Iowa Alumni Magazine | June 2007 | People

Spiritual Leader: Dirk Ficca

By Shelbi Thomas
Dirk Ficca "More and more, your [neighbors are] going to be from somewhere else in the world and of a different religion than you," says Dirk Ficca, executive director of the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions. "We'd better find ways to work together. It's crucial to the peace of the world."

Every five years, Dirk Ficca helps host a gathering for 10,000 people with little in common. They don't come from the same country, practice the same faith, or even speak a common language, but what they do share is the importance of religion in their lives.

That's enough for Ficca, executive director of the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions (CPWR), who believes that bringing together representatives from different religions to address global issues can help create a more harmonious world. "Unfortunately, religion has been front page news for its role in world conflicts," says Ficca, 76BA, of Oak Park, Illinois. "I wanted to be part of the effort to make religion part of the solution, not the problem."

The CPWR represents dozens of faiths, from Baha'i to Zoroastrianism, and works on solutions for issues such as global warming, poverty, and terrorism. At the parliament events, speakers share examples of successful efforts to tackle such problems and attendees commit to taking these ideas back to their communities. With support from the CPWR network and examples of best practices, they might set up a task force, lobby the government, build water wells, or organize humanitarian relief.

The council traces its roots back to the 1893 Columbia World's Exposition, which marked the first time Eastern and Western religious leaders met for formal dialogue. Ficca helped arrange the meeting's centennial celebration, from which the CPWR was born.

Now, the Presbyterian pastor mingles with world leaders such as Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. He credits his faith with helping him initiate conversation and nurture relationships among people from different cultures. "My belief as a Christian is that we should treat everybody -- regardless of their faith -- with love, respect, and service," says Ficca. "Some see [interreligious dialogue] as a compromise of their religious beliefs; for me, it fulfills them."

At the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona, Sikhs celebrated the 400th anniversary of their scriptures by preparing a sacred meal for the conference's attendees. Ficca sat on the floor in a large tent hall to eat beside a Nigerian Muslim family, a Buddhist scholar from Japan, and Catholic nuns from Barcelona. "I sat with thousands of people sharing this meal," says Ficca. "It was a very powerful moment that encapsulated my hope and vision for how we can all get along in the world."