Loretto Members Attend Parliament of World Religions 2018
During the week of Nov. 1-7, 2018, Loretto Community members Annie Stevens, Beth Blissman and I attended various sessions and workshops of the Parliament of World Religions (PWR) held in Toronto. The theme for this year’s parliament was “The Promise of Inclusion, the Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation and Change.”
Since 1893, there have been seven parliament gatherings in locations throughout the world. This recent parliament hosted more than 10,000 people and included more than 5,000 programs and events across six tracks that included the dignity of women; countering hate, war and violence; care for Earth; indigenous spirituality and healing Mother Earth; youth voices for change; and creating a just, peaceful and sustainable world.
“What do Jewish beekeepers and Benedictine nuns have in common? Who teaches young Native American children their tribal languages? Where do young activists for peace make a difference in local communities? How do faith groups on both sides of the Potomac lobby city and county legislators to mitigate industrial pollution?” These were some of the questions that Annie pondered as she chose the sessions that she would attend at the parliament. Returning to St. Louis, Annie then incorporated her learnings into the classes she teaches at Webster University.
Annie said, “My experience of ‘The Promise of Inclusion, The Power of Love’ led me to many sessions, which I have already applied to my fall classes. In ‘Religion and Ecojustice’ class, I described the climate change sessions where I learned how Bela Farm Bee Sanctuary partners with schools and synagogues to teach sustainable farming practices, sells honey at local farm markets and donates their beeswax to a nearby Benedictine monastery where it is made into candles! For my ‘In the Footsteps of Malala’ seminar, I emphasized the ‘Dignity of Women’ track, with female speakers from all the world’s religions, U.N. and government leaders and a Wikipedia inclusion project. (Did you know that 90 percent of Wiki articles are written by men?) My ‘First Generation Pursuit of Happiness’ students heard about the ways that faith communities set goals and find allies, particularly through ‘Next Generation’ networking initiatives that help students connect their local peace and justice advocacy work across the globe.”
Other highlights for Annie, she said, were “interactive sessions [that] led to audience members connecting with one another, hearing the Potomac faith groups tell of their grassroots ecojustice actions and following along with Native American songs of thanksgiving for Earth. People began exchanging contact information and left encouraged to act. Even at the morning prayer sessions, sounds from one room would blend with others. What a joyful experience I had of Christian interfaith prayers punctuated by Sikhs singing next door!”
For Beth, attending the parliament, she said, was “viewed through the lenses of gender and environmental justice. I was excited to learn, share and connect with other faith-based activists in Toronto. I was drawn to presentations and events that connected the struggles of women and girls worldwide with calls for environmental justice for all humans and other species of life.
“One of my favorite physicists and speakers was Vandana Shiva from northern India. I was delighted to see that she had a few recent books that I was unaware of including, Who Really Feeds the World? (2014), The Sacred Seed and Oneness vs the 1% (forthcoming). There’s also an excellent film about Vandana from back in the ‘80s (“Daughter of the Earth”) and a more recent one as well. See http://vandanashivamovie.com/.
“[Dr. Shiva’s] talks were excellent and insightful, as usual, and she supported feminists and grassroots farmers and challenged those who think that we can find ecologically sustainable solutions within current economic paradigms of greed and corruption.”
Beth said the two best takeaway quotes were “Reclaiming creativity is reclaiming our full humanity,” and “Money is not the currency of life. … Life is the currency of life!” You can learn more about Vandana Shiva and her work through www.navdanya.org, a center for biological and cultural diversity. “Vandana’s work is deeply inspirational to me,” Beth said, “and guides my involvement with both Loretto at the UN and the Loretto Earth Network.”
As a doctoral candidate in a women’s spirituality program, I was especially interested in the ways women have been resilient and have resisted oppressive systems. Of the sessions I attended, the film “Mercy’s Blessing” and the follow-up discussion focused on the education of girls and young women as one means for women in developing countries to escape poverty, child marriages and violence. Another workshop, “Transforming Patriarchy in Religion: From Gender Apartheid to Beloved Community,” challenged us to move beyond gender stereotypes and begin the process of gender reconciliation.
At the parliament I also was able to explore with others and expand my understanding of justice to include our human relationships with all of creation. Charlene Spretnak’s presentation on “Relational Reality” spoke of this growing “relational shift” within the Western perception of human life. Spretnak also pointed out the possibilities of this relational shift to transform “the way we educate our children, attend to our health, green our communities and rethink economic activity.”
I came home from Toronto inspired and hope-filled by my interactions with people from several cultures and religious/spiritual beliefs who share a vision of a world that cultivates “harmony among the world’s religions and spiritual communities and foster[s] their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions in order to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world.” (from the PWR mission statement)