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Leaders and followers from 14 different religions gathered at St. Philip Neri Church in Toronto for the Interfaith Prayer Service for Peace at the beginning of October. Photo by Anna Chelmecki

Speaking Out: The many names of God

By  Anna Chelmecki, Speaking Out
  • October 20, 2017
Never in my life have I seen so many religions under one roof.

The roof in this case belonged to St. Philip Neri Church in Toronto and the event was the Interfaith Prayer Service for Peace at the beginning of October.

Prior to this event, I had little exposure to inter-religious dialogue. I had seen coverage of Pope Francis meeting with people of various faiths, had heard of religious leaders around the world meeting together to discuss various topics, but my personal experiences with inter-religious dialogue were few and far between.

On this evening, though, I was all of a sudden in a gathering with leaders and followers from 14 different faiths. Each leader had a chance to speak about how their religion understands God and I was struck especially by the terms various faiths use for God.

For example, in the Sikh tradition, God is denoted by the word Waheguru, meaning “the most wonderful remover of darkness.” I thought this term was especially beautiful and found it something that could easily relate to our Catholic faith. The meaning reminded me of John 8:12, where Jesus states, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

A central theme of the event was joining together to pray for peace. Watching the interactions between those of different faiths and talking to individuals at the event, I began to see the intention behind true dialogue.

Even after the event concluded, many people stayed to talk with each other. Being a part of these conversations, it was clear that there were deep friendships between these people of various faiths. Several truths came to the surface for me.

First, by sharing our beliefs with others, we are able to reflect on their meaning in our lives. Pondering why we believe what we believe helps us gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of Catholicism.

The second is that through interfaith dialogue we are able to live out our faith in a unique way. Jesus spent His time talking with those of a variety of backgrounds — Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles and many more. In interfaith dialogue, we can uniquely emulate Jesus and centre our view of the person — not on their religion, but their inherent human dignity.

Finally, participating in inter-religious dialogue helps us work towards peace, even if only in a small way. Understanding and learning about other faiths allows us to clear up common misconceptions that can easily take root when we do not dialogue with each other.

In a world that often attempts to silence my faith, it was nice to speak with others who face the same struggles. Although we may be of different faiths, we all face the common difficulty of the culture’s criticisms of living a life of faith.

(Chelmecki, 23, is a second-year Master of Teaching student at the University of Toronto.)

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