By Sharon Danisha M. Vaswani, O.D.
In the heart of Chicago, amid the bustling cityscape and the vibrant tapestry of cultures, I embarked on a remarkable journey that took me from being a curious listener to a passionate speaker for interfaith peace at the Parliament of World Religions (PoWR). This gathering was more than just a conference; it was a unique congregation of faiths, beliefs, and ideologies transcending boundaries, and it played a pivotal role in my personal evolution.
As I entered the expansive conference venue, I felt an overwhelming sense of unity within diversity. The multitude of attendees, each adorned in diverse attire, speaking various languages, and practicing distinct rituals, painted a vivid picture of the world's spiritual mosaic. It was as though I had stepped into a living, breathing encyclopedia of religions.
The day of my panel discussion arrived, bringing with it a whirlwind of emotions - excitement, anticipation, and a hint of nervousness. The panel featured distinguished youth speakers from across the globe, hailing from Canada, India, Mexico, South Africa, and myself representing the Philippines. I couldn't help but wonder what unique perspective I could bring to the discussion. Our ambitious topic centered around exploring inclusivity across religious and cultural boundaries, promising a stimulating exchange of ideas and perspectives. Little did I know that this discussion would offer profound insights that would complete a significant circle in my life's journey.
To set the stage for our dialogue, we initiated an icebreaker activity designed to reveal our commonalities while respecting our differences. Participants delved into their motivations, values, and worldviews, showcasing how their unique backgrounds had shaped their beliefs and convictions.
During our introspective journey, we emphasized the importance of daily contemplation and the power of self-reflection in understanding and breaking down barriers. We openly shared stories of loneliness, misunderstandings, and experiences of discrimination, exposing our shared vulnerabilities as human beings. This raw honesty and connection forged an indelible bond among us.
As our discussion unfolded, a collective vision emerged - a shared yearning for a world where belonging, love, and respect transcended the boundaries of faith, culture, and ideology. It was a vision that resonated deeply within each of us, a dream of an inclusive society that not only accepted but celebrated our inherent uniqueness and diverse viewpoints.
This moment of unity held a special significance for me, as it marked a full circle in my journey. I was reminded of my initial exposure to interfaith dialogue in 2008, as a wide-eyed youth attending a global camp in Mayapur, India. Back then, I was the one in the audience, absorbing the wisdom and experiences shared by others. It was an eye-opening experience that ignited my passion for promoting interfaith understanding.
Now, years later, I stood as a panelist at the PoWR, sharing my insights and experiences with an equally eager audience. It was a testament to the transformative power of such gatherings, where the roles of listener and speaker could seamlessly interchange over time.
My journey at the PoWR was a remarkable one, reflecting the enduring spirit of inclusivity and unity that thrives when diverse individuals come together with open hearts and open minds. As I surveyed the conference hall, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the opportunity to be part of this global conversation. The world may be diverse, but within this diversity, we find our greatest strength and the potential to create a more inclusive and harmonious society.
As we celebrate the International Day of Peace today, my experience at the PoWR reminds me of the power of taking action – the action of coming together, listening, sharing, and fostering inclusive societies. It is a journey that we can all embark upon, one step at a time, to create a world where peace, love, and understanding prevail. This journey reaffirmed my belief in the power of dialogue and the possibility of building a world where differences are not only accepted but embraced, where inclusivity reigns supreme.