As church bells pealed the hour of 7 p.m. from the white steeple of Cascia Hall at Merrimack College on Feb. 6, people converged at the church from all directions across the campus for the 10th annual Interfaith Celebration presented for UN World Interfaith Harmony Week.
The Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations sponsored the uplifting ceremony. One by one, at the start of the service, students of all faiths walked to the center of a circle of representatives of these faiths and presented symbols of each of their traditions.
Joseph T. Kelley, Ph.D., D.Min., Director of the Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations, said the intent of the evening was the inclusion of many religions.
“The spirit of tonight was to offer abrahamic hospitality to the children of Abraham – Jews, Christians and Muslims, reaching out to all religions and inviting them into an interfaith prayer service as part of the college’s observance of UN Interfaith Harmony Week.,” he said.
The Center was founded at Merrimack College in 1995, originally as a center for the study of Jewish-Christian relations, but it soon expanded to include the Muslim faith, Kelley said.
Now, ten years since the celebration’s inception, believers from about a dozen faiths took part.
Rev. Raymond Dlugos, OSA, Merrimack College vice president for mission and student affairs, prayed that leaders be given the understanding to embrace diversity.
“We call you by different names. We approach you by different words,” he said. “Give us courage to treat one another and all of life with dignity and respect.”
Students representing the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Baha’i, Buddhist, Confucian, Hindu, Jain, Native, Sikh, Taoist, Unitarian and Zoroastrian faiths took turns at a microphone reading their faiths’ individual version of the golden rule.
“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it,” Nina Levison read from the Talmud.
“Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself,” Maria Haseeb read from a Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad.
“In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets,” Shun Kim read from the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.
“We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive,” Will Griffin said, quoting the Native American Chief Dan George.
“I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all,” Marina Maylor read from Guru Granth Shaib of the Sikh tradition.
A large bowl of water at the center of the circle of students received the offering of a small bowl of water from representatives of each religion, symbolizing each religious tradition’s gift to humanity’s spiritual thirst.
Prayers of thanks for each religion represented at the gathering were said as each small bowl of water was added to the large one. Leader Becca Ryan led the audience in a group reading.
Rev. Dlugos led individual prayers from people in the assembly, as each petitioner lit a votive candle that had been placed in the bowl of water.
“Let the rain come and wash away the ancient grudges, the bitter hatreds held and nurtured over generations,” Dlugos said. “Let the rain wash away the memory of the hurt, the neglect.”
Music from the various religions was performed during the evening by Mackapella, the college’s student a capella choir.