Graffiti artist, pop star and cardinal to speak at Vatican event
The world renowned TEDx forum rolls into Rome this week
A Muslim graffiti artist who wants to present Pope Francis with one of his works of art, an NBA basketball player aspiring to play with the Swiss Guards’ team: these are just two of an eclectic group of speakers invited to take part in the upcoming TEDxViadellaConciliazione event April 19th just down the street from Saint Peter’s Basilica.
The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture has embraced the initiative of a group of lay academics in Rome to organize this TEDx forum on the subject of Religious Freedom – the first time ever that the theme has been tackled by a TEDx event.
Already a global phenomenon lauded for its commitment to “ideas worth spreading,” TED.com’s online talks are gaining attention in Italy and other European countries through similarly locally organized “TEDx” events.
Speakers from all walks of life and profession are invited at TED events to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes or less. Themes for TED conferences have ranged from how the mind works and what makes us happy, to how viruses are being harnessed to manufacture batteries and to the question: do schools kill creativity?
One of the organizers of TEDxViadellaConciliazione, Giovanna Abbiati, says Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, will open the day-long conference next week.
She explains how the speakers were selected:
“At the beginning, we really scoured the earth,” she says, looking for the right people to address the conference: “from Mexico to China, from Nigeria to Serbia…(looking) for people who have real stories to tell about religious freedom.”
The organizers hope to put the spotlight on individuals, some of them religious leaders, but most are lay people whose personal stories can be a source of inspiration to others. “They are people from every walk of life – from a Cardinal to a pop singer. We have for example, Gloria Estefan... from Cuba, although she lives in the States. A lot of people know Gloria but she has an amazing story and memories about living in Cuba without religious freedom.”
Another speaker, NBA basketball player, Vlade Divac, “was a champion with Magic Johnson” she notes, saying he “has an amazing story” about his native Serbia where he and a Croatian friend once trained as basketball champions together. The friendship fell apart with the outbreak of the Balkans war in the 1990’s, pitting Orthodox Serbs against their Catholic Croat and Muslim neighbours. Divac’s efforts to reconcile the friendship were shattered when his friend tragically died in a car crash.
In an enduring tribute to his friend, Divac later produced a video documentary called “Once Brothers” on YouTube, to tell the story of the rise of hatred and conflict and its tragic effects on human relationships.
Abbiati points to architect Daniel Libeskind’s surprise when she invited him to speak about religious freedom at the event. The brain behind the 911 memorial at New York City’s Ground Zero, Libeskind she says, is one of a few members of a Jewish family fortunate enough to escape the Holocaust. He “confessed to us that religious freedom is so important for him and for his job – but nobody ever asked him about this issue.”
Though he shouldn’t be confused with boxing giant Mohammad Ali, the U.K. graffiti artist bearing the same name will talk about how his Muslim faith has inspired his artwork and his relationships with others. Mohammad Ali, who wants to present Pope Francis with one of his works of Urban Spiritual Art, bases his art on verses of peace from the Koran.
Faith, Abbiati says, “is a strength in your life, a source of meaning, a source of inspiration, so we want to go deep and ask “what’s the force in life that really makes your life go forward, (what) gives meaning to your life”?
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