On October 4th, in Rome, Italy, an extraordinary event took place at the House of Representatives of the Italian Parliament. ISKCON devotees, friends, professors and politicians gathered to celebrate 50 years of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in the world, and Srila Prabhupada as a messenger of peace and spiritual knowledge.
A line of devotees in colorful sarees and shaved heads stood outside of the House of Representatives in a spirit of controlled euphoria. Rome, Italy’s capital, is always a stage for well known politicians and VIPs but for the first time, ISKCON devotees were in the limelight.
The idea of an event to be held in the prestigious setting of Italy’s House of Representatives in order to promote peace, cultural diversity and spiritual knowledge had been initially suggested by Naradamuni das (Fabio Pianigiani) to Ugo Papi (journalist and responsible for Foreign Affairs), an improbable desire playfully expressed by a devotee to a dear friend of the Movement over a vegetarian meal at Ekadashi das’ (Enzo Barchi’s) Bibliothè in the heart of Rome. What began as a spiritual wish was enthusiastically embraced by Parabhakti das, responsible for ISKCON Comunication and president of Villa Vrindavana Temple in the countryside outside Florence. Parabhakti dasa and Naradamuni das began planning the event, involving many devotees whose valuable help and energy finally made the event a reality.
The opportunity for ISKCON to acquire national visibility in such an important setting is a huge step towards finally recieving the status of Religious Movement from the Italian government with all of the rights that such status entails among which, spiritual assistance if required in hospitals, schools, jails, etc., exemption from some administrative taxes for the temples and the opportunity to receive tax donations.
So finally, on the afternoon of October 4th, devotees excitedly entered the awe inspiring government building.
The event began with a short film illustrating the history of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. The film narrated Shrila Prabhupada’s arrival in America and the rapid and unexpected growth of the movement, its more than 600 temples, books on Vedic Culture translated into 90 languages, numerous cultural and social programs and the daily distribution of millions of meals to the needy worldwide.
The Vice President of the House of Representatives Marina Sereni gave the opening speech, welcoming the Members of the Movement and all guests present. She expressed her strong willingness to make it a priority to help ISKCON receiving its recognition as a religion by the Italian State.
Next, the Indian Ambassador spoke about India’s variegated ethnic and religious population and its rare capacity to develop and excel in this condition. He congratulated ISKCON for bringing India’s ancient vedic culture so successfully to the West.
Madhu Sevita dasa (Massimo Brioli, President of ISKCON Italy) expressed his gratitude to the House of Representatives for receiving Shrila Prabhupada’s Movement but tactfully solicited a well deserved and long awaited legal recognition for ISKCON as a religion in Italy.
Ugo Papi then described his vision of the Movement, the cultural significance that the Hare Krishna’s held throughout the 60s and 70s, his experience with devotees and the significance that this has had on his travels and life.
Parabhakti dasa (Mauro Bombieri) spoke of the important social programs that ISKCON continues to promote and the expanding cultural activities that continue in each temple.
The first guest speaker, Prof. Massimo Introvigne, sociologist. author and founder and director of the Study Center on New Religions (CESNUR) discussed the role of ISKCON as a millenary religion, ironically new to the West. He explained the effects of the vedic philosophy on the hippy culture of the 60s and 70s and how many artists in various fields were obviously deeply influenced by the movement.
Finally, Prof. Maria Immacolata Macioti, head of the Masters Program on Immigrants and Refugees and coordinator of the Doctorate Course in Theory and Social Research at the University La Sapienza in Rome gave a very personal view of her experience with the movement and a colorful exposition of how difficult it has been for the Hare Krishna philosophy to be accepted in Italy because they proposed a lifestyle in such contrast with the italian way of life -- especially in matters of clothing and diet.
Perhaps the most moving moment for all was the closing bhajan. Three young devotees, standing at the center of that very imposing amphitheater, delicately sang the Maha Mantra with the emotional participation of all present.
This event was part of a worldwide celebration held for ISKCON’s 50th anniversary in which many politicians throughout the world have participated, like the Prime Minister David Cameron in England and Tulsi Gabbard, American congress woman.[ Rome ] [ Italy ] [ Parliament ]