Parliament of Religions to Share Rituals, Ideas `There's Something for Everybody,' Says Organizer

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MORE THAN 6,000 lay and clerical representatives of the world's major faiths are converging here from around the globe for the once-a-century Parliament of the World's Religions, opening today.

In nearly 800 meetings to be held over the next week, participants will share stories, food, rituals and ideas for improving the planet.

Toward the end, leaders hope to announce agreement on a statement of global ethics broad enough to garner backing from the world's major religions and yet profound enough to have impact.

Organizers also hope the series of speeches, lunches and workshops will enable practitioners of religions now in conflict - such as Hindus and Muslims - to understand each other a little better.

But many of those coming to talk about their religions at workshops just hope to be heard. Tired of critics and journalists misinterpreting their beliefs and practices, they want to speak for themselves about who they are and what they think.

"Anyone who wants to come and be a part of this, who wants to come together and learn and discuss, has been welcome," said the Rev. David Ramage, chairman of the parliament's board and president of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.

"We've likened it to a county fair. There's something for everybody."

Make that just about everybody. Evangelical Christian groups generally are staying away, but among those attending are American Indians, Baha'is, Buddhists, Catholics, Confucians, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims, neo-pagans, Orthodox Christians, Protestants, Sikhs and Zoroastrians.

Most of the speeches and presentations will be held at the Palmer House Hotel in downtown Chicago.

According to organizers, spiritual leaders coming include:

The Rev. Syngman Rhee, president of the National Council of Churches of Christ.

Imam Mustafa Ceric, leader of the Muslim community of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Hans Kung, a German professor of ecumenical theology, disciplined by the Vatican for dissenting from church teachings.

Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, a separatist black Muslim movement in the U.S.

Mother Theresa was scheduled to come, but illness kept her away.

The parliament will run through next Saturday, closing with a public gathering in Grant Park featuring the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual and political leader.

The parliament is only the second gathering of its type in history. The first World Parliament of Religions was also held here - 100 years ago. That gathering was Protestant-run and by invitation only. Only one Muslim - an American convert - attended.

This gathering is different.

This parliament is allowing any group to come and make a presentation as long as the group agrees with the parliament's mission - to foster interfaith discussion and collaboration. …

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