A throng of interfaith leaders to focus on combating authoritarianism at global gathering in Chicago

Members of the Cristo Rey Parish, Jain and Sikh communities stand before the Parliament of World Religion Parade of Faiths Sunday in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

More than 6,000 people representing scores of religions and belief systems are expected to convene in Chicago starting Monday for what organizers bill as the world’s largest gathering of interfaith leaders.

For the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the week-long event marks a return to its roots – the organization was founded in Chicago in 1893. In the past 30 years, it has convened six times, most recently in Toronto in 2018.


Past gatherings have drawn participants from more than 80 nations. This week’s speakers and presenters will represent Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Baha’i, Hinduism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, Indigenous religions, paganism and other beliefs.

This year’s theme is “A Call to Conscience: Defending Freedom and Human Rights,” with a focus on combating authoritarianism around the world. Topics on the agenda include climate change, human rights, food insecurity, racism and women’s rights.

“We will take a stand for the rights we’re all at risk of losing,” said the Rev. Stephen Avino, the organization’s executive director.

Scheduled speakers include U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and actor Raiin Wilson, a member of the Baha’i faith. The keynote speaker will be Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson.

Illustrative of the parliament’s diversity, its program chair for this week’s event is Phyllis Curott, a Wiccan priestess who as an author and lawyer has advocated for the legal rights of witches.

In a pre-conference statement, she assailed authoritarianism as “the most dangerous crisis confronting all of us today.”

“This existential, expanding and global scourge is manifesting in tyrants and strongmen who commit crimes against humanity, suppress essential freedoms, subvert democracies and murder the truth with lies,” she said. “They are fostering hate and the resurgence of antisemitism and Islamophobia, misogyny and racism.”

Numerous cultural and educational events are taking place to complement the speeches and discussions, starting with a Parade of Faiths on Sunday that celebrated Chicago’s diversity. Local faith, spiritual and cultural communities joined the parade, some accompanied by music and dance highlighting their history and traditions.

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