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  • The Promise of Inclusion, the Power of Love
  • Leo Lefebure

During the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, religious leaders from around the globe assembled in the Art Palace (today's Art Institute) for the historic World Parliament of Religions in an atmosphere of acceptance and respect for all other religious traditions. Cardinal James Gibbons, the ninth archbishop of Baltimore and the leading American Catholic churchman of his day, formally opened the Parliament by leading the assembly in the Lord's Prayer. He told the leaders, "I trust that we shall all leave this hall animated by a greater love for one another, for love knows no distinction of faith. … Never do we perform an act so pleasing to God as when we extend the right hand of fellowship and of practical love to a suffering member." Catholics had never participated in such an assembly, and not all Catholics at that time approved of participation in the event. Participants hoped that the development of interreligious understanding, charity, and compassion would bring an end to historic religious tensions and shape a healthy community of the world's religions; this remains one of the most important goals of each later Parliament.

At the second Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago in 1993, physicist Gerald Barney placed ecological concerns at the forefront of the agenda, challenging religious leaders of the world to bring their influence to bear to care for the Earth and the entire community of life. In 1993 the Assembly of Spiritual and Religious Leaders at the Parliament approved the adoption of the declaration "Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration," which evoked discussion around the world and remains a major focus.

The seventh Parliament met in Toronto from November 1 through 7, 2018, to explore the overarching theme: "The Promise of Inclusion, the Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation, and Change." Major threads included the indigenous peoples' program, women's dignity, interfaith understanding, the next generation, science and religion, justice, overcoming hatred and violence, climate action, and discussions toward a global ethic. The Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions expanded the original statement on the Global Ethic to include a commitment to cultivating sustainability and care for the Earth.

Sikhs offered a complimentary lunch meal known as the langar each day. Leaders from a very wide array of religious traditions addressed the Parliament, including Catholic Cardinals Blaise Cupich of Chicago and Thomas Collins of Toronto. [End Page 319] Indigenous nations featured prominently from beginning to end, with numerous ceremonies and speeches. The Women's Assembly focused attention on the vital contributions of female leaders, and in one session an actor represented Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who had sent an address to the 1893 Parliament. Rev. Joshstrom Isaac Kurteethadam, a native of India and the director of the Institute of Social and Political Sciences at the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome, presented the concerns of Pope Francis and his predecessors regarding care for the Earth.

As vice president of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies, I had coordinated the planning of a series of sessions on Buddhist-Christian relations. In one of these sessions, four students from Georgetown University's doctoral program in religious pluralism collaborated with a student from Southern Methodist University to present a discussion of "The Planetary Environmental Crisis through Buddhist and Christian Eyes." Another session in this series explored the possibilities and perils of multiple religious belonging with regard to Christianity and Buddhism. On another panel, which explored the different roles of being scholar and practitioner in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, Georgetown student Joel Daniels and I spoke together with Professor Judith Simmer-Brown of Naropa University. As a Pentecostal minister studying the contemporary situation in China, Joel's remarks evoked particular interest. In a session on case studies from three different institutions, Georgetown student Teng-Kuan Ng joined students from Naropa University and Southern Methodist University in presenting the approaches to interreligious learning of these schools.

I offered a reflection together with Catholic and Buddhist colleagues on "Divinity with Respect to Love in Buddhism and Christianity." I also offered a presentation on a panel convened by the Sikh community on "Compassion as...


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