Thousands of interfaith devotees from around the world gathered at the Salt Palace Convention Center Thursday for what many believe is a historic move forward in their ability to create change on pressing issues at every level of society.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions has convened regularly since 1893 in major cities around the world, but has never before featured sessions focused particularly on women’s empowerment through interfaith cooperation and advocacy.
Attendees in the conference hall touched noses with one another in one of the several prayers that opened the international conference’s Inaugural Women’s Assembly.
The event’s opening prayers were in different languages and from different religions, and more than one included a song. All expressed messages of unity and made reverent pleas for deity to bless the assembly.
“Peace. Peace. Peace,” the whole assembly chanted in one of the last opening prayers.
Alaina Buffalo Spirit, self-taught artist from the Cheyenne nation, was the first to speak.
She told the story of her family and the tradition of the Cheyenne people. She reminded the audience that “we are all indigenous to the Earth.”
Buffalo Spirit said she fought against the railroad and the coal mine that were trying to cut through her people’s native land in Montana. Her motivation was to preserve the purity of the land, water and the air. She said when her grandchildren and great-grandchildren asked her what she did to make the world a better place, she will be able to say, “I spoke of purity.”
Buffalo Spirit then sang a native So’taa’ee song that reverberated in the large room. The crowd could hear the emotion in her voice as she sang.
“May our creator bless our Earth so that we can live in peace for our children,” Buffalo Spirit said in closing.
Sister Ilyasah Shabazz, a motivational speaker and author of “Growing Up X,” spoke briefly of her family and her profession as a professor. She emphasized how important it is to teach future generations.
Mallika Chopra addressed the audience next. Chopra is a mother, public speaker and author of “Living With Intent: My Somewhat Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace and Joy.”
Chopra continued the theme of family, sharing a family story of how her grandmother met the prime minister of India shortly after that nation gained independence. Her story of amazing coincidence that centered on hope had the crowd cheering.
Diana Butler Bass, author and independent religious studies scholar, spoke about her family heritage of spiritual revolutionaries. Bass, a frequent commentator in major media including the Washington Post, shared a story of a girl she met at a Starbucks in Washington, D.C., who stood up for her right to wear colors at work. She said the woman is an example for all women to stand up and pursue what is right when faced with challenges. She encouraged women to be spiritual revolutionaries.
“Welcome to the revolution,” she said to an appreciative crowd.
Rangimarie Turuki Arikirangi Rose Pere, a healer for peace and a respecter of all religious beliefs, said faith is based on unconditional love, joy, peace and truth.
“All I feel right now is love. Love for you because you are me and I am you. We cannot be separated because we are one,” said Pere, a traditional Maori elder. Her heritage lies with the ancient people of New Zealand. She said she has no religion; she just has unconditional love. Pere ended her remarks with a native New Zealand song, and the audience stood and swayed with the music.
Jean Shinoda Bolen, a psychiatrist, author and activist, told the story of how her mother inspired her to be bold and brave.
Bolen has written several books on the archetypal psychology of women and men in the development of spirituality, including, “Goddesses in Everywoman.”
Bolen told the story of her mother and how she inspired Bolen to be bold and brave. “The idea of women changing the world is a very great possibility. We are the solution,” she said.
Bolen also spoke briefly about her experience at the United Nations, and coming to understand the power of women in making a positive impact on the world by employing a positive attitude.
“Making the world a better place is my hobby,” Bolen said. “If you can make it fun, then it becomes infectious.”
Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service, focused on social justice and how women are the disproportionate victims of sexual crimes and denied legal rights.
In spite of the injustice against women, they are often the first who step forward and fight for rights of all humankind, according to Messinger, a leading human rights activist.
“Through whatever the women of this world may face, they have the strength and the grace to endure and create change,” Messinger said.
Several other notable speakers were scheduled, but time constraints limited their remarks. However, the assembly’s message was clear.
Isadora Leidenfrost flew from Chicago to attend the conference, and said the Inuagraual Women’s Assembly was “incredibly transformational.”
“As a 34-year-old, it was enlightening to hear the words and the stories of women who have already changed the world,” Leidenfrost said. “They carry a vision that inspires me to change so that I can have the courage to implement their vision into future generations.”
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