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2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions, Barcelona July 7-13

The theme of this year’s Parliament was “Pathways to Peace: the Wisdom of Listening, the Power of Commitment”.

I was extremely privileged to be able to attend the parliament for 3 days as representative of Pagan Federation International. Together with John Belham-Payne I joined a 50-strong Pagan delegation in the capital of Catalan, Barcelona in Spain.

But first a little bit of background information. What is the Parliament of the World's Religions? How did it come into being? Who is behind it? What is it’s significance and what role can it play specifically in the pagan community?

The first Parliament of the World's Religions took place in 1893 as part of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, USA. Many see this inaugural event as being the beginning of the interreligious movement

One hundred years later in 1993, and again in Chicago the second Parliament was held. The aims then (and still are) were “to foster harmony among religious and spiritual community and to explore their responses to the critical issues facing the global community”.

The 3rd parliament was held in 1999 and this time in Cape Town, South Africa. There the focus was on the issues raised by apartheid and racial discrimination in general.

The Parliament this year was supported by many different religious and spiritual organisations but perhaps the most important support comes from UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization). A local advisory committee was appointed in Spain for this year’s Parliament, which was also a part of the Barcelona Forum 2004 program.

Today the Parliament of the World's Religions has an ongoing Council, which is based in Chicago. According to the CPWR website the mission statement is as follows:

Looking to the Future

In 2001, Board of Trustees adopted a five-year strategic plan to integrate the local and global dimensions of its work. In short, the Council is committed to:

  • Convening periodic international Parliaments of the World's Religions roughly every five years
  • Fostering an international network of religious and spiritual leaders and members of the world's other sectors, such as media, government, medicine, and education, to address issues of peace, justice, and sustainability at the global level
  • Create a network of grassroots-based Partner Cities around the world whose actions in the interreligious movement affect positive change both locally and globally
  • Nurture and broaden the interreligious movement in Chicago


1. CPWR will seek to promote interreligious harmony, rather than unity.

Key to the conceptual framework of CPWR is the understanding that seeking unity among religions risks the loss of the unique and precious character of each individual religious and spiritual tradition.

Interreligious harmony, on the other hand, is an attainable and highly desirable goal. Such an approach respects, and is enriched by, the particularities of each tradition. Moreover, within each tradition are the resources (philosophical, theological and spiritual teachings and perspectives) that enable each to enter into respectful, appreciative and cooperative relationships with persons and communities of other traditions.

2. CPWR's work is based on convergence rather than consensus.

Consensus between religious and spiritual communities on matters of beliefs, practices and engagement with the world cannot be attained. There are, however, significant areas in which key convictions, commitments, aims and purposes of various groupings of communities converge. The Council has identified several of the most common areas of convergence. They are:

  • Respect for religious and spiritual identity
  • Awareness and appreciation of religious and spiritual diversity
  • Interreligious dialogue for the purpose of mutual understanding and personal growth;
  • Collaborative service - rooted in faith and spirituality - in response to pressing human needs
  • Community-capacity building through advocacy, community development and public policy
  • Conflict resolution between religious and spiritual communities and other types of communities, especially when rooted in racism and religious intolerance
  • Bringing the voice of religion and spirituality to bear on matters of ethical, moral, social and civic concern

3. CPWR works according to a methodology of facilitation rather than through the creation of organizational structures.

In a facilitation model, individual religious and spiritual communities are not required to join an organization. Instead, facilitation emphasizes relationships and cooperative projects. In this way, each community enjoys the freedom to choose its own partners for encounter and dialogue, the activities in which it wants to engage, and the issues it wishes to address.

An official membership structure for CPWR would embroil it in complex and irresolvable issues. Nearly every community is cautious about joining an interreligious organization with "everyone else religious and spiritual" in the world. In all probability, such an organization would either cater to the more established communities, or become principally constituted by the smaller communities that now find themselves on the fringe.

Working within this facilitation framework allows CPWR to relate to each religious and spiritual community at its own level of comfort and interest, while promoting the positive and potentially transformative impact of religion and spirituality on the world.

It is interesting to note that the Council is seeking harmony rather than unity between religious and spiritual communities. And convergence of ideology above consensus of ideology. These two aspects and ideals were perhaps the most notable present at the parliament in Barcelona. It was not a convention where groups were striving to convert or even discuss theological points-of-view but it was the pastoral, social issues which were at the heart of the Parliament.

The big question remains though of whether there is a genuine desire amongst the World’s Religions towards harmony and convergence. It is certainly a tall order to right the wrongs of centuries of religious intolerance and discrimination. And we could argue that it is well nigh impossible. We can however try and take a different course of action in the future, knowing that hatred and violence based on religious differences is not conducive to world peace and harmony. By sending out signals to our politicians we may just make a difference.

So where do we stand as Pagans? It was only at the 3rd Parliament in South Africa where Pagans were actively present. There, 4 major groups were present: Covenant of the Goddess, Circle Sanctuary, EarthSpirit Community and the Fellowship of Isis.

At the 2004 Parliament there was once again a booth headed by the “Pagans from the USA”. There many groups had their flyers on show, plus the wonderful Interfaith Banner made by the folks at “Interfaith marketplace” from Seattle. The main groups present were – again - Covenant of the Goddess, Circle Sanctuary, EarthSpirit Community – but this year with the addition of Pagan Federation International. John & I were received with open arms.

In retrospect I think we from the PF should have spent much more time preparing for the Parliament. And taken it much more seriously. When we realise how difficult it has been for people like Selena Fox from Circle and Angie Buchanan from Gaia’s Womb, and many others, to get recognition for the Pagan Community, I was almost ashamed that we had come up with so little support from the European Pagan Community. And this when the Parliament was held in Europe!

So perhaps we should make more effort to keep abreast of the activities of the Council. I will certainly try and keep in touch with the various groups and people like Jerrie Hildebrand from Lady Liberty League. Prior to attending the Parliament of the World's Religions an email list was formed called “Pagans at Parliament” and I am hoping this will remain active. Although the PFI may be small we do have representation at local level in a number of countries. This makes us a good liaison organisation for global interreligious issues.

So how did we get on in practice?

The Forum itself was HUGE – I believe there were something like 7000 delegates from many diverse religious and spiritual groups. It started with a pre-conference Assembly in Montserrat, not far from Barcelona, but the official opening was on July 7 with an opening word by the Dalai Lama.

The first of three assemblies took place in Montserrat prior to the Parliament. There numerous religious and spiritual leaders, interreligious organizers, representatives from other guiding institutions, people affected by the issues considered, and young people met “to consider the role and contribution of religion and spirituality in the world.”

Two more Assemblies were held during the week of the Parliament, in the Convention Centre. These Parliament Assemblies were open to all registered Parliament participants and included

  • Supporting refugees worldwide;
  • Eliminating the international debt burden on developing countries;
  • Overcoming religiously-motivated violence; and
  • Increasing access to clean water.

Angie Buchanan wrote a supporting article to the 3rd theme called “Overcoming Religious Violence: a Pagan Perspective.”**

During the next few days there were several symposia, which included topics such “Religion and Conflict Resolution”, "Exploring the Face of AIDS” and “Religion and Human Rights – towards a Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the World’s Religions”.

Each morning there were numerous morning observances in a variety of different locations in and around Barcelona, which included meditations, song dance and prayers.

The program for each day was similar, with 2 morning Interreligious sessions after the morning observances. During the lunch break there were films and musical intermezzos.

The afternoon meetings were called “Engagement Sessions” and dealt with more practical issues of Fair Trade, Crisis relief, Interspiritual Dialogue and so on. In the evenings there were special events such as the “Music of Peace” concert held outside the Sagrada Familia. (This is the famous unfinished church in Barcelona designed by Antonio Gaudí.)

From the pagan Community there were several contributions, although far, far less than the numerous submissions Selena had originally made. In the Interreligious Sessions there were two panels of a pagan character.

On Friday morning July 9: “Pagan Dialogue Inside and Outside the Circle” with Angie Buchanan, Jerrie Hildebrand, Drake Spaeth (from Circle and engaged in work as Military Chaplains), Phyllis Currott (Wiccan author) and Patrick Mc Cullum (liases between 33 Departments of Correction in the US and also as a Wiccan Chaplain).

On Friday evening we were invited to an informal gathering with Pagans from Barcelona. This was their first public meeting and they were highly delighted to have us at their inaugural event. We shared food and drink, and Mother Tongue presented music for dancing and singing. It was good to meet local people and talk.

On Saturday morning July 10, I took part in the panel discussion “Circles in the Greenwood: Pagan Religion Around the World”. Selena Fox headed the panel which also included Michael York (author and Professor at Bath Spa University College, UK, in the faculty “Study of Religions”) After short talk from Selena, Michael and myself Selena introduced more panel members from around the world including Dale (South Africa) John Belham-Payne (PF UK) Fred Lamond (Austria) Phyllis Currott (USA) Miko (Finland). We all talked about the ease and the difficulties of being a pagan throughout the world. Many countries still have (Church) laws that are anti-pagan, whilst other countries like the Netherlands are tolerant towards other religions. The audience was most receptive and listened eagerly.

Chris from Mother Tongue played harp at the beginning of the session and translated the talks into Spanish. (Most talks were in Spanish and translated simultaneously into English or vice versa)

And talking of Mother Tongue: on Friday afternoon “Mother Tongue” from EarthSpirit gave a superb performance of music and songs entitled “One with the Soul of the Earth”. They were wonderful. Typically though, they were cast out to the far reaches of the Forum site – where they were extremely difficult to find. This seemed to be symptomatic of the Forum in general. In interfaith discussions all the World Religions were included except the Pagan Religions. Many interfaith symbols were seen but few pentagrams..

The networking John and I were able to accomplish is, I think, of invaluable worth and should be seen in the light of solidarity, not only with the neo-pagan community but also with the indigenous people of the world. At a dialogue on Sunday morning “The Natural World and the Political Lives of Indigenous People” there were various representatives from indigenous people. It was obvious that they too are not taken seriously. Many of their problems stem from the economic greed of multinationals desecrating their homelands. But they too are becoming more verbal and voicing their concern to the world.

On the fringe of the Forum various other activities were organised including one which I attended, called the “Interfaith Dialogue with Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender People of Faith”. Here as in the Indigenous panel discussion it was obvious that minority groups are not always being catered for – or even being made welcome by the established religions even when they are preaching “love and goodwill, to all..”. It was good to note however that the women in smaller church communities are making headway and that bigotry towards the Gay community seems to be considerable less in those communities.

On a very local level we were invited to spend an evening with Pagans from Barcelona. It is always difficult to say how much influence such a meeting will have but in any event links have been forged.

And this is possibly the greatest strength of such a Parliament. That we can meet each other and talk and share ideas, share fears and hopes. Minority groups can have a say and can make themselves visible. And although the World Parliament is only organised once every few years many of us have become aware of the ongoing efforts of numerous people working quietly for a more harmonious world.

I would like to thank Selena Fox and Angie Buchanan in particular for their efforts at the parliament, but also to all the people who worked very hard to make the Pagan presence in Barcelona a success. I am hoping to keep in contact with many of the “Pagans at Parliament” and to continue to fight for human and pagan rights at an international level. And let’s hope for even greater participation at the next Parliament of the World's Religions from the PF.

Morgana, PF International Coordinator, July 2004

For more information see

Council for the Parliament of the World's Religions and

Covenant of the Goddess

Circle Network an in particular the Lady Liberty League

Gaia’s Womb

EarthSpirit and Mother Tongue



PF Scotland http://www.Paganfed.Vscotland.Org.Uk/

** It is hoped that this article will also appear in “Pagan Dawn”.