Uniting the World's Religions

Gomez-Ibanez talks with Mayan refugees in Chiapas

When some of the world’s most prominent religious leaders asked for his help in collaborating with one another, Daniel Gómez-Ibáñez ’64 took action. He was well-suited for the task, having just organized the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions, a conference of 8,000 people worldwide convening in Chicago to discuss social issues.

“The leaders wanted to show that the religions of the world didn’t have to be tearing each other’s throats out, but could work together in practical ways for peace,” says Gómez-Ibáñez, founder of the Peace Council, an interfaith organization of religious leaders working together to find practical ways of promoting peace in regions of conflict.

Among its 20 members are the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as well as Elise Boulding, a long-time Quaker peace activist, and Saleha S. Mahmood Abedin, director of the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs.

It was in 1996, at the request of Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garciá, that the councilors gathered in Chiapas, Mexico. Just by meeting there, says Gómez-Ibáñez, an international spotlight was placed on conflicts among the indigenous people, the wealthy landowners, and paramilitary groups. “The meeting resulted in very practical aid. We were trusted as a result of going there to talk and listen to people,” says Gómez-Ibáñez. Seed money provided by the Council resulted in gardening and bread baking co-ops in seven Indian villages; weaving co-ops in refugee camps; plus equipment for indigenous health workers and clinics.

“The peace councilors never go into a conflict assuming they know what is going on. They go first to listen and learn, which creates a lot of trust,” says Gómez-Ibáñez.

In the last 10 years, the Council has established a shelter and community support group for victims of prostitution and rape near Bangkok, Thailand; took part in an annual peace walk by Buddhist monks and nuns through mined combat zones in Cambodia; and provided medical supplies to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Pyongyang, North Korea. Other programs have taken councilors to Kosovo, Palestine and Israel, the Sudan, and Northern Ireland. The Council was one of many NGOs that shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

The Council meets again in September, this time in New York, where a new focus will be on strategies to counter the political influence of religious extremism.

“Daniel is an extraordinary catalyst for inter-religious dialogue,” says Joseph Elder ’51, president of the Council’s board of trustees and professor of sociology and languages and cultures of Asia at the University of Wisconsin. He and the other members of the board recently launched a campaign to raise $750,000 for the Council’s projects in Mexico, Jerusalem, North Korea, and Thailand.

“When religion is so often used to define and attack the ‘other,’ Daniel’s insistence that religions can both enrich and benefit from each other is startlingly refreshing,” Elder adds. “It’s extraordinary to work with an organization like this because you get to see how something [positive] might happen in a world that has so many serious problems and is busy destroying itself.”

For more information, visit www.peacecouncil.org.

–Katherine Hubbard ’05

Next Page >>