Interfaith Dialogue Promotes Unity
In a political climate often fraught with divisive rhetoric, St. John’s University invited local religious leaders to a special event this semester celebrating the values that unite us.
Sponsored by Campus Ministry and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Interfaith Dialogue and Dinner held October 18 in the D’Angelo Center on the Queens campus was an opportunity for students and other members of the St. John’s community to engage with each other and representatives from the many faiths dotting the local landscape.
Entitled “Diversity in Faith: Where is the Unity in Our Values?” the evening consisted of a panel discussion between students and representatives from the Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Coptic Orthodox, and Protestant faiths, and a dinner that allowed these conversations to continue in a more informal setting. Over 100 students, faculty, and administrators attended.
“The program offered a message of hope on many levels,” observed Rev. Patrick Griffin, C.M., Executive Director for the Vincentian Center for Church and Society. “The six religious leaders who took part in the conversation consistently spoke of the value of congregations getting together in order to get to know one another better.”
The evening was an outgrowth of work done by the latest cohort of the Vincentian Mission Institute, noted Sister Nora Gatto, D.C., Campus Minister for Retreats and Faith Formation. This is the second such event on campus. “We want to do a lot more—not just events like these, but opportunities for conversation,” Sr. Gatto observed.
September’s Founder’s Week celebration at St. John’s centered on the theme of welcoming the stranger, and several panelists addressed the question of who the strangers are in their midst and how they engage with them.
Imam Bayram Mulić, a native of Bosnia and Herzegovina, observed, “In Islam, there is no stranger. Like Christianity and Judaism, we believe we are members of the same family and come from Adam and Eve--the same father and the same mother.” He added that, in his country, a room was always set aside in homes for a visitor who would bless them with his or her presence.
“We see people as Christ would,” observed Cyndi Joubert, who is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Sociology at St. John’s. “If I see past skin and I see past what you look like, then I see your heart, and I see you as Christ would.” She added, “Jesus came to talk to you and understand you as a person. That should be our first instinct: not to convert. If we can develop that mindset, conversations can be had and problems can be solved.”
“It takes not only dialogue and action, which are amazing and powerful, but there first has to be prayer,” observed Matthew Lewis Sutton, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Theology and Religious Studies. “We have to be witnessing spiritual ecumenism—praying together—for other religious leaders and their faith communities. This is our opportunity to witness, in prayer, the unity we all desire.”
Rabbi Shlomo Nisanov, of the Bukharian Jewish Center of Kew Gardens, stressed, “We are here to make (the world) a better place.” He added, “Jews and Muslims cannot easily converse about the Middle East, but other topics offer no comparable controversy.” Fr. Griffin added, “I understand how this is true. Conversations must begin on common ground, and only as they mature can they begin to take on more contentious questions.”