Catholics called to dialogue at 2015 Parliament of the World's Religions in Salt Lake City

Friday, Oct. 23, 2015
Catholics called to dialogue at 2015 Parliament of the World's Religions in Salt Lake City + Enlarge
Father Don Rooney, President of the Catholic Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers, presents the homily during the Oct. 17 Vigil Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, which was attended by many of those who were participating in the Parliament of the World's Religions. IC photo/Christine Young

SALT LAKE CITY — The Parliament of the World’s Religions opened in Salt Lake City with a procession led by American Indians wearing traditional feathered headdresses, followed by men and women dressed in religious attire of robes and saris, turbans and scarves, followed by flag bearers representing the different countries participating in the event.
“With love in our hearts, compassion in our minds, and a smile on our faces to reclaim the heart of humanity, I declare the sixth Parliament of the World’s Religions open,” said Imam Malik Mujahid, chairman, in his opening remarks at the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center Oct. 15. 
The event continued through Oct. 19. 
Among the many dignitaries, Utah Governor Gary Herbert welcomed the 9,500 participants from 80 countries to Utah, which has become “a home for a variety of faiths that have brought an abundance of goodwill to our state,” he said.
In a letter addressed to Parliament participants, the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó, was asked by Pope Francis to convey the message that this year’s Parliament “has special significance, since it occurs during the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Declaration of the Second Vatican Council, which addressed relations between the Church and other religions.” 
At the Oct. 17 vigil Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, Benedictine Father William Skudlarek, secretary general of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, was the principle celebrant, and Father Don Rooney, president of the Catholic Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers (CADEIO), was the homilist. Father Martin Diaz, pastor of the Cathedral of the Madeleine, concelebrated with many visiting priests.
“This has been a time of grace and growth, and following Pope Francis’ expressed desire, it has been a time for us to encounter people of all faiths to plant seeds of peace and hope for our world,” Fr. Rooney said in his homily. “The Parliament of the World’s Religions is a gathering of people of different religions; we Christians are involved in the work of dialogue, an enterprise of holiness, which takes place between people often of very different experiences, beliefs and backgrounds. How many times do we fail in dialogue? Yet as Catholics, we know that the word of love spoken by God is a power that can bridge and bring together people so that those experiences, beliefs and backgrounds, no matter how divergent or even surprising, can become opportunities for persons to take the journey of friendship. The bridge of these spiritual friendships enables the loving and reconciling word of God to act effectively if our hearts are open enough to share and our ears open to hear.” 
Father Thomas Baima, vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Archdiocese of Chicago, said in an interview that what CADEIO wanted to convey to other Christians and other believers during Parliament comes out of Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel. “Interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace, a duty for Christians,” he said. “That is how the pope is approaching any kind of interreligious engagement.” 
In June, Pope Francis called to Rome members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs to  collaborate with the Pontifical Council for interreligious dialogue with Buddhist leaders from all parts of the world. 
Fr. Baima, a member of the Buddhist/Catholic dialogue, said Pope Francis “personally participated in one of the sessions and said ‘this kind of encounter was good and healthy because it planted small seeds of peace.’” 
The results of the dialogue were discussed at the Parliament by a panel of six Catholics and Buddhists, who shared their experiences from Rome during a workshop at which they said they feel the dialogue strengthened mutual understanding concerning human suffering and deepened relationships between them. For example, they have since attended each other’s religious services. The panel members from Los Angeles, Chicago and New York agreed to explore collaborating on climate change, resources for affordable housing, addressing immigration reform, witnessing religious values and spiritual practices.
CADEIO sponsored other workshops such as Roman Catholic Theology and Practice of Interreligious Dialogue, Catholic and Muslim Women in Dialogue, and Parish-to-Parish Learning Community: A Roman Catholic Model of Collaborative Leadership and Learning for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations.
During the Parliament, faith-sharing spaces were available. Pamela Avery, a lay ecclesial minister and member of Saint Ambrose Parish, welcomed people to the Christian faith-sharing space to pray, relax or get involved in discussions. 
“As the days passed the experience was more rewarding and exhilarating,” Avery said. “People are coming together to show their love for humanity rather than war and violence. We’ve talked about youth, families and children – how to keep them together; learning more about God; how the different religions are handling issues; and women wanting equality in their religion.”
Dr. John Xanthopoulos, a professor of education at the University of Montana Western, was among those who visited the Christian faith sharing space. “How wonderful it is for all these spiritual faiths, and philosophies of life to be in one space talking to each other,” he said. “This is a fantastic meeting of people, mind-opening even if I don’t agree with what people say.” 

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