Almost 10,000 people came to this year’s Parliament of the World’s Religions.

Saying it was huge would be something of an understatement.

It was wonderful and astounding, to see so very many people in one place – from so many varied backgrounds, ethnicities, and religious disciplines.  And all these wildly different people shared one thing:  every one respected and celebrated everyone’s right to follow their personal and unique path of spirituality.

Everyone is different, and all these 10,000 people met to celebrate and honor that difference.

One of the groups at Parliament, Pacifica, is made of volunteers inspired by the teaching of Imam Fethullah Gulen, from Turkey.  These folks choose to follow a path called Hizmet (or the “Gulen Movement”).   Hizmet is “service” in Turkish, and the Hizmet or Gulen Movement is inspired by Imam Gulen’s teachings on charity and love in the Qur’an.  Imam Gulen teaches that when a person is touched by God, it becomes his or her privilege to serve the Creator, and Hizmet groups set up schools, hospitals, emergency relief services, and other volunteer organizations worldwide – helping those in need regardless of the recipients’ religious affinity.  One of the many groups I met at this year’s Parliament united by a common bond of selfless service, I was particularly struck by Hizmet work in bringing education to those most desperately in need.

Here’s a short video from their presentation, sponsored by the peacebuilding initiatives of Pacifica Institute:

In addition to all their wonderful bridge-building efforts, another thing I like about Pacifica is their dervishes.  These young men, most 8 to 14 years old, work hard under the watchful eye of their teacher to show respect and appreciation for the best parts of Dervish Sufi tradition.  Historically the whirling is done to a two-step beat, and the dancer is asking for an inkling of the mystical presence of God.  I asked one of my friends in the troupe, a dancer named Hakan, how he could possibly keep from getting sick during the spinning.  “My teacher told me it helps to look at my thumb, and refuse to think of anything else,” he told me.  “I just look at my thumb and keep going.”  These young kids are wonderful to watch.