In late September, a group of six community leaders from the Republic of Georgia packed their bags, headed to the Tbilisi International Airport, and boarded a plane bound for Chicago. They were not coming to visit the Magnificent Mile, stand atop the Sears Tower, or eat deep-dish pizza (though they did all three). No, they were traveling halfway around the world to experience something for which Chicago is even better known internationally. They came to study the interfaith movement in Chicago.
As community leaders who are personally and professionally engaged with issues of religious pluralism, the delegates traveled to the United States to study best practices in religious tolerance. Chicago was chosen for its long and well-known history of interfaith engagement, beginning with the Parliament of the World’s Religions at the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The delegation spent one week meeting with administrators at significant institutions promoting inter-religious cooperation, including a half-day visit at Niagara Foundation.
During their visit at Niagara Foundation, the delegates met with Niagara leaders to learn about the history and practices of Niagara’s interfaith work. The conversation focused on the program offerings of the Center for Interfaith Engagement, including the Chicago Interfaith Gathering, the Abrahamic Traditions Dinner, Sharing the Faith, Sacred Sources, and the Abraham’s Tent home interfaith dinner program.
The delegation theme of cooperation and inclusion manifested not only in religious pluralism, but also in linguistic diversity. Because of the varied backgrounds of the delegates and presenters, the conversation took place in a thoroughly multi-lingual fashion, with Georgian, English, and Turkish alternately being spoken and translated throughout the conversation. The result was an interaction rich in listening, patience, and beautiful language!
Following the formal presentation and question-and-answer sessions, the Georgian delegation and Niagara Foundation staff shared a slice of Chicago-style hospitality in the form of – what else? – deep-dish pizza. Stories were shared, gifts were exchanged, pictures were taken, and soon it was time for the delegation to move on to their next destination. The visit was a rich exchange of experience and friendship, and a positive moment for the interfaith movement.
Niagara Foundation is honored to have welcomed these powerful advocates for interreligious cooperation, and to have contributed in small part to their future work.
The Georgian Religious Tolerance trip was part of an exchange program administered by the Council of International Programs (CIP), a nonprofit organization that promotes global understanding through professional development and cultural exchange. It is sponsored by Open World Leadership Center, whose mission is designed to enhance understanding and capabilities for cooperation between the United States and the countries of Eurasia and the Baltic States by developing a network of leaders in the region who have gained significant, firsthand exposure to America’s democratic, accountable government and free-market system.
For more information on this delegation from Georgia or the Council of International Programs itself, please contact Dr. George Palamattam, Executive Director of CIP Chicago at (Office) 630-359-3393, (Cell) 312-545-6882 or firstname.lastname@example.org.