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Lessons from the Parliament of the World's Religions


When I walked into the Convention Centre in Melbourne to attend the Parliament of the World's Religions during the first days of December 2009, I immediately felt drawn into an atmosphere of respect for the religious convictions and practices of people from every corner of the world who had come to take part in this meeting.

I had a sense of the spiritual energy emanating from the colorful robes and the beautiful faces of monks and holy people from different religious traditions. As I attended workshops and panel discussions, I noticed that people were asking questions not simply to argue with one another but in order to learn and to appreciate more deeply the profound message of the various religions of the world.

It seemed to me that the 6000 people present had all come for the same purpose: to foster peace and harmony among people on earth. At each session I felt the same urgency to go beyond the outer fabric of religion to discover the treasure within.

Every religious tradition was making a contribution to world peace and was looking for better ways to care for the planet. These spiritually awakened people were saying that politics and economics was not enough. Neither would scientific knowledge guarantee the care that the world now needed.

The interest in religion, so evident at the Parliament, sprang from a desire to look for spiritual ways to deal with modern problems of climate change, poverty, conflict and injustice. What the world sought was a spiritual source of energy, which would motivate people to change their lifestyles and to share the world's resources.

As the Dalai Lama said, the problems facing the world are related to the ego and the emotions. So the only solution was to deal with the ego and the emotions. All the religious traditions of the world provide a path to confront one's selfishness and emotional struggles. All the major religions seek peace. All teach us that our first concern should be to find that peace within ourselves.

For me the message of this extraordinary meeting of religious people was that we can help one another to find this peace. We can allow people from another religion to remind us of the deep values and spiritual strength that is to be found within our own.

There is no need to underestimate one's own religious heritage. The interfaith movement in the world is a wake-up call to tap the resources that lie dormant in one's own culture and traditions. Interfaith is a kind of cross-fertilisation process that encourages each one of us to grow in strength and grace, provided we have the humility to listen respectfully to what a brother or a sister from another religion intends to say.

What has happened so frequently in the past is that we think we know what other religions teach. We have read about them in books and the media. What is new in the world today is that people from different religious traditions are beginning to ask one another questions and to listen with an open heart.

At the Parliament of the World's Religions, I found that I could affirm and learn from spiritual traditions that differ from my own. Other religions need not be a threat. All human beings are fellow travelers on the same journey, facing similar issues and even drawing on similar spiritual resources.

It is time we made use of these spiritual resources in collaborative action for our broken world.

Herman RoborghHerman Roborgh SJ lived in Pakistan for eight years before going to India where he completed a PhD in Islamic Studies at Aligarh Muslim University. He currently resides in Australia.



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Existing comments

Thank for your timely letter. What I am very saddened about is the lack of publicity give to this amazing event. I guess it is typical of some of our Media, as it may not be sensational enough, but even in our local Catholic press it did not seem to warrant great attention.

Having said that, what a wonderful outlook that we may even be able to learn from each other's religious beliefs.

It can be so restrictive to spiritual growth when we deem to have all the answers, and also so patronising, eventually as history proves, causing conflict and war.

We do so want to live in peace. The wonder of the Divine in each human being, seems to be the place to start.
I applaud all who attended this Parliament of World Religions, and encourage them to keep prodding me, and the world, to a different, and inclusive understanding of all spiritual paths.

Bernie Introna | 05 January 2010  

The Parliament was, as Herman Roborgh reports, a truly great event. There were a range of perspectives, not all in harmony, but there was also a sense that everyone needed to be heard.

The interfaith movement is a growing global initiative, that must embrace secular as much as spiritual views, in order to celebrate and nurture life on this planet. It is vital that we in Australia continue to build on this initiative, including for those who could not afford to register for the Parliament or have not yet heard its message.

Constant Mews | 06 January 2010  

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