Friday, December 4, 2009

The Parliament Keynote

As of December 3rd, the fourth modern Parliament of the World's Religions convened in Melbourne, Australia. This year the Parliament has a main theme, "Make a World of Difference: Hearing each other, Healing the earth". But there are also these sub-themes which people were encouraged to consider in their programming.

  • Healing the Earth with Care and Concern
  • Indigenous People
  • Overcoming Poverty in an Unequal World
  • Securing Food and Water for All People
  • Building Peace in the Pursuit of Justice
  • Creating Social Cohesion in Village and City
  • Sharing Wisdom in the Search for Inner Peace
The first Parliament event, the opening Plenary started at 7:30 with a symphony accompanied by a digeridoo. Prof. "Aunt" Joy Murphy Wandin welcomed us to her land by offering virtual gum leaves which signify we are welcome from the tops of the trees to their roots. Then we were welcomed by Prof. David de Kretser, the governor of Victoria, Bill Lesher of the Parliament and the Hon. Laurie Ferguson, MP, and Jennifer Kanis a Melbourne City Councillor. The Australians all thanked and praised the Aboriginal Australians in their remarks which I thought was interesting (esp. given the actual conditions of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia). The Rabbi David Saperstein gave the first keynote. He asked “…..Will we use our wisdom, wealth, knowledge and technology to help nations resolve their differences peacefully – or blow up the world in a nuclear holocaust? To clean up the damage to our environment, preserve the creation God has entrusted to our care, and protect it for generations yet unborn – or despoil and contaminate it? To enhance those freedoms so essential in allowing people to find spiritual fulfillment – or degrade and diminish them? To share God’s wealth equitably and fairly with all God’s children – or to deny justice to the 2 billion of our brothers and sisters living in severe poverty, ignoring the warning of the Talmud 2,000 years ago that the sword enters the world because of justice delayed and justice denied? To use genetic engineering to cure birth defects – or create Hitler’s master race?. He also plugged the Charter for Compassion. Prayers and blessings were offered from Zoroastrian, Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Bahai, Aboriginal and Shinto representatives. Dr Sakena Yacoobi of Afghanistan was another of the keynote speakers. In 1995, at the height of the Taliban's reign of terror in Afghanistan, she entered the country secretly with $20,000 of her own money, and opened 80 underground schools, educating 3000 girls. Today, her Afghan Learning Institute has reached 6.8 million women and girls, teaching literacy, hygiene, and how to make an income. Its 480 staff have a budget of $3 million in cash and kind, all donated by individuals. The Taliban did not uncover even one of her schools. "The people of Afghanistan trusted us and protected us because we worked for the grassroots according to culture and tradition." Another notable keynoter was Sri Sri Ravi Shankar "The purpose of religion is to bring enlightenment to the individual, happiness to the society and move from limited individual identity to universality and eventually communion with the Divine. When at a time, these ideals are far from reality, congregations such as this, where people of all faiths gather together, have a great responsibility to ponder on these pressing issues. It is a necessity for the very survival of our planet." He also said "As I was hearing my sister from Afghanistan it was so painful to hear that the nation, a whole generation is suffering from such depression. Palestine, 92% of Palestinians are suffering from depression. $116 billion dollars are being spent on mental health in Europe alone. We need to get out of this vicious circle. You may have good bed, you may have good cars, you may have good jobs, but if you are depressed it is like dressing a corpse. Bringing make-up to your corpse. So we need to attend ot the human values, the human dignity, and how we can elevate the spirit of the individual out of this deep depression, anguish and violence. Let's all brainstorm in this few days that we are here and come up with something concrete that we can take back to every nook and corner of the planet."
It was a long, but inspiring opening. Hopefully the coming week will give us "something concrete that we can take back to every nook and corner of the planet."

Rowan Fairgrove
National Interfaith Representative

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