Embodying our faith at the Parliament of the World’s Religions

By Susan M. Pudelek | Contributor
Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Entering the Palmer House in 1993, in wonder and awe, I met the world. People from all the major world religions, of diverse cultures, languages and dress, were gathered for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, 100 years after the first parliament at the 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition.

It was an extraordinary week that changed my life. I am eagerly anticipating what I will experience this summer when the parliament takes place once again in Chicago, Aug. 14-18, at McCormick Place.

With my first parliament experience, I sensed I was encountering mystery. Along with captivating new sights and sounds, I knew I was among people who shared a deep longing in their hearts for the sacred, to live with a sense of holiness and to be with others who also felt a joyful reverence in being alive.

I was astounded at all the people, many so different from me, who journeyed far to connect and build relationships as a path for their spiritual growth. There was an air of excitement amid some tension and curiosity.

It was a new moment in the world as we gathered with respect to learn about one another’s religious beliefs, spiritual wisdom and practices, and to share our own. Captivating music and dance from across the world and the powerful presence of indigenous peoples accompanied us throughout the week. We heard talks from major world religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama, programs and panel discussions. We engaged with people from around the world in their exhibit hall booths, shared meals together and so much more.

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was a significant figure at the 1993 plenary sessions, and the Archdiocese of Chicago was well represented by the late Father Thomas A. Baima, who helped draft the groundbreaking document “Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration” (

At the parliament, I discovered one of great joys of engaging in interreligious dialogue: sharing my faith in Jesus Christ. The parliament is a setting where all are invited to witness to their own religious tradition and exhibit deep respect for others’ beliefs. It is about creating harmony, not unity, or trying to create one world religion. It is never about proselytizing.

The parliament is like the different sections of an orchestra that play together to create music. Authentically engaging with people of other faiths elicits honest questions, such as “Who is Jesus for you?” and “Why are you a Christian?”

My heart sang as I was living my discipleship with Jesus in a way that others could see and ask about. In this setting, I also learned much about other religions and their people who embodied the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” a teaching found in every major world religion.

Practicing the good manners my parents taught me — listen, be kind, respect others — was the entry point to every encounter.

Today, I recognize these as foundational to Pope Francis’ approach to interreligious dialogue: encounter, accompaniment, friendship.

The teachings of the Second Vatican Council make clear there is no contradiction between being a faithful Catholic and having respect for the goodness and virtues found in other religions — or seeking to understand them. While real differences need to be acknowledged and respected, we also discover real commonalities.

Interreligious encounter is fundamental to our Catholic identity and is not an option. We are all enriched by engaging one another as we grow in our own faith.

As we read in “Nostra Aetate,” Vatican II’s “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”: “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in other religions and has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts, and doctrines, which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all people.”

At the parliament, we live out our Christian belief that all people are created in the image and likeness of God. We engage in dialogue, not debate, listening to understand. We do not draw equal signs between religious ideas but seek to move into our hearts, not our heads, to understand another’s perspective. This is how we learn to respect other’s beliefs as we share our own.

I hope you will consider joining me and Catholics from around the world who will be attending the parliament. Come for a day or the week. It might change your life, as it did mine.

For more information about the parliament, visit



  • interreligious dialogue
  • ecumenism

Related Articles