Canada 13 November: Toronto
Parliament of the World's Relgions
We were so happy to be able to bring the Peace Torch back to Toronto for the 2018 Parliament of the World's Religions! More than 10, 000 people from over 80 countries from all faiths and backgrounds came together at this interfaith gathering to connect, share and work toward common goals. Toronto was selected as the host city in part because it is the most multicultural city in the world. What better place to share the Peace Torch?
The land that this year's Parliament of World's Religions took place on is the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississauga of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Metis Peoples.
The motto of this year's Parliament was, "The Promise of Inclusion, the Power of Love"; and the ten themes that guided the programs were: justice, women's dignity, next generation, countering hate and violence, climate action, interfaith understanding, Indigenous People's program, sacred space, global ethic and science and religion. Each day there were countless talks, conferences, musical programs, plenary sessions, ceremonies, interactive activities and prayer and worship spaces to explore these topics.
Our new friend from the Netherlands told us a fascinating story about how the founder of the Peace Run, Sri Chinmoy, inspired him to first attend the Parliament of the World's Religions 3 years ago. Now he is a Parliament Ambassador for his country and filled with inspiration!
As visitors walked in, they passed an exhibition of a small sampling of Sri Chinmoy's paintings, which he named "Jharna-Kala", meaning "Fountain Art" in his native language of Bengali. They emanate a profound sense of serenity and peace.
Pragati and Nandita were there to welcome viewers!
Pragati is holding a card with a quote by Sri Chinmoy:
Deeply and equally values
All the religions of the world,
For it knows that each religion
Is a beautiful, powerful
And fruitful branch
Of God's Life-Tree".
In the exhibit hall, some of the writings and music of Sri Chinmoy were available as well as singing bowls and other meditation supplies. Utsahi welcomed people to the world of singing bowls. Ravipriya and Nandita came all the way from Seattle to help out at the booth.
As Tahera held the Peace Torch, she reflected on her dream that the Peace Run would come to her home country of Iran.
A beautiful concert of Sri Chinmoy's music for peace was performed by two Canadian music groups- Sangit Surabi and Pavaka's Ensemble.
We were adorned with head scarves for "Langar", a free vegetarian meal that was offered by the Sikh community each day at the parliament. We were moved by their generosity, offering thousands of meals per day with the help of kind volunteers from the Ontario Sikh and Gurudwara Council. The lunch was delicious and they even offered tea and dessert afterward.
Kusumita Pedersen is a Professor of Religious Studies at St. Francis College in New York and an active member of the global interfaith movement. She lead a presentation on "Love and Transformation: Sri Chinmoy's Path of World Acceptance".
Shivaram Trichur, head of the Toronto Sri Chinmoy Centre and member of the Vedanta Society, gave some background information about the Parliament of the World's Religions, telling about the life of Swami Vivekananda, who gave the opening address at the first Parliament in 1893. Vivekananda's famous opening line: "Sisters and Brothers of America..." received a standing ovation for two minutes from the crowd of seven thousand.
Tahereh Ziaian, a professor at the University of South Australia, spoke about Sri Chinmoy's contributions to the field of the arts.
Professor Utsahi Neree St. Amand of Ottawa talked about the Peace Run and showed some slides from different parts of the globe.
Brahmacharini Michelle Rebidoux (right) is a Professor of Religious Studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland, she gave a talk on sports and self-transcendence and how it relates to spirituality.
After the presentation, Kusumita invited the attendees to hold the Peace Torch, which they all happily did.
Nikki Shawna performed Indigenous Hoop Dancing which was exhilarating to watch, it was at once beautiful, educational and entertaining.
We were so delighted to meet Myrna Loucks and her husband, Wassayshikung from the Marten Clan, Anishinaabe Nation. They performed a purification and grounding ritual on the Peace Torch before lighting it, using the flame from the Sacred Fire.
We thank them both for the wonderful wisdom that they shared with us. Myrna told us to touch the earth with the torch in each new place we go, and Wassayshikung told us to value the places that we take the torch. He said "everyone values time and moments, but we forget about place and place is so important." We discussed the importance of the land in which we stood as well as the places we all respectively came from.
Myrna and Wassayshikung very kindly invited us to join their presentation in the Lodge of Nations, a special room set up for Indigenous forums. We were deeply honored to be invited to speak a little about the Peace Run, and hear that what we are doing is in line with Ancient Indigenous prophecies of peace and inclusion. Afterwards, we invited attendees to hold the torch.
Indigenous Grandmother Flordemayo offered prayers over the torch as her friend played the Hang Drum melodiously inside of a tipi.
Geoffrey Ewing performed a one-man play on the spiritual life of Muhammad Ali. He has been performing evolving versions of this show since the 90's and it was even seen by "The Greatest" himself. We showed him a picture of one of Sri Chinmoy's meetings with Muhummad Ali (they maintained a friendship until the end of his life) and we shared the Peace Torch with him, which was once held by Ali.
We were thrilled to coincidentally run into two past Peace Run Torch-Bearer Award recipients at the same time! Reverend Leslie Gabriel Mezei, who has been a pillar of Toronto's Interfaith movement, received the award this July. Father Terry Gallagher is a longtime member of the Peace Run family, he has been a loving and lively presence at our Toronto events for over a decade and he was present at the 2004 Barcelona PoWR, where Sri Chinmoy gave the opening meditation.
Swami Chidanad Saraswatiji from India was one of the speakers at the "Faith for the Earth" presentation, discussing the role that people of faith can take in climate action and preservation of the planet. He began by reciting a beautiful mantra from the Upanishads. As he held the torch, he recalled his meetings with Sri Chinmoy at the United Nations and recounted that Sri Chinmoy also shared his simple but profound message about peace, "we can either live in peace or we can live in pieces".
The Quilt of Belonging is a beautiful and intricate textile that represents the people of Canada. At the foundation, there are blocks from each of the First Nations in Canada and then there is a patch representing every country in the world. Each square is made up of different materials, unique to the culture it hails from, and made by immigrants or relatives of immigrants from the individual countries who now call Canada home. One could spend hours taking in this masterpiece.
We were thrilled to meet up with our good friend, Denise Scotto, who is the advisor to the UN Interfaith Community and coordinator of the UN International Day of Yoga. Thank you Denise for all you are doing and for your enthusiastic support of the Peace Run!
The Brahma Kumaris has a beautiful space sharing uplifting messages with passers by, including us!
"Where there is patience there is peace.
Where there is peace there is love.
This makes everything possible.
Acclaimed author Reverend Dr. Matthew Fox held the torch with Kevin Kitrell Russ, Senior Minister at Unity Church of Sacramento and David Alexander, Senior Minister of New Thought Center for Spiritual Living in Portland.
There was a section called "Spiritual Playdate" which had a lot of fun activities for children. These children performed a colourful play about protecting Mother Earth.
There shall come a time
When all children of the world
Will enjoy one thing: