Interfaith Council focuses on future dialogues

By Rachel Cywinski


The Rev. Trevor Alexander, director of ecumenical initiatives for University Mission and Mission, planned for years to develop an interfaith council.

He hoped to one day see an event where members of different faiths would discuss how they share with their own children. That dream came true at the Nov. 11 Interfaith Dialogue held in Marian Hall Ballroom.

Alexander said the Interfaith Council, which meets monthly for discussion, has a shared value of the dignity of the human person.

“The Interfaith Council has afforded me the opportunity to meet and make new friends,” Alexander said. “Through the various discussions, I am deepening and understanding my own faith expression. The main goal of the (interfaith dialogue) was to inform our UIW community about the major faith traditions. We wanted to make it an informative session where people can ask questions and gain a better understanding about their own faith as well as other faiths. I was extremely pleased with the attendance, with the panelists, and the type of questions the audience asked.

“As one of the panelists stated, ‘Our world is global; we have to learn to get along with our neighbors.’ If we are to get along with our neighbors, I must understand my neighbors. I strongly believe that the Interfaith Council and the Interfaith Student Council is critical in continuing the dialogue, not only for the university, but for the greater community as a whole. Not only is the interfaith dialogue ingrained into our UIW mission statement, it is inherently in a document by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord.

Gilbert Garza, a business management major in UIW’s Adult Degree Completion Program (ADCAP), was among many attendees at the interfaith dialogue enrolled in one of Alexander’s classes.

“I’m taking a religious class now with Dr. Trevor,” said Garza, who’s from San Antonio. “He’s arranged several field trips and he’s given us opportunities to see different religious events. The big word that I put on my notes was the tolerance for the different religious faiths and understanding that would bring on a more peaceful environment. What interested me in the panel like this is something you would not see in another country. It’s unique here. We saw a panel of different faiths, men and women.”

Uriel Diaz, a freshman business major from San Antonio, said, “I didn’t know what to expect (at the interfaith dialogue). I thought it was going to be more of a debate. I came because my professor [Alexander] asked me. It wasn’t a debate at all. It was interesting. I have grown more interested in learning more about other religions.”

UMM graduate assistant Margaret “Marty” Battafarano organized the event at Alexander’s behest.

“I wanted to do this to educate the UIW community about the different faiths represented at UIW,” Battafarano said. “From organizing this event I became more aware about the (faiths) represented on our campus. Interfaith dialogue can enrich the UIW community in further understanding the truth about the different faiths on campus and in our global community.

“Working with the Interfaith Council and Interfaith Student Organization has encouraged me to learn more about my faith as a Roman Catholic.  In reading Scripture and documents developed within the Church, I have gained more knowledge and understanding of my own faith.  The more I learn about my faith, the more I love it and become more secure in it. This has enabled me to be more confident and comfortable in engaging in interfaith dialogue to learn more about other faiths.

Interfaith dialogue “provides one of many opportunities for the diverse UIW community to interact and advance in mutual understanding and common good (UIW mission statement), and educates the UIW community, with the hope of reaching the global community,” Battafarano added. “We will have another panel discussion (in the spring) on how different religions use sacred music. This will provide an exciting experience with live music and showing how music and other forms of art can create an environment for worship in meditation in the different religions. All are welcome to participate!”

Sister Walter Maher, vice president of Mission and Ministry, said the interfaith dialogue showed such an event is possible.

“The dialogue encourages me to deepen my understanding of my own religious beliefs and commitments,” Maher said. “Interfaith dialogue encourages a willingness to listen and respect the beliefs of other religions. I wanted participants to understand that we are one human race, our final end is God, and that dialogue is essential for development, social justice and human freedom. I believe the impact of such events is greater understanding, respect, and working together to transform the world.

“The goal was to foster dialogue, to learn from other traditions how children are formed in their faith, and what children are currently being taught about other faith traditions. Learning how children are formed in their own faith context and how others’ faiths are presented to them will shape a world where peace, harmony and solidarity reign. The focus on modeling faith was key.”

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