Reflections on the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Reflections on the 2023 Parliament of the World's ReligionsBishop Philip Huggins of the Anglican Church, Diocese of Melbourne – and Director, Centre for Ecumenical Studies, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture (Charles Sturt University) recently participated – as a member of the Elijah Institute – in the Parliament of the World’s Religions, held in Chicago, August 13-19. Here, Bishop Philip shares his reflections on the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions.

Reflections on the 2023 Parliament of the World's Religions
I offer these responses after attending the August 13-19 Chicago Parliament of World Religions [PWR] and after contributing as part of the Elijah Interfaith Institute.

I have gathered these reflections under the questions we use in the Talanoa Dialogues of our Interfaith Liaison Committee to the UNFCCC.

The questions are a blessing bestowed by South Pacific communities, and have been used at COPs in recent years.


This question is answered in a mixture of gratitude and repentance:

⟴ Gratitude for the gift of life and the opportunity to make a contribution to a more compassionate world.

⟴ Repentance as regards the condition of the planet and the plight of those suffering. Repentance means we actively do what we can to make a better life for those suffering.


We want to go to a place where everyone feels safe and is safe, including endangered species.

A place, that is, where we do not look away in anguish at what we see.

The great UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold conveyed that the whole purpose of the UN and its related agencies – UNHCR; UNESCO; UNICEF, etc., – was and is to give people peace in safety. The Declaration on Human Rights and all that flows from it is to protect and enhance safety.

What he conveys is also an integrating principle for contemporary interreligious co-operation.

Feeling safe gives people peace.

Every faith tradition has a word for this.

Peace     Shalom     Salem     Om Shanti …

Peace is Jesus’ first gift after resurrection. The Incarnate One, the visible of the invisible, asks us to be peacemakers. It’s a gift and a task.

The theme and activities of these days in Chicago therefore picked up our yearning for a safer, more peaceful world in which all may flourish.


That is the question. The short answer is that everyone has a contribution to make.

At the Parliament of World Religions and in the related meeting of our Elijah Interfaith Group, I met a diversity of contributors, all recognising our need for one another.

There is an evolving ‘critical mass’ of people, from many faith traditions, who have a unified and unifying consciousness and who are doing all they can to make our world safer and more peaceful.

The periodic Parliament of the World’s Religions provides a setting in which folk can so gather and thus find fresh inspiration. Some 7000 gathered in Chicago. The range of programs was quite astonishing. As pictured below, our Elijah Interfaith group followed up our work last November on climate change, framed by our “Ten Principles,” which were on display at our Parliament stall:


The Elijah Institute -  Ten Principles

We also offered to the plenary a time of Poetry and Music, with Prayer and Meditation, focused on Ukraine:


Plenary prayers focussed on the Ukraine

Therein we also launched a new initiative to build friendships across religions [FAFI]. Meeting separately together away from the Parliament, we discussed papers that we had all provided on matters of ‘religious genius’.

Perhaps the best way to convey the colour and substance of this hopeful gathering is by brief portraits of just a few of the many wonderful contributors. Swamiji grew up in the oppression of Franco’s influence on Spain. To breathe, he had to make his way otherwise, including from the then controlling influence of the Spanish Church. He has created a beautiful Ashram and Meditation Centre, ‘Campus PHI,’ in Extremadura, Spain. It is a place of solace for many. Here he speaks as others of us look on:


Swami Amarananda

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is an Imam in New York, originally from Egypt. He became the ‘go to Muslim’ after 9/11, as the wider community sought a better understanding.

Many books and lectures later, he is tired from these demands but peaceful about all he has done to enhance understanding. Feisal continues to look after his mosque in New York.


Imam Feisal
Imam Feisal sits to my right here, as Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, Founder and Director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute, speaks at our ‘Climate Repentance Ceremony’ during the PWR. To my left are nuns from Plum Village. They both spoke with much love in their mindful way.


 Sister Tri Nghiem
Here, Sister Tri Nghiem, leader, is pictured on the right of Luc Nghiem, both from one of the US Centres.

You can find them at and

Further to my right in the previous image in saffron are Hindu sisters from an ashram near the Himalayas in India. To their right is Jinwol Lee, a Buddhist monk, originally from South Korea and now living, largely in silence, in his US setting. To the right of Swamiji, is Zen Buddhist Richard Marker. Beside him from the Brahma Kumaris is leader Maureen Goodman of the UK. To complete the picture, partly hidden behind Rabbi Alon is a Sikh leader, Bhai Mohinder Singh also from the UK. There are others of our group not in this picture, but this gives a glimpse of some of our Elijah group.

At a Banquet of the ‘Charter of Compassion,’ amazing people told of their compassionate responses after gun violence had killed loved ones. One was Scarlett, after the shooting of her 6-year-old son and his classmates in their school room. You can visit the Choose Love movement:

I wrote about Scarlett and the Charter in my ‘Statement from the Heart’ in the Public Policy Journal, Pearls and Irritations, published on 19 August:

The role of the arts was vivid at the Parliament. For example, Stacey Gillett is helping kids share their stories and learn about the stories of others:


 Stacey Gillett

Dr. Meghan Stretar is helping lead a wonderful project – an illuminated, handwritten Bible of monumental size:


Dr. Meghan Stretar

Helped by ‘Arts4Impact,’ the Parliament had poignant art to convey the innocent deaths caused by gun violence. I wept when I beheld what is pictured below.


innocent deaths caused by gun violence

Arts for Impact makes it point about guns:


Arts for Impact - guns
In my last weekend in Chicago, the media reported ‘at least a dozen’ deaths or serious injuries of teenagers who were shot in Chicago streets and playgrounds between Friday night and Sunday morning… some of those killed were kids, who would have started High School for the first time on Monday August 21st.


Enough of guns and death

Here is the key matter as regards the future. ‘Enough’ is what people say, but the culture of violence persists, and the simplest initiatives in arms control and disarmament are blocked, both locally and internationally. Safety is denied where safety could prevail. It is a choice.

A clergy speaker at the Parliament said the time has come for contemporary training in non-violent protest, backed by prayer, as regards the vested interests of the carbon economy. I imagine he would see this same need as regards the Arms Industry and related blockers of local and international disarmament.

It IS about the guns. .and the knives, the cruise missiles, the drones, and the devastating consequences if just one of the thousands of nuclear weapons on alert was released, even by mistake!


Relatedly, I never got to land my hope that we might, as multi-faith leaders, form a coalition to encourage world leaders to go on Retreat together, giving themselves the space to breathe; to get to know each other in a safe and beautiful location; to let there be room for the necessary initiatives that will take us to a safer place for everyone on planet earth.

I know the wisdom, the genius, that is embodied in our Retreat cultures offers so much contemporary relevance. There is so much more we can give.

Be it Swamiji in Spain; those of the global Plum Villages; the Brahma Kumaris in their Retreat Centres; the Elijah Summer School in Jerusalem; the Bonnevaux Retreat Centre of the World Community of Christian Meditation; the Retreat spaces offered by our Interfaith Liaison Committee at UN COP’s, as well as what is offered in our various Australian settings.

Understandably, there were fixed agendas for these Chicago meetings, and no space was available for this suggestion to be taken further.

However, in the way of such gatherings, informal and more personal conversations may lead to fresh possibilities.

My conversation with Brahma Kumaris leader Maureen Goodman was of that kind. She spoke of an initiative involving, amongst others, senior politicians of Iceland. See This looks a parallel to what we began exploring at our June 16 Seminar.

My involvement with Fr. Laurence Freeman and the World Community of Christian Meditation [WCCM] suggests another fruitful partner.

Better relationships between world leaders is absolutely crucial. If there were better relationships between Australia and China, our major trading partner, we wouldn’t both be simultaneously building more nuclear submarines! China building many more such submarines than AUKUS… and so on.

The folly of this is obvious. The risk of a catastrophic war is heightened, and the opportunity cost of this arms race will cause more people to be deprived of food, health services, and education. It is not a ‘safety first strategy.’

But, obviously the culture of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ has resilient vested interests, and many fears that need to be overcome. It’s all about relationships.

Both the arms race and domestic gun violence reflect destructive, dysfunctional relationships.

The choice needs to be to heal and never to harm.

This is the fundamental choice that can lead to safer and more beneficial relationships…

John Hendry’s diagram, built on the work of Desmond Tutu’s and others, describes the perennial choice:


Breaking the cycle of violence
So, where to go from here? In sacred imagination, we trust that if it can be imagined, then it can be real.

One can but persist. The substance and spiritual beauty of those I met in Chicago gives one great hope and renewed enthusiasm.

People know what it is like to be and feel safe. Making sure that everyone has this feeling in reality is a unifying principle for our work ahead.
Watching the sunrise over Chicago, I remembered the morning delight with which our 3-year-old granddaughter, Sunny Ella, cheerfully says to us:

“It’s a new day!”

It's a new day

Bishop Philip Huggins, 23 August 2023

© Philip Huggins, 2023