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Dalai Lama ‘charms’ thousands while offering message of unity

The Dalai LamTibet spoke bridging divide between faiths Sunday UIC Pavilion. |  Keith Hale~Sun-Times photos

The Dalai Lama of Tibet spoke on bridging the divide between faiths Sunday at the UIC Pavilion. | Keith Hale~Sun-Times photos

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Updated: October 27, 2011 12:30AM

The Dalai Lama offered a message of compassion and understanding to a mesmerized audience Sunday afternoon at the University of Illinois Chicago Pavilion.

Expanding on his recent book, “Toward a True Kinship of Faiths,” the spiritual leader of Tibet talked about the need to bring people together through religion and not drive them apart.

“The very purpose of different religions is to create inner peace, tolerance, forgiveness and patience,” the Dalai Lama said.

His Holiness’ message resonated with the thousands who packed the arena.

“It’s inspiring to apply his message to your life,” said Victoria Nee, 50. “These are words that everyone should hear.”

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, charmed the audience with his humor and stories. He got a laugh when he admitted that at one time he thought “our religion was the best and other religions were so-so.” But as he met other religious leaders such as Thomas Merton and Mother Teresa, he began to see “the bridge between religions.”

“He is His Holiness but a real person and like one of us,” said Kate Krzycik, 28. “His words are so simple but so powerful and they connect directly to you,”

Actress Jennifer Beals, a practicing Buddhist, was in awe of meeting the spiritual leader. “I’m a bit giddy to be part of this,” she told the audience before telling the story behind the 12 icons representing world religions that decorated the stage.

Under the guidance of artists from Redmoon Theater, the colorful images were designed by interfaith communities each of which created the symbol of another religion other than its own.

The project spoke to “the power of the arts to connect people,” Beals said.

The Dalai Lama also praised Gov. Pat Quinn’s decision to abolish the death penalty in Illinois. Even sinners must have “forgiveness, love and compassion,” he said.

Sunday’s event concluded with a stunning rendition of “Amazing Grace” by Buddhist singer Ani Choying, who sang in her native language.

The Dalai Lama’s visit, presented by Wheaton’s Theosophical Society in America, concludes with a panel discussion with Jewish, Islamic and Christian leaders at 9:30 a.m. today at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

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