia adherents, and modern Pagans. It makes for a lively group!
Though we have different religions, we can learn to respect and dialogue with each other. We also can work together on common problems. The areas of common concern identified for this particular Parliament were five: respect for and protection of indigenous peoples around the world, addressing growing income equality, war/violence and hate speech, emerging young inter-faith leaders, women’s concerns and human rights, and the big one was addressing climate change.
There were hundreds of workshops and speeches. It was possible to get to only a small fraction of the offerings, which began at 7 a.m. and went until evening. And sometimes there were evening events. It was a rather demanding schedule. I attended workshops on various topics, including one by a woman theologian from Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary on “Rethinking Salvation: images and metaphors of salvation for a pluralistic world” that was very stimulating and “Spiritual Formation in the age of the Singularity,” about the impact of technological change on spirituality, which was quite interesting. A very helpful workshop was “A Common Word Between Us and You,” which was a response of Muslim scholars to Pope Benedict XVI’s comment in 2007 that Islam is a violent religion. Out of that has come a fruitful Moslem-Catholic dialogue that continues today. One workshop I planned to attend but missed because it was re-scheduled was “Transforming Patriarchy in Religions: The Promise of Gender Reconciliation.” There was a great deal of energy at the Parliament over women’s issues. More than 50% of the participants were women.
And we also had performances, such as a wonderful inter-faith concert held in the Mormon Tabernacle with over a dozen different groups performing from all the continents (except Antarctica) and a combined inter-faith children’s choir that was spectacular. And there were many more workshops and such I participated in, more than I could list.
For me the most important part of the Parliament was meeting with other Roman Catholics involved in inter-faith work. It is not the most popular ministry in the Church right now, and it was good to give and receive mutual support. One very positive sign is how often, and how positively Pope Francis was quoted by ALL religious groups, especially about environmental concerns.
I have not digested this whole experience yet. As I sort out this experience I will share more with you in this column. Meanwhile it is good to be back at St. Austin parish community.