“We live in very challenging times. Hopefully, we’re moving toward the end of the coronavirus pandemic. As case numbers drop, we long for a return to normal life. We are also seeing challenges in communities and homes in public and private settings all around the world.”
Those words from Joann Heaney-Hunter, Ph.D. ’78C, ’81G, Associate Professor, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, opened an online dialogue among various St. John’s community members and friends from diverse faith traditions.
Sponsored by the University’s Interfaith Council and moderated by Dr. Heaney-Hunter, “Voice of Faith: Leading during Difficult and Uncertain Times—an Interfaith Dialogue,” featured an in-depth conversation centering around leadership and fostering the common good. Dr. Heaney-Hunter noted this dialogue was an opportunity to examine important issues as people of faith.
Rabbi Mark Kraft, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Theology and Biblical Hebrew, noted that as communities emerge from the pandemic, they must adopt a new normal. “We have to turn to a new way of looking at each other, a new way of looking at the world, and a new way of analyzing what we are doing and what is our purpose.”
Rabbi Kraft stressed the need to focus on being more thoughtful and leading more meaningful lives. “We need to return to a world where we are thinking again.”
Since the outset of the pandemic, Imam Zakir Ahmed of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York has encouraged his congregation to lean on their faith. “In times of uncertainty and difficulty, faith is where we find strength and a mechanism to cope and deal with all of the various struggles, challenges, and uncertainties.”
He added, “In difficult times, God brings out the best in people. In these times, it’s very important for us to have a voice of faith, because if we don’t go back to a superior being—someone from whom we gain solace and comfort and strength—then where do we go? We’re all in this together. In our diversity, we find strength.”
Supreet Singh, a speaker representing the Sikh tradition, noted, “Pain is the beautiful opportunity to experience peace. If there was no such thing as pain in the world, we would not understand the value of peace and happiness.”
He added that as leaders in their respective faiths, the panelists shared a responsibility to lead humanity forward using the vehicle of faith. “We can represent our moral ethics and these beautiful values that we all inherit and share.”
The faiths represented by the panelists all have the same foundational beliefs, such as love of God and love of neighbor, noted Margaret M. Fitzpatrick, S.C., Ed.D. ’00HON, Member, St. John’s University Board of Trustees. “I am strong in my Catholic faith, but many more times I’m a disappointment to myself in how I live it. In these times, I cling to the words of Jesus, who spoke to the people, ‘I am the light of the world, and anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark.’”
To be a voice of faith, we must first pray, Sr. Margaret stressed. Then we must listen and learn. “Life lessons can be hard—and then we must act.”
Joanne Acevedo, Associate Director of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an interdenominational ministry for college students, said for her, being a voice of faith means being present and available for those who need help. “That has allowed my faith to shine even more.”
She added there is a need to focus more conversations on reconciliation and peace. “I think we would accomplish more if we created more of those opportunities to alleviate the civil unrest in which we find ourselves.”
“It’s important for me to be bold and open about my faith, because it challenges me and those who witness me,” offered Keilah Jones-Martin, a Global Development and Sustainability major. “Faith goes against what we are accustomed to in today’s world. It digs deeper. It causes us to ask questions.”
She added, “We were created for a purpose. Difficult times are inevitable, but the pain we experience exposes us in a way other emotions do not. The beauty of that is we can experience true intimacy with God.”