Rachael Watcher, Regional Coordinator for the URI Multiregion, member of Spirituality and the Earth CC, and board member for North America Interfaith Network, recently attended a gathering of over 5,000 people in Guadalajara, Mexico. The conference, entitled, “Dialogo Multi-cultural Universal II, Meet and Dialogue about Beliefs, Spiritualties, Religions and Cultures,” was hosted by the Carpe Diem Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Guadalajara.
Rachael offers her first-hand account:
The first big event took place just prior to the opening of the conference when about 80 indigenous people marched into the city square next to the Catholic cathedral, originally built during the first European wave. They had marched from Argentina to Guadalajara on foot in a journey that took two months. They carried banners and shouted, “Be quiet, be quiet! Be quiet so that you hear me!”
The poles they carried were decorated with indigenous banners of the South American original people. They pounded the poles every few steps to awaken and alert the ancestors of the land that they were coming - and that now is the time to speak.
The Governor of Jalisco, the Mayor of Guadalajara, and other dignitaries spoke on the importance of interfaith dialogue and education to promote peace. I was struck by their sincerity. I’ve heard many politicians speak and I believe they were sincere in their spoken support of the need for dialogue between faiths and spiritual traditions, and also in their efforts to listen sincerely to the message that the indigenous people brought to the table. They did not pretend that it was a new era where everyone could join hands and firmly proclaim that trouble was behind us. Rather they admitted that the real work of reconciliation lay ahead.
Following these speakers, the leader of the indigenous people’s march took the stage - a more humble and introspective person I have never seen. His speech was a powerful commentary on the loss of culture and voice. His legs were bowed and his hands were rough from work; his clothes plain in contrast to the politicians who preceded him, but his voice was firm and carried the conviction of his words. He received a standing ovation both coming to the stage and leaving it.
Many in attendance appeared to be just starting down the path of interfaith. It seems that many Catholic priests are, as individuals, unhappy with the concept of dialogue for mutual understanding among different faiths. They seem afraid of their parishioners being converted to other faiths and losing people from the parishes. However, the local Bishop had given an order to cooperate with the local interfaith efforts being supported by the government, so progress is underway.
I was there as the only Wiccan in the convention (which confused everyone), to speak for NAIN (North American Interfaith Network), and for the United Religions Initiative. People were very confused about my spirituality. I finally said that I was a Neo-Platonic Panentheist, at which point they gave up asking.
I must say that the people of Guadalajara were wonderful. I felt quite safe there once I got my city legs under me and everyone was friendly and helpful. It did take some getting used to, to see the police in full battle dress, complete with helmets, flack jackets, 45’s in their holsters, AK 47s in hand, and enough ammo to stand off a small army. Further, I never saw them in a group of fewer than three. However, they were friendly and smiled easily. The kids played in the plaza and it appeared that this was simply business as usual.