on the Parliament of the World's Religions
By Barbara Wetzel
When Philip Wetzel, my son, called me to see if I would like to accompany him to the Parliament of World Religions in Barcelona for seven days in July, I was honored and excited. I have always been interested in religions and how they act to draw us together or separate us and how they can help us to be better human beings. This parliament taking place in the heart of a four-month Peace Forum was a wonderful chance for us to meet a world of peace seekers and learn about the religions that defined them and their efforts. I said yes, and my promise to myself was that I would go as a listener and not a person solidified in my own belief systems.
It was amazing, from the opening ceremony (dedicating a peace pole), to the closing ceremony. Over 8,000 people met in this great new forum and convention center of 200 acres that Barcelona has put together. It includes their new healthier power plant, a desalination plant, large solar panels and very clever energy saving devices. They told me that they had to be a good exemplar to the world and they certainly are. There were more than 100 religions represented and some of the great leaders were expected. The Dalai Lama and the Pope were both too ill to attend, but that didn't really hurt the outcome. We were graced with the presence of Deepak Chopra and Jane Goodall and some of the most brilliant and wonderful and good people from all over the world. The people of Unity put together a great deal of the events.
I can only tell you what were the most important things to me and what I did; and that no one could do it all.
Remember that Spain had just been through the shock of train bombs and an election to get them out of Iraq and yet I never heard one rude or angry suggestion that I or my country should do anything different or any blame thrown at America. Right away there was all this love and a different view of the world than I had ever experienced. No hippie peace and love, but a real desire to listen to each other and learn from each other. No quick fixes but an understanding that what has been learned before and during the forum can begin to be taught to our children and their children, and with open hearts and minds we can find peace together.
From the shared music and prayer experiences to the wonderful talk by Deepak, and even greater panel of world leaders in religion and sciences that he emceed we began to feel the unity. We had neat radios that allowed us to hear translations in our languages. A prayer mandala for meditation, covered with all the symbols of the different religions represented, was created. There was music of all kinds all over the place and in Barcelona a night of sacred music at the Holy Family Cathedral. The cathedral is surrounded by parks and apartments and well into the night the neighbors got entertained by the Barcelona Gospel Singers, Japanese drummers and the rock group from Palestine and Israel, Shiva. This group was started by young men from both countries, Muslim and Jewish, to bring their peaceful message to us all. We were treated that night to chanting from American Indians and lamas and pagans giving us their music. It was a very bonding night for all of us.
There were exhibition booths, and I wandered into the Turkish Muslim tent the first or second day. I was looking for someone to answer a question that has bothered me since 9-11. If Islam is a religion of peace, where is the outrage at 9-11 and children strapped with bombs to run into crowds killing innocent people. I was told that they were outraged by Saddam and Osama. I asked why they were so quiet about it and the leader showed me a book he had just published. It denies that Saddam and Osama and others calling for Jihad against "people of the book", are practicing Islam. The book, _An Islamic Perspective: Terror and Suicide Attacks_, is edited by Ergun Capan.
Toward the last days we broke up into two-day symposiums on difficult subjects. I went to the talks on AIDS and Phil went to the talks on water. There was also one on violence in religion, but we couldn't do it all.
The messages that I got from all sources were the importance of service and the importance of service coming from love. Education was the other biggest message that I received and one of the statements that I remember was, "The starting point of education must be local, but its goal must be international and intercultural". Philip has a wonderful story of the service he received from the Sikhs and the vegetarian lunch that they served every day to whomever came -- around 4000 people a day. He was much moved and then (on the last day) he met one of the guys that served him and found out he was just an ordinary guy doing something extraordinary because of his faith.
I went to a celebration of Mother Teresa's life and written on a huge poster of her were these words of hers: "Works of Love are Works of Peace." For me, that was the Parliament and the Forum and Pax2100 and the desire and aim of all people of good hearts, in a nutshell. No matter how you are called, you cannot change it all, but you can show by example and good efforts an alternative to war and hate. Peace begins in everyone's heart and soul, and only there, with the help of God and the sacrifices you are called upon to make with your gifts, can your small part in the process take place.
I also had the rare opportunity to witness my son as an independent adult interacting with all these people and making wonderful connections. I am very proud of him. I am proud of his wife and children for their gift of him to the aim of peace.