Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 27, 1999
World Parliament of Religions offers lots of colour
By ROSALEEN ZDUNICH
Special to the WCR
Cape Town, South Africa
It was the beat of the drum, not a gavel, that opened the 1999 Parliament of the World's Religions in Cape Town, South Africa.
In the heat of the African summer sun, a procession through the streets of Cape Town led by local and international leaders of various religions, opened the Parliament. The procession was as rich in sound as it was in colour, with many dressed in their traditional colourful clothes.
The World Peace Flame, prominent in the march, originated when seven live flames from five countries, lit by eminent peacemakers, royalty and indigenous elders were brought together in Wales and united.
At the end of this procession, Hope Centre formed the setting for a dramatic ceremony where we were officially welcomed and blessed by these local and world religious leaders.
We were 6,000 participants from Asia, South America, North America, Australia, Africa and Europe.
We were Buddhists, Hindus, Confucianists, Taoists, Christians, Jains, Bahai, Unitarians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Muslims, Native Americans, Church of the Latter Day Saints and South African religions.
Thus was opened the eight-day Parliament of World's Religions with 800 major presentations, workshops, dialogues, critical issues and identity. Each day began at 9 a.m. when we were invited to prayer with a faith of our choice.
Theologian Hans Kung, who was instrumental in writing Towards a Global Ethic at the 1993 Parliament, reminded us we cannot have human rights without human responsibilities.
The black South African artist Ronald Harrison shared his well-known and controversial artwork from the apartheid area entitled The Black Christ. It is a crucified Black Christ hanging upon the cross and was banned by the apartheid government. Harrison himself was imprisoned and interrogated for six years because of it.
At one performance we listened to selections from Carmen Moore's Mass for the 21st Century which was commissioned by New York's Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts.
The Technical University, one of the venues, has at its centre an outdoor amphitheatre where we were treated to entertainment each noon hour and most afternoons. We listened to the drum, the drummers and more wonderful drums. There were South African dancers, singers and much more. In addition, we were invited to view some 80 films during the eight days.
Some 600 Gifts of Service to the World were presented. These were projects that will make a long-term difference in the global community. Edmonton offered two gifts: one from City Hall describing how the city shares its building with people of all faiths and how people of all faiths are invited to open city council meetings with prayer.
The Edmonton Interfaith Centre's gift was the annual interfaith prayer service to eliminate racial discrimination.
The days concluded at 8 p.m. with plenary sessions that told stories in drama, song, dance.
One evening, under heavy security, we had the privilege of listening to Nelson Mandela speak. The former president of South Africa cancelled an engagement in the United States to be with the parliament.
He said, "My generation is the product of religious education," expressing gratitude to the Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Jews who had supported education for blacks in apartheid South Africa. He also said, "Without religious institutions, I would never have been here today."
The final plenary of these eight days was so colourful, dramatic and spectacular as it began with blessings and prayer.
Catholic Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Bloemfontein gave the Desmond Tutu Peace lecture. The Dalai Lama called upon us to implement change, saying that change takes place by action.
And, yes, the beat of drums brought the 1999 Parliament of World's Religions to a close.
(Rosaleen Zdunich is coordinator of The Edmonton Interfaith Centre.)