by Ryan Epondulan
Youth & Networking Coordinator
Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations
Over 200 youth attended Youth PoWR (Parliament of the World’s Religions) held at the Soka Gakkai International Australia centre, Sydney Olympic Park, on Sunday 19th August. Eight religious faiths were represented: Aboriginal Spirituality, Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh. All mingled together socially and had a voice and a vote in the proceedings.
This year’s theme was “Harmony for Humanity: Unity in Diversity”. Ken Zulumovski, Director of Gamarada Universal Indigenous Resources, reflected on the theme in his Acknowledgement of Country, highlighting the diversity but unity amongst the indigenous peoples of Australia. This was followed by a performance from the Buuja Buuja Butterfly Dancers, showing harmony between humans and the environment through dances of the Willy Wagtail (Dijirri Dijrri), Womens’ Netting, the Creation of the Murrumbidgee River, and Speak the Truth (Garri-yala) Dance.
Fr Patrick McInerney, Director of the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations, called on the honourable members of the Youth Parliament to do much better than the dishonourable racism shown recently in the Australian Federal Parliament. The Christian speaker was Patrice Moriarty. Her initial reflections relating the word ‘harmony’ to 90’s boy bands resonated with the audience. She then spoke about the need for greater religious harmony within our own communities, generated through a love for all humankind. Karan Singh provided insights into the day-to-day life of a Sikh; and how the act of serving people becomes the serving of God. Hindu speaker, Vincy Jain, recalled moments when people of different religious faiths have come to work together to promote peace and respect for all.
The speeches were interspersed with performances that presented the harmony theme in artistic forms. Jewish performers, Rev Joshua Weinberger, accompanied by Paul Khodor and Benjamin Adler, gave a mesmerising performance of traditional Hebrew songs with messages of peace and harmony. Muslim performer, Sara Mansour, performed a spoken word poetry piece about her upbringing in the multicultural streets of Punchbowl. Yulianto, David, Joseph and Ozlem, gave a solemn performance of the Buddhist Sutra. Youth from the Sydney Cluster of the Baha’i faith brought a sense of unity in the room, through encouraging attendees to sing along in a choral prayer on how we all belong to the same creator, and the need to detach ourselves from worldly things.
Discussions in small groups enabled the youth participants to dialogue with each other, sharing about their own faith or belief system, and what they are taught about how to treat people of different faiths. This was an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of each other’s religious faith. In a second round of discussions, they tackled social issues in our world today, committing to undertake a PoWRful action that was practical and achievable. Most groups chose discrimination and equal opportunity as their issue of concern. However, online polling revealed that individuals were keen to commit to issues around community engagement and interreligious dialogue. Thirty percent of respondents committed to developing positive relationships with people from other faiths. Twenty-three percent committed to an exchange where an individual could experience a day in the life of a person from a different religion.
Much gratitude to the Glenburnie Program, the NSW Government through Multicultural NSW and St Columbans Mission Society, for funding the Youth PoWR multi-faith initiative, and to the Soka Gakkai International Australia centre for hosting the event! We pray that Youth PoWR continues to inspire attendees, including the young-at-heart, to make a difference in the communities in which they live.