Importance of Interfaith Dialogue

By Priyanka Patel

While most college kids look forward to spending that beautiful, stress-free week in March on a beach in a tropical climate, I chose to spend mine volunteering with the Daughters of Charity in Bladensburg, Maryland. Upon arrival to Bladensburg, we were told we’d be staying in a convent with the Catholic nuns that were kindly hosting us. This was the first time I’d ever seen a nun, let alone step into a convent. I was born and raised a devout Hindu, and still practice my faith on a daily basis. I wear a red vermillion mark on my forehead to symbolize my affiliation to the Hindu faith. Nonetheless, each of the nuns greeted me warmly and were careful to ask about my religious dietary restrictions so that they could prepare food for me accordingly. The next morning, we headed to Church. I sat in amazement witnessing the love and devotion among the Catholic devotees. While serving meals to the homeless, I watched as the community came together, gathered in small Church basements serving what they could and bowing their heads in prayer in unison. It was these small moments that I realized the importance of interfaith dialogue. Though my religion is much different than the Abrahamic ones that surround me, we are all essentially devoted to one cause – social upliftment. Through this mission, we can find our similarities and coexist. As my Guru, H.D.H Pramukh Swami Maharaj once said at the United Nations’ Millennium World Peace Summit in 2000,

“Just as the unity of our followers makes our religion strong and protected, the unity of all faiths will make our common future strong and protected… True progress of any religion lies not in growth by numbers but by the quality of life and purity and the spiritual awakening in the adherents. Thus every Hindu should become a better Hindu, every Jew a better Jew, every Christian a better Christian and every Muslim a better Muslim and every follower should become a better follower… Religious leaders should not dream of establishing their religion as the one religion of the world, but dream of a world where all religions are united. Unity in diversity is the first lesson of life. Flourishing together by working together is the secret behind peace.

 

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Colombia…4 months later

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(by Justine Carlson)

Human dignity is not negotiable.

This was a nugget of wisdom that I learned back in December while I was in Bogota, Colombia. It speaks volumes as to how one would answer the Vincentian question; What must be done? There is more that needs to be done than I realized. I was catching up with an old friend the other day and he asked me about my trip to South America a couple months back. I was taken back to the place where forgiveness, human dignity, reconciliation, faith, education, and power were normalized and brought into a new light.

 

One of the several greatest lessons I learned in Colombia was how education, religion, politics, and social justice can be intersectional. I am still trying to figure this out today as I witness several minority groups suffering and not provided with the same rights as the majority. As a Roman Catholic, my continuing question is how can I be an ally? How can I help? My time in Colombia has made me appreciate religious diversity, even more so than I did before. While most the country identifies as a Catholic/Christian country, how one lives out their faith there is different based on the individual through education, political participation, giving back to their local communities, and many other ways.

 

Another highlight that I took away from this experience was their approach to nonviolence. In Colombia during this time, part of the national peace agreement had passed, which grants equitable and equal human rights for all. This was a true historical moment for them. One last piece of wisdom that I’ll never forget is that faith is about uncertainty. Similarly, to the United States, many are uncertain of what their future will hold for them. It is not as easy as it sounds, but having a small bit of a hope and/or ounce of faith is how the people in Colombia that were experiencing trauma, homelessness, violence, whatever it may be, continue living the fullest life. Faith through resilience.

Who do you Know?

By Katie Hoffman

 

Who do you know?

 

It is interesting to sit back and think about all of the people we know… do you ever think about your backgrounds and how that has perhaps defined some of the interactions you’ve had with that person? It’s intriguing to ponder how cultures can change and even enhance some of our relationships and allow us to be more altruistic.

 

For me, I think about my living situations through my time at DePaul; each year sharing a home with someone of another faith tradition. My freshman year I lived alone and then with a friend of mine who happens to be Muslim and through our conversations it was easy to note how similar she and I are. My sophomore year, I shared an apartment with a very good friend of mine who is a non-practicing Lutheran and hence, religion and culture affected by religion were not large parts of our relationship but we were still able to share values. Junior year I was lucky enough to live in the Vincent and Louise House–this perhaps was the most rewarding and challenging living situation, especially being the only Jew in a house with seven Catholics, a baptist and a non-denominational Christian.  It was a home in which ideals were always challenged; but with love and the hopes of understanding.

 

Now, as a senior I share an apartment with another Jewish girl and a good friend of mine. One would think it would be a lot easier when considering culture, however it is quite the contrary. However, through our discussions it has allowed my eyes to be opened to truly how different one person may believe and practice their faith tradition and allowed this to be compared to my own experiences; this has made all the difference and has allowed me to appreciate Judaism so much more and it’s multifaceted approaches. This understanding I have begun to apply to learning about others and their cultures and I invite you to try to do the same.

Comunidad Musulmana Ahmadia

By: Kunza Shakil

Living in an unfamiliar land for 10 weeks awakens a spiritual need that cannot be felt in any other way. Being Muslim in Mexico, a nation with a 97% Catholic population draws its own challenges. Your host family does not really know about Islam, Muslims, the Qu’ran, dietary restrictions and the daily prayers. It is all new to them and in a way, this is new to you too. In Chicago the vast majority of people who barely know anything about Islam at least have some idea about it but that is not the case here in Mérida. It is harder to explain your faith in another language that you are still learning but you do it anyway.

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My professor told me about a mosque he found as he was walking one day. I made it a point to visit that mosque at some point before the end of my trip. One Sunday afternoon I was walking downtown with a friend when I saw a woman with a headscarf. I immediately stopped and looked up the building where it read “Comunidad Musulmana Ahmadia” or “Ahmadiyya Muslim Community”. I went inside and looked around and the mosque itself was very simple. There was a small general lounging area for visitors, a musullah to pray, and the office of the director. I had so many questions.

I spoke with the director about the community center and discovered that it was only about two and a half years old. He told me that in the entire Yucatan area, there were only about 100 Muslims. Also, the Ahmadiyya sect in Islam is a fairly small number of people compared to the overall Muslim population in the world and so I was curious as to why Sunni or Shia community centers did not exist. This center in particular was focused on portraying Islam as a peaceful religion and countering the negative narrative that is often portrayed in the media. It was very different than the various Islamic efforts present in Chicago that are both catered to the Muslim and non-Muslim communities. Nevertheless, I think any footprint by a Muslim entity is a positive step in vocalizing the presence of Muslims even in Mexico.

I could not help but think that I was one of the 100 Muslims in the Yucatan Peninsula and that too for only 10 weeks. Although this community center was one that I could not connect to as much as those in Chicago, it still helped me feel a little more spiritually at home. I may be only one Muslim out of very few in this entire region but I still felt like a part of a global community. When surrounded by people of different faiths, it is easy for me to feel like an outsider, different, and forget about the connection I share with my Muslim brothers and sisters worldwide but the experience I had at the Comunidad Musulmana Ahmadia reminded me to never forget these connections no matter how few Muslims there are around me.

Religion and Politics: What Do I Believe?

By: Olivia Hollman

Alright, Olivia. What are you doing here? Don’t you know that those are the two things you should avoid talking about? For 21 years you’ve avoided talking too passionately about or taking too much of a stand. Why change that now? Because it’s been 21 years and I need to stand up for something; I can’t keep on “going with the flow”, acting like a coward. So here we go.

My life started in the red state of Arkansas and I have been raised in a conservative, Catholic family. In 2005, my family moved to the blue state of Illinois, but anyone who knows the political climate of the state knows that it’s only blue because of Chicago. A rural city in southern Illinois definitely falls within the red realm of the state. Having no interest in politics and developing my own opinions, I went along with my family’s conservative views. Liberalism and the Democratic party had it wrong and that was all I needed to know.

The stage is now set for my transition to college at the largest Catholic university in the nation in a very diverse, liberal, Democratic city.

I found myself no longer living in a mostly white, Christian, heteronormative, conservative small town. I began to encounter races, cultures, faiths, beliefs, sexual orientations, gender identities, and values different than my own. In the beginning, I thought “Wow. Look at how my worldview has broadened because I’ve seen people different than me.” And that is where the “experience” ended.

As I began to see my friends and people close to me taking stances on issues, I started asking myself what I believed and what I stood for. This has been something I’ve shaped over the past 3 years (and will continue to shape) due to my friends’ views, faiths, expressions of Catholicism, conversations around events on campus, and my Vincentian education.

So what do I believe? What do I stand for?

I believe:

in one God.

nutrient-rich food and clean drinking water are basic human rights.

society needs to stop sexualizing women.

that just because you’re white, doesn’t mean you’re right.

it is not enough just to do something, it must be done well.

love is for everyone and heteronormative and non-heteronormative commitments to love should be universally accepted.

a country founded on the principle of religious freedom that calls itself a “melting pot” cannot choose which religions to grant freedom or which races to accept.

everyone should have access to shelter, especially from inclement weather and harsh climates.

one doesn’t need to follow Jesus “to be saved”.

I am not persecuted or discriminated against because I am Christian.

the death penalty, abortion, and euthanasia are fundamentally wrong because human life is sacred.

I have privilege because I am white and the “accepted racial majority”.

Vincentian simplicity (transparency) is important in relationships—work, friends, significant others, etc.

gender is not a “male or female”, black and white identity.

as human beings, we have a responsibility to address the needs of our fellow humans.

Jesus’ resurrected, spiritual body and blood are actually present in the Eucharist.

all lives matter, but not all lives are respected, honored, and valued, which is why movements like Black Lives Matter is necessary and crucial.

I must use my privilege to fight for and stand up for those who do not have the benefit of privilege.

sexual assault and rape are not the fault of the victim.

everyone should have access to higher education, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or financial status.

free speech does not encompass hate speech; if it disrespects the life of someone else, you should not have the right to say it.

people don’t “choose” their gender to “act out”, but choose to live out their authentic gender expression.

the Catholic Church is not universally “female or noncisgender friendly”.

everyone should have access to affordable healthcare.

everything can be prayer.

sexual orientation is not just classified by “heterosexual” and there is no “wrong” orientation.

These are absolute truths for me; I firmly believe there are no universal absolute truths. This is also not a complete, static list. It’s going to be changed and edited as I grow and my beliefs and values evolve. But for now, this helps me know who I am—A liberal Catholic firmly rooted in the Vincentian spirit. Who are you? What do you believe?

Give, Even If You Only Have a Little

By: Melanie Kulatilake

We think that giving falls in the hand of those who have money and power. They have more access to give to those in need then let’s say a college student. The Buddha would argue otherwise. Giving falls in the hands of everyone.

How can a person give when they are poor? The truth is that there is always something to give. What if the poor person lives off of the minimum wage in America and has a household of three. How does one expect them to be able to give in this type of circumstance? Here is the solution:

  • What you give to others does not always have to be new
  • It does not have to be a material item
  • It can be a priceless action

When you give something to others it does not have to be new. You can always give away an old clothing that might not fit you or a family member anymore. Was it worn before? Yes. But, if the person really needs that material they are usually not too concerned whether or not the item was worn. In this instance giving is for any of those who have material items to give.

What you give does not have to a material item. What you give can always be a service. If you don’t have any material to give then you always have the option of service. You can help an elderly bring their bags in. You can work at a food pantry. There are several opportunities where you can help another without having to give away any material items.

Okay. Well what if you don’t have a material item to give and you don’t have time to volunteer. What can you give then? You can give something that is priceless and timeless. One thing that is always an option when it comes to giving is just having a conversation with a person on the L on the way to work. That doesn’t waste your time and you can really make someone’s day. What if you don’t have time for even a conversation? You always have the opportunity to change someone’s day by smiling to them. Let them know that you acknowledge them and that you care. That is something that everyone can give to anyone.

The next time you think that you can’t give to someone else in need because you have “too little” I would ask you to think again. There is always something to give. It just might take creativity.

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