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.