Bearded sunyasis, men in turbans or clothed in white. Women wrapped in saffron robes with shaved heads, in nuns’ habits, or wearing hajib. It’s clear that something unusual is happening here in Melbourne.
For days now, people have been arriving from around the world for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, meeting December 3-9. So many folks turned up to register early that the line stretched the whole length of the Melbourne Exhibition hall- I’d say it was a quarter mile long. The clothing alone signaled the diversity of those gathered, and we had not yet even begun.
The official opening of the Parliament took place last night, with a stunning program featuring the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, and Aboriginal performers with dance and didgeridu.
I found myself profoundly moved at the opening slideshow, which traced the history of the Parliament from the original gathering in Chicago in 1893, through the subsequent Parliaments in Chicago (1993), Cape Town (1999), Barcelona (2004), to Melbourne in 2009. I felt that I was part of something that had been moving for over a century, bringing people together not only to build understanding, but to show that religious people offer a distinct creativity and power for the healing of the world, and not just for conflict.
More later, but in the meantime, be sure to check the website at the Interfaith Center at the Presidio for webcasts from Melbourne. There is also an option for online chat on the page. We’ll send along schedules as soon as we know them.