Claire Morgan and Paul Heywood describe their time representing the Charter for Compassion at the Parliament of World’s Religions.

Claire Morgan and Paul Heywood

Claire Morgan and Paul Heywood

When we arrived at the Parliament for the World’s Religions in Melbourne we couldn’t believe the sheer volume of different activities that were to take place. As we thumbed through the 394 page program (affectionately dubbed ‘the telephone book’) we were dazzled by the choices on offer. Truly it seemed that all the world’s religions were presented among the plethora of panel discussions, workshops, presentations and plenary sessions. After some serious reading and list-making from Claire and some slightly more right-brained reflection from Paul, certain events or talks stood out as not to be missed. One of these was the session on the Charter for Compassion which was to be held on Sunday 6th December.

We arrived at room 220 for the Charter for Compassion session to find the space already packed. We squeezed our way through to a couple of seats near the back. The session was indeed inspirational with Karen Armstrong’s video message backed up by thoughtful and challenging contributions from Sr Joan Chittister, Dr Chandra Muzaffar and Tariq Ramadan. One of the most interesting points for discussion was around the importance of being compassionate to ourselves, as well as, and in order to, be compassionate towards others. Towards the end of the session Danielle Lauren was introduced as the Sydney Ambassador for the Charter. Danielle then read the Charter aloud;  a great move, as there were many people there who weren’t familiar with it.

In closing, Danielle asked everyone in the room to sign a document in support of the Charter for Compassion and to pass the word on in their communities. Unfortunately this was a flying visit for Danielle who had to return to Sydney, but it occurred to us that we could help by trying to promote the Charter to those we met during the rest of the Parliament days. Enthused by the positive response all around and the inspirational speakers, we offered to try and set up a stand for the Charter and collect signatures of support.

Danielle left for Sydney, entrusting us with the signatures already gathered in the hope that many more names would be added to the pages. Then, to use a cliché, all the pieces of the jigsaw just came together. Parliament staff already knew all about the Charter and were really happy to provide a table and exhibition space for us in the main foyer. We found a design and print store up the road from the Convention Centre and made some big, colourful signs, and create the stand to promote the Charter and to collect signatures of support.

And collect we did. We didn’t really have time to go out and approach passers-by. Instead, people came to us. Some were curious; others keen to sign right away. Some wanted to find out about the website or to take a copy of the Charter. Some just wanted to thank us for being there. We met teachers who described the classroom activities on the Charter that they planned to run, parents who wanted to tell their children, children who wanted to tell their parents, countless religious leaders… and a good number of stalwart Karen Armstrong fans! When we left the table unattended to go to a session of the Parliament we would return to find people had been interested enough to come over take a copy of the Charter and sign. By the end of the Parliament we’d gathered over 500 signatures, distributed hundreds of copies of the Charter for Compassion and had a great deal of fun doing it.

Signing the Charter

Signing the Charter

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