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What is the Parliament of the World’s Religions?

The first Parliament of the World’s Religions was held in Chicago in 1893. It was an effort to bring together the leaders and followers of the world’s religious and spiritual communities to discuss peace, diversity and sustainability.

Since 1993, a Parliament of the World’s Religions has convened every five years in a major international city – Chicago 1993, Cape Town 1999, Barcelona 2004 and Melbourne 2009.

Organisers say in today’s world, understanding between people of different traditions is not optional. It is essential. The 2009 Parliament aimed to give people of faith and goodwill new reasons to say that peace is still possible.

The 2009 Parliament was the world’s largest ever interreligious gathering. It brought together religious and civil leaders from more than 80 countries for dialogues on important global issues.

Central concerns of the Parliament are to promote a just society and respect diversity.

The Melbourne Parliament ran for seven days and included some 450 events including keynote addresses, seminars, conferences, debates, performances, concerts and exhibitions.

Parliament participants worked with to craft faithful responses to:

? global poverty and global warming;

? environmental care and degradation;

? education of the young and the challenges of social disengagement;

? voluntary and forced migration; and

? artistic expression and spirituality.

The Parliament educates for global peace and justice by exploring religious conflict and globalisation as defining challenges in the 21st century and provides tools for responding effectively.

Bill Wallace says it was suggested that the 2009 Parliament may have been the last because the economic and environmental cost of bringing so many people together from around the world may be too high in future. In its place could be regional gatherings or world gathering via electronic media.

February 2010

Cosmic celebration at Parliament of the World’s Religions

A celebration focusing on the cosmos and our place in it was Kiwi hymn writer Rev Bill Wallace’s offering to the Parliament of the World’s Religions that took place in Melbourne December 3rd-9th 2009.

The week-long Parliament attracted more than 5000 people from around the world. They represented 228 religions and their subdivisions. Among the key speakers were the Dalai Lama, Australian Aboriginal professor Joy Wandin, native American faithkeeper Oren Lyon, and theologians Hans Kung and Jim Wallis.

Members of more than 200 religious groups gathered in
Melbourne to talk and celebrate at the Parliament
of the World's Religions in December.

Bill says the Parliament provided a rare and exciting opportunity for people of different faiths to share their beliefs, practices, and stories of joy and pain. It was also a chance to celebrate together.

"We very rarely celebrate with people of other religions. Usually each religion does its own thing and other people simply observe it."

The Bill’s presentation was entitled ‘Celebrating the Cosmos and Its Processes’. It traced the formation of the universe, the stars and galaxies, the planets and the earth. It reminds us that we are ‘star-stuff’ and part of the cosmic processes of creation and destruction.

An element of the service was a hymn Bill rewrote based on the Canticle of the Sun by St Francis. It encourages us to see ourselves as part of the "cosmic family", which includes the sun, the moon, the elements and earth’s ecosystem.

Bill believes the Church has entered a phase of crisis because it is stuck in a worldview that places human beings at the centre of the universe. It has not incorporated new scientific understandings, which show that all parts of the cosmos are interconnected and constitute one dynamic entity.

"At the present moment we are spiritually caught between two worldviews, between winter and spring. A new worldview is emerging that does not see the world existing for us humans to exploit. We need to enlarge justice for human beings to justice for ecology and the whole cosmos."

Bill argues we should become more mystical than religious. Religion is based on institutions while the mystical experience leads us to see the sacred in all things.

"People are more motivated by delight than guilt so we need new stories that let us see ourselves within the story of the cosmos. We need new dreams that help us move beyond the dream of free market capitalism that more is not enough.

"We need new rituals and ways of worship that foster awe and wonder at the cosmos and all within it. To do this we need to listen to what the world around us is saying. Consider, as Jesus did, what the plants and the animals, and, I might add, the stars can teach us."

Bill says that to be in touch with all this we need to be silent and open ourselves to the dissolution of the boundaries between every form of ‘them’ and ‘us’.

"The consequence of having this experience is that we can no longer believe one system of thought or belief contains all wisdom. It is not just a question of pluralism but a form of eclecticism in which one can see ‘that of God’ in all of the world’s religions as well as their deficiencies."

Bill says technology is having the same effect. We are no longer confined to information from our own religion. The Internet has opened up a world in there are no walls of exclusion and young people are irreversibly immersed in that world.