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National interfaith forum exceeds expectations

Parliament Interfaith forum takes over Parliament

For two days last month Parliament’s legislative chamber was transformed from a place where political parties bicker and vie for attention to one where members of New Zealand’s diverse faiths sought harmony and common ground.

Organisers say the country’s first national Interfaith Forum was a success that exceeded expectations. New Zealanders from all the world’s religions joined the forum to foster unity among ethnic communities and discuss issues that confront society.

The Wellington Interfaith Committee sponsored the event with the support of minister of ethnic affairs Chris Carter and Labour MP Dr Ashraf Choudhary. It took place on September 21 and 22, and brought together people involved in interfaith dialogue from throughout the country.

The forum featured a keynote speech by Sir Paul Reeves entitled ‘Can there be harmony within religious diversity?’ and an opening address by Governor General Dame Silvia Cartwright.

Participants in Interfaith dialogue

Throughout the event there were prayers and readings from the different faiths – Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Judaism, Bah’ai, Sikh, and Hindu.

Chair of the Wellington Interfaith Committee Major Peter Thorp says 120 people were present for Sir Paul’s address and 98 stayed on for the workshops and plenary sessions on the second day. All delegates paid their own way to attend the event.

“We had expected 50 or 60 people to attend. People came from throughout New Zealand, from both islands and from cities as well as smaller towns. Those who attended came as individuals, they were not there as official representatives of their faith.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm and everyone clearly wanted to participate wholeheartedly. The workshops brought forward a number of suggestions on appropriate activities to enhance interfaith dialogue. They will be collated into a publication and we carefully say the momentum is there for this interfaith dialogue to continue in future in some form or other.”

Peter observes since the time the tangata whenua arrived on these shores New Zealand has been an interfaith society. As an example, he says, on the same weekend 160 years ago the first Orthodox Jewish service was held in Wellington and the next day the city’s first Catholic Eucharist took place.