by Fr Patrick McInerney
The inaugural session of Youth PoWR (Parliament of the World’s Religions) was held at the Sydney Baha’i Centre, Silverwater on 17th September 2015. It brought together over 400 youth from diverse religions to meet, discuss and engage with each other on the theme of embracing diversity.
Youth PoWR was by youth, for youth, with youth. It was planned by a team of young people from various state and national peak religious bodies (the “Cabinet”) who met every month for the past year to arrange venue, speakers, process, catering and promotion; they did all the preparatory work and ran the event. The speakers and the performers were all youth. The audience participants (the “Members of Parliament”) were all youth.
On arrival, the participants were served mouth-watering vegetarian food and had the opportunity to meet and socialise. The sound of the didgeridoo summoned all to the auditorium for the acknowledgement of country. Rev Dr Patrick McInerney, Director of the Columban Mission Institute, gave a welcome address in which he explained the origins of Youth PoWR and its links to the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Imam Mujahid, Chairman of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, in a video message to Youth PoWR, stated that “in the last ten years the interfaith movement has tripled around the world” and is enabling people to recognize and affirm each other’s common humanity. He said that youth are the “emerging leaders”, they are “more open to the world, more open to each other” and he wants them to lead the way.
The “Speakers” then took over to conduct the business of Youth PoWR. Ashleigh Green and Glen Falkenstein explained the parliamentary process. Various members would address a prepared statement. All those present would then vote on the proposal.
Accordingly, seven young people from seven different religions addressed the Message to Civic and Religious Leaders. Here is some of what they had to say:
- The leaders of our faith must foster cooperation and commitment on an ongoing basis, and lead us towards the common good in a world where the good is not always common. (Daniel Ang)
- I call on the civic leaders present to inspire us with their dialogue and unify us with just policies. Policies which support the weakest and most vulnerable of society. Which embrace freedom of speech but protect an individual’s right to adhere to his or her faith. I call on civic leaders to resist a climate of fear-mongering and uncertainty. To remind us of the successes we are capable of achieving collectively. (Fay Muhieddine)
- Leaders play a key role to educate the hearts of the youth to be open to all, embrace differences and respect one another, to learn how to live and breathe in harmony. You are the key to building a diverse and harmonious society of which we are all a part. (Su Sian Teh)
With ringing endorsements from the speakers, the message was then voted on and approved unanimously.
Spoken word poet, Ahmad al-Rady, moved the audience with his engaging recitation of poetry, sharing evocative memories of Istanbul, cherishing his Iraqi grandmother, and opening a window into the shy communication between young lovers.
Next, another seven young people then spoke on the role of youth in promoting interfaith harmony. All the participants then broke into groups to share and discuss ideas of how they could practice and promote interreligious dialogue. They forged agreement on practical commitments which were then gathered and voted on in principle to be compiled and edited as a Message to Youth. Here’s some of what they committed to:
We are living in a time and place where breaking down barriers between people of different religions is crucial if we are to have a peaceful society to call home in the future. Mutual respect is fundamental for any relationship to flourish, especially among people who profess religious belief.
- We will play our part in eradicating all forms of overt and covert prejudice about particular cultures and religions.
- We will stand up against all forms of negative discrimination whenever and wherever we see or hear it at home, work, school, sporting fields or on social media.
- We will go out of our comfort zones and engage in community-building activities, starting at the grass roots, especially among youth in our local neighbourhoods.
The final performance of the night was by Polynesian youth. The graceful movements and vocal harmonies of the young women reinforced the interreligious harmony that Youth PoWR had brought about, while the power and energy of the young men doing a Samoan haka galvanised all those present to want to get up and be involved.
In concluding, the Speakers thanked the “Cabinet” and Fr Patrick McInerney who mentored them, the volunteers and all those present. Ms Dai Le, Advisory Board Member of Multicultural NSW, presented gifts to the speakers and performers. She congratulated the participants and organisers on a wonderful event and assured us of continuing support.
Youth PoWR was a positive, energy-filled, inspiring night. It gave young people a platform, a voice and a vote in shaping our multicultural, multi-religious society.
Youth PoWR is an interfaith initiative of the Columban Mission Institute. It was made possible by funding from the Missionary Society of St Columban and the NSW Government through Multicultural NSW.