Guadalajara Initiates a Year of International Interfaith Gatherings in the Americas
Diálogo Multicultural Universal II, a project of the Carpe Diem Interfaith Foundation of Guadalajara, has put Latin America on the international interfaith map as a major contributor to the interfaith culture emerging globally. Building on the initial Diálogo in 2012, more than 1,100 fulltime registrants from 50 countries gathered earlier this month for three days, attending 150 workshops, many of them drawing hundreds of participants. Suzanne Powell, who takes a Zen-like approach to personal integration, drew 1,300 three days in a row.Workshops which attracted 20 or 30 could be equally powerful, was the word in the halls. Each day the numbers swelled to 2,400, including those who registered a day at a time.
Carpe diem, a Latin phrase meaning “seize the day” taken from the poet Horace (65-8 BCE), sometimes is crudely propounded as “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Carpe Diem Interfaith Foundation programming is indeed festive, but offers a more sober response to Horace’s insight. In a world full of the trouble, with our future at risk, the Foundation “aims to promote the active participation between different cultural communities whose vision is humanitarian and search for Peace, Equality, Respect and Social Cohesion.”
The Foundation has a tiny budget and a staff smaller than many interfaith councils enjoy. And it showed. Dates were changed just months ago, registration info was late, there was no conference booklet, no banquets or ‘star’ presenters that populate most big interfaith gatherings. And yes, as in countless other interfaith conferences, the names on the nametags were too small to help in meeting each other.
For those attending, though, these details faded beneath the remarkable experience of Diálogo II. The event was promoted as “Fiesta Espiritual 2015,” and it was indeed a festival of the soul for the sake of all peoples and Pachamama, Mother Earth. The theme was We All Live under the Same Sky. Most of the presenters are not well-known names north of Mexico or in Europe, though they are well known wherever Spanish is spoken, and Guadalajara’s religious and civic leadership turned out in force.
The Indigenous Contribution
As TIO has reported, when the indigenous nations of Mexico and Central America heard about Diálogo II, they decided to participate, and they did, presenting numerous workshops, sharing their ritual and ceremony, wearing the most colorful, intricately designed clothes you can imagine.
Since they had no means to fly or drive to the festival, they came walking. Ten indigenous pilgrims began the spiritual march in El Salvador on March 27. They were joined all along the way by other indigenous leaders. For six weeks they walked, from El Salvador through Honduras and Guatemala, then into Mexico, through Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Michoacan, arriving six weeks later in Guadalajara on May 5, the day before Diálogo II began. Hundreds greeted their arrival in the 500-year-old city center with drumming, chanting, dancing, and words of welcome.
Indigenous traditions have played an increasingly important role in international interfaith gatherings. The Parliament of the World’s Religions, United Religions Initiative, and North American Interfaith Network activities have all made significant strides for the past quarter century in building bridges between Earth-based, indigenous, aboriginal communities and institutional religion, so often their oppressors.
The difference at Diálogo II was that this was no longer about “the indigenous contribution.” Rather, for the better part of a week the several thousand who participated became a unified pluralistic community, a family at one with itself, where we all felt equally valued and integrated. In this context, the flood-gates opened. It wasn’t automatic. Long-lost ‘family’ members greeting each other from across cultural chasms need time to see and know and embrace each other, especially when there has been so much suffering. Diálogo II took the time, and the embrace was real, a milestone in global interfaith relationships.
I walked into one workshop presented by indigenous women about their lives and was gently removed with several other men to the next room, where we found a circle of indigenous men sharing their stories. Leaders from Columbia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico spoke of the solidarity they achieved with each other in the march. They shared stories of the colonization, abuse, and violence they have suffered for centuries, and of their relief at finally being heard. They talked of their joy at being integrated into this international forum, but also about the need to rediscover their own spiritual roots, so often ripped from them by outside conquerors. They spoke of overcoming economic oppression and about the sacred struggle for equality and respect for all the human family.
Grandmother Shirley Barclay, an Elder of the Cherokee and a Pipe Carrier and Sun Dancer in the Lakota tradition, offered a workshop on the healing role of the sacred pipe. I attended because it seemed like an ‘interesting’ program and was being presented in English. I left two and a half hours later, shaken, deeply moved, and personally renewed.
Translation has always been a bug-a-boo at interfaith gatherings. Of course we need translation. Everyone agrees. But how do you achieve it? Seems simple, but isn’t, and rarely happens. Yet the need grows as the world shrinks. Guadalajara planners scoured local universities for students of English, particularly those specializing in translation. More than a dozen workshops were presented in English, all translated into Spanish, as were programs presented in indigenous languages. And throughout the three days, young translators stood in doorways and were available for English speakers who don’t know Spanish.
When that happens, new worlds open up for everyone… Marriage and family life in six different traditions, eco-spirituality, indigenous medicine, comparing Mayan spirituality and Jewish Kabbalah, sacred geometry, creating peace laboratories, spirituality for children, and so much more showed up on the workshop agenda. As did the ancient spiritual traditions of Bolivia, Columbia, Mexico, and Peru and the Dharmic religions of Asia. Abrahamic traditions got their due but didn’t dominate.
To be sure, there were programs I wanted to attend but didn’t because I couldn’t find a translator. But Guadalajara took a huge step in the right direction, a model that needs to be duplicated and refined the world over.
The Emerging Interfaith Culture
This year Americans north and south are enjoying the richest harvest of international interfaith gatherings ever. The North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) gathers in Regina, Saskatchewan in Canada, July 19-22. Under the banner Restoring Spirit through Sacred Listening, this NAINConnect will bring together “people of faith and non-faith, members of religious communities, academics, teachers, students, people who work in social development, health care professionals, people from the volunteer sector, and other members of the local community and from across Canada, the United States, and Mexico who are interested in social justice issues and cultural awareness.”
Sounds like Guadalajara, as it should. First Nations University of Canada is one of the organizing sponsors. NAIN chair Rob Hankinson was featured in several Diálogo workshops and underlined the continuity between the two events.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions has worked collaboratively with Carpe Diem Interfaith over the past decade. The current chair of the Parliament, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, was also in Guadalajara, inviting Latin Americans to participate in the next Parliament, to be held in Salt Lake City October 15-19. There the banner will be Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity: Working Together for a World of Compassion, Peace, Justice, and Sustainability. Five months out, more than 5,000 have registered (20 percent of them youth and young adults), and 1,800 workshop proposals are being vetted (to be culled to about 400). The Salt Lake Parliament is intentionally focusing on three particular constituencies: the Indigenous, Women, and Youth. Again, sounds like Guadalajara.
In brief, we are witnessing an emerging, interconnected global interfaith culture that is healthy, vital, and beginning to make a difference in a world coping with unspeakable violence and dysfunction. It is fitting that this year’s plenitude of interreligious activity should begin with a march through Central America, concluding in a city of more than eight million Mexicans. Donations are being received at dialogomu.com to help pay for the march’s expenses.
Diálogo II didn’t have funds for the delightful add-ons and organizational efficiencies that grace so many interfaith events, but they get ‘more bang from the buck’ than the rest of us usually do. More important, Diálogo II enjoyed a wealth of Spirit, a vital Latin and Indigenous energy, fed by a shared yearning for social justice and healing the Earth. This generous vision comes from the heart, is there for us all, and can empower interfaith work in years to come. We caught a glimpse of the condor and the eagle flying together, an ancient prophecy fulfilled.