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Convening of Parliament of World Religions Brings Hope and Sense of Connection
Members of various faith traditions participated in the Inaugural Parade of Faiths at the beginning of the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions convening.

Chicago, September 18, 2023 – “Whatever the issue – climate, peace, or human rights – we’re all in it together. We can only do this by being in it together, the whole global community – everybody included.”

That was one of the responses of Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, to her attendance at the Ninth Convening of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, held August 14-18, 2023, at McCormick Place in Chicago. Also attending were Adrian Dominican Associate Carol Fowler and Sisters Durstyne Farnan, OP, and Jean Keeley, OP. They were among more than 7,000 participants representing 95 countries and more than 200 faith traditions. 

Enjoying the convening are, from left, Sister Jean Keeley, OP; Pat Tomich, a friend of the Adrian Dominican Sisters; and a new Franciscan friend.
Photo by Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP

The Parliament of the World Religions is an international organization founded in 1893 to “cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities and to foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions to address the critical issues of our time,” according to its website. 

The Parliament originated in Chicago in 1893, but the first of its regular international gatherings began in Chicago in 1993. The convenings took place every few years after that in various parts of the world, culminating in the gathering in Toronto in 2018 and a virtual gathering in 2021. The Parliament returned to Chicago this year. The theme was “A Call to Conscience: Defending Freedom and Human Rights.”

Participants attended daily plenary sessions and could attend one of about 30 workshops at every time slot on various tracks. “There were workshops on multiple topics,” Sister Durstyne recalled. “The climate was [a popular topic], and it was new to the Parliament. We heard a presentation on human rights – the right to a healthy environment, a new resolution that the UN passed in July.” 

The Adrian Dominican participants appreciated the daily vegan lunch provided by the Sikh community. In addition, they browsed booths staffed by people of various religious faith traditions and organizations and took the opportunity to speak to them. 

Members of the Sikh community perform a quiet chant during the vegan lunch they provided every day.
Photo by Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP

Sisters Durstyne and Kathleen stayed with Adrian Dominican Sisters living in Chicago, including Sister Jean. “That was another way for us to engage other Adrian Dominicans,” Sister Durstyne said. “When we have an opportunity to share with our Sisters, that also engages them, and they engage us.”

The four Adrian Dominican participants took the opportunity later to reflect on their experience. 

“I liked the huge diversity in the people we saw, experienced, and listened to,” Carol said. “The atmosphere there was so welcoming and hospitable, the way people treated one another and wanted to learn from one another. …This was a golden opportunity to try to understand other faith traditions.” 

The Adrian Dominican participants took advantage of that opportunity. For example, Carol said she learned a lot from “listening to speakers from the Islamic tradition and how closely aligned we are in 95 percent of what we believe.” 

Sister Jean attended a session led by Indigenous peoples. “[They] had an enormous circle in the assembly hall, and we passed the microphone and spoke about what we were grateful for and our passions,” she recalled. 

But, along with the diversity of faith traditions and cultures, the Adrian Dominican participants also noticed a sense of unity, particularly in matters of justice and peace. “There were core values of peacemaking, listening, dialogue, and trying to understand,” Carol said. 

“Whatever the issue – climate, peace, or human rights – we’re all in it together,” Sister Kathleen said. She noted the Parliament’s Global Ethic, which recently included a call to sustainability and care for the Earth. That fifth ethic makes the connection between the Earth Charter and the UN Declaration on Human Rights. “People are beginning to realize that everything is connected,” she said.

“That seems to be the message, that the churches need to step up – especially [in the area of] poverty,” Sister Jean said. “There’s so much emphasis on fixing our air conditioning or paving the parking lot [but] there doesn’t seem to be a wider vision.”

Sisters Durstyne and Kathleen experienced a particular challenge for people in the United States and other developed nations. “There are limits to what we can and cannot do,” Sister Durstyne said. “We, especially in the United States, need to learn this.” In one workshop, she said, she heard of the commitment by noted Catholic scholar and environmentalist Thomas Berry “to another way of living besides living extravagantly, so much out of fossil fuels and [their] emissions.”

“The idea is that wealthy nations are obligated to lighten their impact on the poor nations,” Sister Kathleen said. “Nobody lives in a vacuum and has the right to everything. We have to learn that if we’re willing to share resources, there’s enough for everyone.” 

Carol recommended that anybody interested in attending the next convening – the date and place have not yet been set – should consider doing so. “It offers you the opportunity to get out of your mindset and have a completely different experience,” she said. “The focus was very much on what we can do in the here and now. It was a terrific experience.”

Read more about the recent convening of the World Parliament of the World’s Religions in an article in the National Catholic Reporter

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