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Buddhist-Christian Studies 20 (2000) 249-255

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News and Views

World Parliament of Religions, Cape Town, South Africa

Jim Kenney

The Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions is pleased to offer this summary report of the 1999 Parliament of the World's Religions, held in Cape Town, South Africa, December 1-8, 1999. Nestled against Table Mountain and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Town is home to many races, religious traditions, and cultural varieties. Religious, spiritual, cultural, and civic leaders, groups, and communities there worked enthusiastically in partnership with CPWR to make the 1999 Parliament an unforgettable gift to the world.

At the 1999 Parliament over 7,000 people from around the world--teachers, scholars, leaders, believers, and practitioners--came together to experience astonishing spiritual and cultural variety, to exchange insights, to share wisdom, to celebrate their unique religious identities; in short, to be amazed, delighted, and inspired. At the same time, participants wrestled with the critical issues facing the global community, learning about the world situation, and seeking the moral and ethical convergence that leads to shared commitment and action.

The 1999 Parliament of the World's Religions was a celebration of hope and a vision of possible futures. It also gave powerful testimony to the good hearts and goodwill of the many thousands of people--from every part of the world, and from almost every religious and spiritual tradition--who believed that this gathering could indeed be the harbinger of a new day dawning.

It was not the intention of those who gathered in Cape Town to create a new religion, or to diminish in any way the precious uniqueness of any path. Instead, they came together to demonstrate that the religious and spiritual traditions and communities of Cape Town, of South Africa, and of the larger world can and should encounter one another in a spirit of respect, and with an openness to new understanding. They joined with one another in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation, seeking to discover new ways to rise to the challenges and the opportunities of life at the threshold of a new century. And they came with the realization that as each of us reaches out to the transcendent in her or his own way, somehow, we are no longer strangers to one another.

In commemoration of International AIDS Day, the Parliament began with the formal unveiling of the International AIDS Quilt in the picturesque area known as the Company's Garden. Each one of hundreds of handsewn panels commemorates a victim of the disease, yet the Quilt project itself is a symbol of hope and life's triumph. [End Page 249] The founder of the quilt, Cleve Jones, joined with several religious and spiritual leaders from around the world to engage in dialogue about the role of religious and spiritual communities in fighting the disease that has claimed the lives of so many people. The quilt was an especially poignant reminder of both the epidemic of AIDS in South Africa, and the role that religious and spiritual traditions play in confronting the critical issues that face the world at the end of the millennium.

Participants then proceeded down Government Avenue to Darling Street and on to District Six. Costumes, religious garb, banners, and wonderful cultural variety made for a colorful and moving experience for marchers and spectators alike. With over 10,000 marchers, the procession was a highlight for many Parliament participants. The presence of protesters demonstrating their displeasure with the Parliament and its commitment to interreligious dialogue and cooperation did not diminish the spirit or the enthusiasm of the marchers.

When the procession arrived in District Six, an area symbolic of both dispossession and of the human spirit, those who had once lived in this lovely spot under Table Mountain welcomed the marchers. Past residents of District Six described to those gathered how their once vibrant community was displaced when the apartheid-era government designated the area as "white only," and removed the residents to distant, underresourced townships. In the moving ceremony that followed, religious and spiritual leaders...