The Franciscan brothers who oversaw the construction in 1822 of the adobe building and wall that still stand in the heart of Santa Clara University probably would have found last week's banquet dinner inconceivable. People from around the world, members of the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative, gathered in the gardens next to the Adobe Lodge for a banquet to celebrate their connections and shared work in building interfaith understanding and cooperation. Joining them were supporters from around the area, including local interfaith activists.
The Global Council, with leaders from seven geographical regions around the world and an eighth group for work across regional borders, was meeting for most of the week in various places around the Bay Area. They came from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, North America, and Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Most are distinguished leaders in their home countries, active in such projects as peace initiatives, ecological concerns, ending inter-religious violence, and dealing with poverty. In all, over 25 countries were represented, encompassing over 600 Cooperation Circles- local groups committed to working together despite religious differences.
Many of the sessions of this year's meeting were held on the grounds of Santa Clara University, and so the group found itself in the Mission Gardens for the banquet celebration, along with local members, friends, and supporters of the URI.
During the evening, recognition was given to all the representatives, the local staff, and the world-wide leaders for the work they have done in organizing, supporting, and sharing the news about local Cooperating Circles. Retired Episcopal Bishop William Swing remarked at the end of the evening that his original intention for URI was to create a United Religions organization similar to the United Nations. That vision never came to being, but the URI, with its local Circles all around the world has proved to be an even greater gift.
Elder Don Frew, an at-large member of the URI Trustees has chronicled the events of the week at the COG Interfaith Reports blog.