‘Parliament’ refreshes profs

Three Marquette theology professors particpated in religious discussion and panels at the fourth Parliament of the World's Religions this summer — an event which two said refreshed their views on theology.

The Rev. Philip J. Rossi, S.J., Irfan Omar and Judith Mayotte participated in panel discussions and religious dialogue at the Parliament, which was held in Barcelona in July. Rossi and Omar gave a presentation on their experience Tuesday in the lower level of the John P. Raynor, S.J. Library.

The Parliament was convened to promote dialogue between the religions of the world and to explore how they could address some of the world's most pernicious problems, Rossi and Omar said at Tuesday's presentation. Mayotte was unable to attend and was not available for comment.

A typical day at the weeklong Parliament began with two religious observances, Rossi said; one intra-religious, or for the followers of one faith, and the other inter-religious, or for the followers of many faiths.

The observances were followed by "engagement sessions," which included sessions on specific issues the world's religions could help address, and more general meetings.

Rossi participated in three panels — two on human rights and one on war and peace. Omar participated alongside Rossi in the war and peace panel and the more formal of the two human rights panels, in which each panelist presented a series of scripted remarks, Rossi said. Mayotte was involved in the less formal human rights panel, which was a discussion about the creation of a possible international human rights statement.

A prominent theme of the Parliament was that it urged action, Omar said at the presentation.

"This parliament takes concrete steps in creating activism," he said, later adding that it urged the world's religions to "shed apologetics" and work to solve real-world problems.

The encouragement gave the Parliament's participants an opportunity to refresh their views and positions on issues of religion, Omar continued.

"In our scholarship, sometimes we tend to be comfortable with our sources, our topics, our directions," Omar said. "I can talk about the 13th century (Muslim) mystics and their poetry, and there are homeless people right here in Milwaukee."

"The Parliament offered an opportunity for a kind of networking that might not have happened (elsewhere)," Rossi said, adding that he had the opportunity to converse with Jesuits from other countries.

The first Parliament of the World's Religions was held in Chicago in 1893. One hundred years later, in 1993, the second Parliament was held, also in Chicago. Since then, it has been held twice, including this year's event. The more recent Parliaments have occurred roughly five years apart, and Omar and Rossi said in the presentation they expect the next one to be held somewhere in Asia.

Because of the inconsistency in scheduling the Parliament and its relative newness, it's not without problems. Rossi said he was disappointed with the lack of religious officials, particularly Christians, present.

"My sense was that the organization of the Parliament is an initiative that has sympathy (with religious groups), but it's clear to me that the official governing bodies of many Christian faiths don't have this kind of thing high on their agenda," he said.

But the program has its strengths, too.

The mixture of academic and activist religious members made for a unique gathering, Omar said, and provided an opportunity not only for inter-religious dialogue, but intra-religious dialogue as well.

"Meeting people there who were coming from these approaches really energized me," Omar said. "That struck me as a valuable strength of the parliament."

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Dec. 2 2004.