First photo is of the author Pablo Vazquez. Second photo is of members of the Zoroastrian Association of Chicago in the Parade of Religions before the start of the Parliament.
As I tell people often, the Parliament of the World's Religions, the world's largest interfaith event representing over 150+ different religious traditions, is important to my own Zoroastrian development and directly responsible for my conversion. Before it, I knew next to nothing about Zoroastrianism, thinking it to be the dead religion of the ancient Persians. Yet here it was, at the FEZANA booth, where I met the Rivetnas, the first Zoroastrians I ever met. They gave me, like so many other attendees walking amongst the booths representing countless religious traditions, something I had never imagined would even exist, a pamphlet with some basic information and a book. With this simple act, by the time of the next Parliament, I was already a Zoroastrian, sedreh and all! In fact, I was there for this year's Parliament in Chicago volunteering with FEZANA telling many curious attendees who, like me previously, had no idea our faith was even still around. This is only a portion of the power, influence, and life-changing experience of the Parliament of the World's Religions with its more than 10,000 attendees who are able to sit and dialogue with each other every four years in ways that rarely happen in our day-to-day lives.
Leading figures including Ervad Mirza and Arzan Wadia marching at opening ceremony
Founded in 1893 at the World's Fair in Chicago, the Parliament of the World's Religions was the Upper Western World's first exposure to so many of the world's varied religions. Swami Vivekananda represented Hinduism there, receiving a standing ovation from an audience that included many who had never ever seen a Hindu before, and our own Sir Jivanji Jamshedji Modi delivered a paper prepared by both Dadabhai Naoroji and Ervad Sheriarji Dabadhai Bharucha that gained the attention of many there. It cemented the Zoroastrian community's stalwart involvement with the Parliament that continues to this day with not only a booth where attendees can buy books and learn more about our beautiful faith but also with Zoroastrians as invited major speakers to address the Parliament, including Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman and CNN reporter Parisa Khosravi, and with Zoroastrians on its board of trustees such as Mahrukh Motafram and Dolly Dastoor who have made our presence there all that more impactful. This year, as we have before, Zoroastrians even took part in the Parade of Faith both before and during opening ceremonies where both the head of FEZANA, Arzan Sam Wadia, and the head of NAMC, Ervad Tehemton Mizra, were present showing that once again our beautiful community, despite our numbers, packs an outsized punch in global affairs. As Mr. Wadia himself puts it: "Every four years, the Zoroastrian faith shines brightly at the Parliament thanks to the hard work of our leadership teams and respected speakers who showcase the beauty and majesty of our storied religion...We always look forward to participating and joining arms with our fellow co-religionists for what is a memorable and impactful week of interfaith dialogue and collaboration".
This sort of interfaith work is important because we're able to not just increase knowledge about our own faith and traditions but also help increase wisdom and understanding in a troubled world where so many are scared to even talk to their neighbors, or go into certain neighborhoods because of what they believe, who they worship, and the like. In matters of interfaith, I am proud to say that our community has not just been at the forefront consistently throughout North America and the world, but has a sacred calling towards it. Zarathushtra proclaims in the Gathas, in Yasna 30.9, that "We thus desire to be those who will bring magnificence to what exists, Oh Mazda and you other Ahuras, alongside the renovators and Asha, when we have centered our thoughts wherever wisdom and understanding may be found." Zarathushtra declares that his followers will not only seek wisdom and understanding wherever they can but also be the ones to help renovate existence, make our reality all that much better, and bring us closer to the Frashokereti, the "making beautiful" of our world. Interfaith work, if anything, is building and seeking wisdom and understanding with our global neighbors and with events like the Parliament, where through panels, speeches, ritual performances, informative lectures, and even simple conversations over lunch, we accomplish the duty set forth to us by Zarathushtra thousands of years ago.
Written by: Pablo Vazquez (Zoroastrian Center of Austin)