Baha'is participate in interfaith parliament

July 12, 2004
Among the Baha'i participants were (left to right) Robert Bennet (United Kingdom), Jan Saeed (United States), A.K. Merchant (India), Badi Daemi (Andorra), Denise Belisle (Canada), and Miguel Gil (Spain).

BARCELONA, Spain — The high point of 20 years of interfaith activity by Lally Lucretia Warren, a Baha'i from Botswana, came this week when she chaired a session at the 2004 Parliament of the World's Religions.

The Parliament, a major interfaith conference, drew more than 8,000 people from 75 countries to this Mediterranean city 7-13 July.

Acting as master of ceremonies, Ms. Warren steered a plenary session through the granting of a new international award for interreligious dialog, speeches by prominent Jewish and Muslim leaders, and prayers from representatives of various religions.

Ms. Warren, a nurse and midwife, began her involvement in interfaith activities two decades ago by being one of the organizers of local observances of World Religion Day.

"Baha'u'llah said 'Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship,'" said Ms. Warren. "So that is what we tried to do."

Ms. Warren attended the Parliament in her capacity as one of 15 members of the Parliament's international advisory committee -- a group that includes such figures as the Dalai Lama, Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, and Ela Gandhi, the granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi.

Ms. Warren was largely sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation, in part because of her participation in Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa, which was initiated by the Lutherans.

Her role reflected the participation of Baha'is here -- many making presentations were representing various interfaith and academic organizations.

Lally Lucretia Warren addressing the 2004 Parliament of World's Religions. Slideshow
2 images

Lally Lucretia Warren addressing the 2004 Parliament of World's Religions.

Denise Belisle of Canada, for example, was sponsored by the Goldin Institute because of her work in an interreligious "Partner Cities" project that came about because of her activity on the Interfaith Council of Montreal.

Jan Saeed of Salt Lake City, Utah, USA was sponsored by Brigham Young University because of her efforts on the Salt Lake Interreligious Council during the 2002 winter Olympics.

And Brian Lepard, a professor of law at the University of Nebraska, came at the invitation of the Global Ethics and Religion Forum because of his scholarship on international human rights and religion.

More than 20 Baha'is were involved in panel discussions, speeches or other events at the Parliament, and another 80 Baha'is attended as participants, coming from more than a dozen countries.

"The goal for Baha'is at the Parliament is to help further understanding between the different religions," said Miguel Gil, who represented the Baha'i community of Spain.

Mr. Gil said the Spanish Baha'i community gave significant support by providing volunteers and organizational assistance.

Moojan Momen, a Baha'i scholar of the United Kingdom, who gave a well-attended talk at the Parliament on "The Baha'i Theological Basis of Interreligious Dialogue," said that Baha'is are able to contribute particularly well to interfaith dialogue because of a belief system that defuses those elements of religion that tend to produce conflict.

In speeches and discussions, religious leaders and activists from virtually every religious tradition repeatedly called for tolerance, and recognition of human interdependence and the common spirit in all religions.

"We need a new global spirituality that affirms the unity of all being, that affirms the interconnectedness of all, and affirms a new bottom line of love, caring, and generosity," said Rabbi Michael Learner, a noted Jewish author, in a panel discussion entitled "The Battle for God."

Taking the theme "Pathways to Peace," the 2004 Parliament was organized by three entities: the Chicago-based Council for the Parliament of the World's Religions, the UNESCO Centre of Catalonia, and the Forum Barcelona 2004.

Open to religious leaders and lay people alike, the event involved more then 400 workshops, panel discussions, and artistic presentations. The overall focus was on promoting interreligious dialog.

An assembly of religious leaders, held in conjunction with the Parliament, focused on four social issues: improving access to clean water, reducing global poverty, advocating the elimination of Third World debt, and opposing religiously inspired violence.

The Parliament is the third such gathering since 1993, when some 8,000 people from all religions came together in Chicago to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the World's Parliament of Religions, which was held there in 1893 and was the start of the movement for interreligious dialog. The 1893 event was also the first time that the Baha'i Faith was mentioned in a public talk in the Western Hemisphere.

In 1999, a second modern Parliament was held in South Africa, attracting some 7,000 participants from 90 countries. Baha'is have been involved in all three modern Parliaments, as organizers, participants, and presenters.