Shem Center for Interfaith Spirituality
Joseph Kilikevice, Founding Director
Steven G. Miller, Assistant Director
Report of the Shem Center Experience of the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions
Chicago, Illinois; August 14-18
Not a Time for Sissies!
“Ours is not a time for sissies or lightweight platitudes,” declared Maryanne Williamson, American author, speaker, humanitarian, and presidential candidate. Followed by our standing ovation, her speech at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions at Chicago’s McCormick Place was as unforgettable as it remains challenging. Our mission, that of proclaiming the universal message of peace rooted in the world’s religions fearlessly engages the excluding aggressiveness of today’s world. Capturing the purpose and spirit of our gathering of some 10,000 representatives of the spiritual practitioners and followers of the world’s religious and spiritual traditions, we engaged the bounty of experience and wisdom represented in this five-day program. With not a sissy in sight we connected with old friends and made new ones who enthusiastically sheared a common purpose.
Convened in 1993 as a commemoration of the first Parliament that took place during the Chicago 1893 World Columbian Exposition, these memorable groundbreaking events continued; in Chicago in 1993 during which Shem Center for Interfaith Spirituality was founded, in Cape Town in 1999, in Barcelona in 2004, in Melbourne in 2009, in Salt Lake City in 2015, Toronto in 2018, as a virtual event due to covid in 2021, and in Chicago in 2023. Shem Center was represented at all of them except for the 2009 Melbourne and the 2021 virtual Parliaments.
Taking our place with the assembled presenters and participants, Shem Center’s purpose and declared mission is inspired and mandated by the Second Vatican Council and General Chapters of the Dominican Order. Shem Center has become a voice for what the Parliaments have all proclaimed in their articulation of its 1993 document, Toward a Global Ethic and its presence among all who work toward world peace through mutual respect, understanding and reconciliation.
Sometimes it feels as though Shem Center is a small organization with a huge mission and little significance among much larger noteworthy institutions. Yet the 2023 Parliament was a time for joyful reunions among our many friends who have engaged in this work over the years as well as new friends we made during this Parliament. Our presentations on The Shem Center Circle of Respect and on The Aramaic Words of Jesus were well attended and well received. While we may be seen as a small organization with a big mission, I recall the 1999 Cape Town Parliament when I was invited to guide a plenary session of thousands in The Shem Center Circle of Respect; hardly an organization of small stature. What an exquisite moment that was, and all the others since!
— Br. Joseph Kilikevice, OP, Director
Simple Shem Log for the Parliament of World Religions 2023
- Steve arrives at Shem Center, Joe and Steve planning, conversation, pizza dinner
- Early rise, taxi, early check-in to hotel room
- Opening Parade: Tibetan Buddhists, Indigenous women, Chicago Fife and Drum
- Opening plenary: Brandon Johnson (mayor of Chicago), Marianna Williamson
- Langer lunch: Explore the displays
- Pop up dance with Dances of Universal Peace (several old friends)
- Steve to workshop: Chicago Sacred: religious buildings and transformation of space
- Rebekah Coffman (Chicago History Museum)
- Up early long walk to venue to set up
- 8:00 am workshop: Shem Center Circle of Respect
- over 20 in attendance: excellent conversations and spirit
- Joe to workshop Catholic/Muslim dialogue
- Steve sits with Amma Sri Karunamayi (hugging saint)
- John (new friend), Joe, and Steve go offsite to Muslim Community Center
- Oldest mosque in Chicago: tour, conversation, dinner
- Steve to fire ceremony (five continents represented in this prayer)
- Phillip Scott (Lakota ceremonial leader now in San Franciso)
- Steve and Joe attend Plenary on Conscience
- Langer Lunch; Dances of Universal Peace
- Joe attends Buddhist-Catholic Dialogue
- Steve to workshop on Axial Age: Inter-spirituality: (Linked to Wayne Teasdale)
- Dinner out with Joseph Miller, Kevin Kuhn, new friend John Fraresso, Joe and Steve
- Steve and Joe workshop: Can Mystery Save us from Political Uncertainty
- Don McKenzie (UCC), Laura Duhan-Kaplan (rabbi), Jamal Rahman (Imam)
- Steve and Joe attend ecumenical signing of Care for Creation doc
- Rev Molly Carlson (Conference Minister – Illinois UCC)
- Joe attends workshop on Second Vatican Council
- Dr Massimo Faggioli (Roman Catholic scholar from Villanova)
- Steve attends workshop on Indigenous ceremony (Phillip Scott)
- Joe and Steve do Dances of Universal Peace on the Terrace
- Meet with Conie on the Terrace for workshop planning
- Pizza with Joe Zefran and family
- Steve and Joe attend Final Concert
- Steve and Joe up early to pack
- Joe to Langer lunch
- Steve to a complementary Aramaic workshop
- Ted Ryle (Sufi, DUP), Corey Parsons (UCC)
- 1:00 pm workshop: Joe, (Steve, and Conie) Abwoon Prayers Workshop
- Over 50 people attended: amazing response
- Time to head home
As the newest member of the Shem staff (assistant director), it was a distinct privilege to stand with Joe and represent all of you at this amazing interfaith and international gathering. My United Church of Christ background (pastor since 1987) which focuses on inclusiveness and freedom is an excellent complement to Joe’s Roman Catholic universal heritage. Together we look beyond our foundational roots to a future of building bridges of respect and understanding to sisters and brothers of all of the world’s spiritual traditions.
Our experience of the 2023 Parliament has planted two vital seeds for the Shem Center moving forward. The first is the blossoming of hope that we felt as Shem Center took its place among thousands of spiritual pilgrims from around the world who are engaged in like minded work. We are not alone in what we believe and do – in this we give and receive profound inspiration for the road ahead – the work must continue. And the second seed sprouts from these same living roots. The key to our growth is collaboration! We have renewed former relationships and made dozens of new friends from this experience. We must reach out to all of them and join in common purpose so our collective voices of love, respect, justice, and peace will be heard loud and clear.
— Steve Miller, Assistant Director
LISTEN — SPEAK — ACT
From Shem Center's Director,
Silence is a spiritual practice embraced by Shem Center that is included in our events. At times it is a period of meditation of some length, other times it is a pause after someone speaks in a small group sharing session before another takes a turn. It may be the stillness after a Dance of Universal Peace that invites the assembled group to allow the energy created by the dance to arrive — a blessing to notice and appreciate. I have brought this practice into our annual concerts of classical music, inviting the audience to pause after a performance to savor the beauty of the music before applauding to show appreciation.
There is a time to speak and a time to remain silent, just as there is a time to work and a time to rest. There is a time to be still and a time to plan needed action to help transform the world. There is a time to reflect and a time to engage in justice making. This is counter to a world saturated with the noise of our mechanized world... loud music, shouting and the fast paced life that accompanies it. Listening — careful listening is required to hear the wisdom of the wise ones among us, including the elderly and the children, to be able to tell the difference between truth and lies. It takes silence to hear the cry of the poor, the plight of refugees throughout the world, and the struggle of the natural world for survival.
At times there are no words to express our support and love for those who are suffering. Instead we can only be silently present rather than offer advice that may intrude. Uncomfortable with feeling helpless, we may find ourselves searching for ways to fix things that cannot be fixed. Blessed are our friends who choose to remain, helpless with us when we are helpless.
Discerning when to act is a spiritual practice that responds to injustice and to what is clearly wrong. Naming as “political” what we may choose to say or do is a way to silence us when we speak out about what is wrong. Disrespect and abuse, lies and cruelty have become common behavior that calls for the words that express basic human values that speak for the vulnerable and the hurting. Today, words are needed to speak about the need for environmental justice, and the alarming natural disasters that so threaten us today. The floods and intense heat that threatens life on our planet call for words of protest against policies and choices that cause them. News of Putin’s war in Ukraine is filled with accounts of the torture, sexual abuse, the deaths of women and children as well as the destruction of buildings, historic sites and infrastructure. Yet The news media remains all too preoccupied with the crimes of Trump and his supporters, often replacing other important news that calls for our words of protest against a multitude of crimes that call for our response.
Our words are of value to the extent that they contain the wisdom that comes through a silence that invites reflection on matters of the common good. Seeking out responsible, trustworthy voices belongs within a silence that ultimately summons us to listen, to speak, and to act.
Br. Joseph Kilikevice, OP
Shem Center for Interfaith Spirituality
Shem Center for Interfaith Spirituality
708 North Harvey Avenue
Oak Park, IL 60302
Photo Credits: Emory Mead, Stephen B. Starr, Joseph Kilikevice
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