Parliament of World’s Religions coming to Chicago in August

By Dan Olsen | Contributor
Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Later this summer, Chicago will welcome thousands of members of religious traditions spanning the globe to a convening of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. The parliament will gather Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus and others, including people from 200 religious, indigenous and secular belief systems  representing more than 80 nations at McCormick Place Aug. 14-18 to advance the goals of interfaith understanding, harmony and respect.

The theme “A Call to Conscience: Defending Freedom and Human Rights” explores how religious traditions stand up for freedom and rights based on the dignity we share as human beings. Particular focus will be on defending the rights of those historically overlooked and opportunities to connect with people and organizations committed to justice, peace and the care for the Earth.

The beginning of the modern interfaith movement can be traced to the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions held as part of the Columbian Exposition (World’s Fair) in Chicago. Hosted at the Art Institute of Chicago, this gathering was unprecedented in size, scope and purpose.

During the convening, a little-known Hindu monk from India, Swami Vivekananda, transformed that gathering of religious leaders from around the world into a phenomenon that sparked a movement that continues today.

Vivekananda’s public and passionate call to advance interreligious understanding and harmony among the diverse population convened at that parliament inspired them to recognize shared values and religious commitments. They did not try to mold these diverse beliefs into one religion, but called those gathered, including the Archdiocese of Chicago, to begin finding ways to build trust, mutual understanding and respect among the religious traditions.

In 1993, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the organization, the parliament once again convened in Chicago. Rooted in the Second Vatican Council’s call to advance Christian unity and interreligious dialogue, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin became actively involved in that parliament. Father Thomas A. Baima and Sister Joan McGuire in the archdiocesan Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs led the Catholic engagement with the parliament, forging a relationship that remains strong.

As in past convenings of the parliament, the local Catholic diocese welcomes Catholics and members of all religious traditions to Chicago. There will be a designated space for Catholics to feel at home and encounter one another.

Representatives of the local Catholic community will speak during the parliament: Susan Pudelek, associate director of the Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and I will be joining members of our local Buddhist Catholic Dialogue on a panel titled, “Receiving and Answering the Call,” and Angela Swain and the staff of the Office of Human Dignity and Solidarity have organized a panel discussion on “The Dignity of Labor: Understanding the Right to Work Across Traditions.”

These are but a few of the many programs that the archdiocese is involved in as we live out our identity as Catholics at this year’s parliament.

While the parliament is a place for religious leaders and experts to exchange ideas, it fundamentally is a place for all to gather and learn more about the many religious traditions represented there. Local Catholics will meet Catholics from Asia, Europe, Africa and South America.

Participants will have the opportunity to learn about the beliefs and ethical commitments of, for example, Zoroastrians and Jains, while being served a free meal by Sikhs in between. Musical performances, dance, films, an art gallery and hands-on workshops will engage the senses and bring attendees to a deeper awareness of and respect for a variety of religious traditions, including those of indigenous peoples. There will also be special children’s programming.

Admitting that dark clouds of polarization and suspicion have come to mark our time, Pope Francis reminds us in his 2019 encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” that “God continues to sow abundant seeds of goodness in our human family.” This extraordinary gathering of people from around the world, occurring in our backyard, provides an unparalleled opportunity for Catholics and all people of goodwill to encounter these seeds of goodness flowing throughout the human family. It is not to be missed.

For more information, visit Look for updates on the parliament in future editions of Chicago Catholic and at


  • interreligious dialogue
  • ecumenism

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