By Paul Raushenbush
AT THE PARLIAMENT OF THE WORLD'S RELIGIONS
Voices fell quiet as hundreds of women of different faith traditions filed silently through the busy throngs at the Salt Palace Convention Center on the opening day of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. The gathering that happens every five years brings together thousands of religious and spiritual people from around the world.
Even as violence is erupting in the Middle East and other parts of the world, women of Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and other spiritual backgrounds showed their commitment to being witnesses for peace as they walked through the convention center side by side, not saying a word.
The Women’s Silent Walk for Peace was organized by Elana Rozenman, an Israeli Jew and the executive director of TRUST-Emun, a Jerusalem-based organization that brings women of different faiths together to grow in understanding of one another and be a force for peace.
“What we are doing is walking silently for peace, and that power overcomes all the words that are being said to incite violence, that use religion as an excuse for killing,” Rozenman told The Huffington Post. “I’m from Jerusalem and people are dying every day. We know the cruelty and price of war, and we are trying to shift that energy by simply being silent and being together.”
Despina Namwembe, another participant, came to the Parliament from Kampala, Uganda. “I come from a part of the world where conflicts are the norm, where killings and harm happens right in the home and then manifests into the communities,” she said. “To see people from different walks of life embracing the culture of peace, it helps a lot to relieve and release that tension and negativity that you carry with you.”
A month after the Parliament and this article, Elana Rozenman, who organized the Walk and is leader of its sponsor, the Women’s Interfaith Network of the United Religions Initiative, sent a report to the leaders of URI’s 750 Cooperation Circles, from which the following lines are excerpted.
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I led the Multi-faith Women's Walk for Peace with Siham Halabi (Druze, from Israel), Despina Namwembe (Christian from Uganda), Potre Diampuan (Muslim from Philippines), and Sabina Rifat (Christian from Pakistan) – with hundreds of women participating and scores of men supporters also! At the beginning I explained the practice of walking meditation and passed out olive branches that I had brought from Jerusalem for the women to carry.
We moved along walking silently and slowly with peace in our hearts and minds. So many women and men were deeply inspired by walking with us, and others were affected and moved by witnessing us moving by silently and slowly through the tumult and chatter of the Parliament. We flowed like a river through the crowded corridors, down the escalators, and out to the Sacred Fire where we made a huge circle and broke out into singing “We Are Marching in the Name of God,” followed by spontaneous dancing.
Despina gave an impassioned blessing and plea to end the violence and killing around the world, and we all prayed for peace to prevail around the globe. Several women said that walking with all of us was the highlight of the Parliament for them. Another said that she felt the whole Parliament levitating through us. In the midst of so many speeches, words, and talks, our profound silence for peace elicited a powerful response.
According to Professor Katherine Marshall, who teaches at Georgetown University, women’s voices, and especially religious women’s voices, are too often overlooked in peace efforts. “Women bring different and vital agendas to the challenge of building peace,” said Marshall, who is at the Parliament to present on her new book Women, Religion, and Peacebuilding: Illuminating the Unseen. “Many have gifts of listening and learning that cross divides. Their experiences and concerns are at the heart of what peace is for and about,” Marshall said.
The experience of war is all too real for Rozenman, whose son almost died from a suicide bombing. She recalled that when she arrived at the hospital she found out that her son’s surgeon was Arab. “I felt truly blessed by God that I had been shown that there was no way to go to a place of anger or revenge or hatred. I had a Palestinian surgeon, who saved my son’s life,” she said.
The women’s walk for peace at the Parliament was an extension of the work Rozenman and many of these women of faith are doing every day in their own communities. She hopes that those who participated felt empowered by the unity experience of the silent walk.
“We strengthen the truth of our religions by walking as women of faith together,” she said. “Without any words, just demonstrating love and harmony and the power to overcome all the anguish that is inside of us.”
This article was first published in Huffington Post Religion on October 16, 2015.