Over 8,000 religious leaders and lay people gathered in Barcelona in Spain from July 7 to 13, 2004 and discussed the issues of religious violence, access to safe water, the fate of refugees worldwide, and the elimination of developing countries’ debts.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions first met in Chicago in 1893. The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions is the main organization responsible for the meetings.

The mission of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions is to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities and foster their engagement with the world and its other guiding institutions in order to achieve a peaceful, just, and sustainable world.

The Dalai Lama was to address the Barcelona session, but had to cancel his visit following his physician’s advice. In a message sent to the participants on July 2, 2004, the Dalai Lama said, “I am deeply saddened that I will not be able to participate in this event due to a chronic cough that I have had for the past two months and was caused by my tight schedule, which is why I am forced to cancel my trip to Spain that was schedule for the upcoming weeks.”

Rev. William Lesher, the Chair of the Parliament Council, in response had this message, “We all wish the Dalai Lama a speedy recovery, and all of us at the Parliament of the World’s Religions are praying to this end.”

When asked about China’s criticism of the Dalai Lama’s scheduled participation, Felix Martí, head of the Unesco Center in Barcelona, which is one of the organizers of the Parliament, said, “The Dalai Lama’s spiritual history sets him aside from these political contingencies. China’s criticism is nothing new, as it has always objected to the Dalai Lama’s presence at the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

The Parliament’s priorities over the next five years are to assist the world’s religions in meeting their commitments.”The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions has established a network of interreligious movements in partner cities around the world”, said Diane Goldin, founder of the Annual Goldin Institute for International Partnership and Peace. “These strong grassroots partnerships are a powerful vehicle for implementing these commitments.”

Dirk Ficca, the executive director of the Council said, “The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions has also developed a process to monitor and support the implementation of the Barcelona Parliament commitments, including best-practice manuals and a web-based communications network in order to support and assess the impact on the world’s pressing problems. We are also exploring partnerships with other sectors of society such as organizations within the UN system, the World Bank and organizations that promote corporate social responsibility.”

During the weeklong session there were several presentations by prominent Tibetan Buddhist leaders in exile, including Sogyal Rinpoche. For the first time in the Parliament’s history some Tibetans from Tibet and Chinese officials attended the Barcelona session.