April, 2010

Religions for Peace Australia

28th April, 2010

Dear RfP Members,

Greetings again! The Parliament of the World’s Religions is over! Four years of hard work by many, many people in Melbourne, in Chicago and across the world have been completed. It is fair to say that everyone who attended, even if for only a day, came away enthused, inspired and informed. It is also fair to say that the end of the Parliament left many people tired – it took a lot out of most people, including myself. Only now are we really beginning to focus on the future.

But I want to thank all RfP members for the contribution and support to the Parliament because, without RfP Australia, the Melbourne Parliament would not have happened. It was a great event for Australia with almost 800 programs and observances and 6,400 participants with 5,200 registrations. The number of registrations from the USA was disappointing but the number of registrations was impacted by the global financial crisis, not least in the USA. The number of Australian registrations was as forecast so that was good. However, financially, the Parliament made a small profit which has been sent to the Chicago headquarters to stage the next Parliament in 2014.

The Parliament is still reverberating around the world. I shall give two instances. Last week I received a Korean interfaith journal written in English for the Asian world containing twenty pages of articles and photographs of the Parliament. Also last week, the San Jose police department made contact because, following the presentation of the Victoria Police on the second last day of the Parliament, they wish to set up their own police multifaith advisory council and they wanted the advice of the Victoria Police.

The predictions, especially emanating from the Commonwealth and State bureaucracies, that there would be conflict and tensions that would boil over into ugly scenes were simply not fulfilled. The whole Parliament was conducted in a civil and orderly manner where people of faith and no faith came together to exchange views, share ideas and practices, look to the future and learn from each other. Inevitably there were differences, not least between the Iranian delegation and the Baha’Is, but conversations were held that would never have been held in Iran.

So, again, thanks; we staged a memorable event and we can be proud of what we as Australians achieved.

RfP International

Most of the senior executive figures of WCRP or RfP International were able to come to the Parliament. The secretary-general, Dr. Bill Vendley, led three sessions and his deputy, the Norwegian, Stein Villumsted, was especially busy speaking at five sessions. Stein has been an important player in the still ongoing project, A Code for Holy Sites, within the World Heritage Sites initiative, being implemented by UNESCO. Both Bill and Stein led the session that brought together members of WCRP drawn from around the world – this was a useful session Stein also was the guest speaker at the function at Etihad Stadium of the Victoria Police Multifaith Advisory Council. The Kenyan, Jacqueline Orgega, the Women’s Director for RfP International, participated in four women’s sessions, including in Breaking through Patriarchy: New Visions for Women of Faith with other leading women, Sister Joan Chittister, Katherine Marshall, and our own Jane Sloan, who used to work for Austrade but is now executive director of the International Women’s Development Agency.

There is much other news from Religions for Peace. Its Global Youth Network, given that global military spending now tops US$1 trillion per year, has launched a campaign on disarmament at a meeting of 120 young religious leaders in Costa Rica last November. In the same month, RfP was awarded the 2010 Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize for its work. In Birmingham, it has launched for Europe a program, Restoring Dignity: Ending Violence against Women. The Norwegian, Bishop Gunnar Stalsett, RfP moderator for the European Council of Religious Leaders, has protested at the Swiss decision to ban minarets, “a sad day for Europe”. He added, “this is a most regrettable damage not only to the reputation of the people of Switzerland but also a great setback to building a Europe of integration and tolerance”. Religions for Peace Israel was part of an Israeli delegation to Poland for a visit hosted by the Polish Council of Christians and Jews last October. RfP affiliates in Ethiopia and Tanzania have held a meeting to review progress in HIV/AIDS work in a US-sponsored project.

Dr Bill Vendley is reporting that increasingly governments are turning to RfP for advice on how they might partner with religious groups and multi-religious organizations for peace. In March, as a recent example, RfP assisted in the organization of the Special Non-Aligned Movement Ministerial Meeting on Interfaith Dialogue for Peace and Development held in Manila with over a hundred foreign ministers in attendance.

AGM and the Future

The annual general meeting will be held on 30th May. I strongly encourage those in Victoria to attend. The speaker will be Janetta Stones, the Melbourne director of the Parliament, who will reflect on her experiences. We are keenly looking for new members of the executive as some of the older members have decided that their time is up.

Over the next twelve months, as part of the legacy of the Melbourne Parliament, we will be working to ensure a stronger interfaith structure across Australia. This will require some changes as we further build the interfaith movement in Australia.

Thanks again for all the help for the Parliament, and with my best wishes,

Desmond Cahill,
Chair, RfP Australia