CNEWA’s Elias D. Mallon Presents at the Parliament of the World’s Religions

Continuing a tradition now 130 years old, the Parliament of the World’s Religions met in Chicago from 14-18 August this year.

The Parliament was inaugurated at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893, as an attempt to bring together representatives of the world’s religions and religious traditions and to promote greater understanding and cooperation among people of different faiths. While not entirely free of the prejudices of its era, it nonetheless succeeded to a great extent and turned out to be the largest event at the exposition.

After almost 100 years, it was decided to hold Parliaments more regularly. I was involved in planning the first of these in 1993, held at Chicago’s Palmer House, which drew an estimated 8,000 participants.

Since then, the Parliament has met roughly every five years (1999, Cape Town; 2004, Barcelona; 2009, Melbourne; 2015, Salt Lake City; 2018, Toronto; 2021, virtual). The 2023 Parliament was once again held in Chicago in the cavernous and somewhat unwieldy McCormick Place. It attracted 10,000 participants from 200 religions and faith traditions from 80 countries.

The theme was “A Call to Conscience: Defending Freedom and Human Rights.” A major emphasis was placed on connecting environmental concerns with human rights. Having been involved locally, nationally and internationally in the Catholic/Christian-Muslim Dialogue for more than 40 years, I was invited to join a panel of Christian and Shiite Muslim scholars to address the topic: “Eco-Justice, International Security and the Elimination of Discrimination.”

Focusing on the elimination of discrimination, I underscored how two ancient faiths, namely Christianity and Shia Islam, have shown an evolving understanding of citizenship, “muwāṭiniya” in Arabic, as a way to deal with societies that are increasingly pluralistic with regards to faith, ethnicity, race and culture.

Citizenship is a rather new concept in the history of humanity, whereas Christianity and Islam are ancient religions. Nevertheless, each is struggling to articulate how it can live its ancient faith with justice and integrity in a pluralistic world where the common good is often broader than denominational boundaries. Working in dialogue, Roman Catholics and Shiite Muslims are attempting to employ their unique and considerable resources in an attempt to meet this challenge.

Father Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D., is special assistant to the president of CNEWA-Pontifical Mission.

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