By Rachel Cywinski
LOGOS STAFF WRITER
On Nov. 11, 70 members of the UIW community selected an interfaith dialogue as the most important event to attend on a Friday evening.
Before a time of fellowship, pizza and homemade cookies in Marian Hall Ballroom, members of the UIW Interfaith Council answered questions posed by a University Mission and Ministry moderator — graduate assistant Margaret “Marty” Battafarano: “How do you teach your children about your faith, and how do you teach them about other faiths?”
One of the panelists, the Rev. Bob Wright, a professor of theology at Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, said this was his first time participating in an interfaith panel.
“I did so wanting to respond positively to Marty’s (a former student) request, and also to help the process of dialogue and learning about religious faith to the extent that I am able,” Wright said. “Through the event I happily learned about the personal experiences and inclusive faith decisions made by persons of other faiths. They underlined the challenges and creativity demanded of persons of non-Christian faiths in raising their children in a predominantly Christian culture and nation.
“Such events, focused by very practical questions of how one lives and shares one’s faith such as was the case with this panel, are certainly to be encouraged to promote continued growth in our own faith tradition and its sympathetic understanding of those of other faiths. The faith we’re drawn toward deeper down is something that draws us all together.”
UIW religious studies professor Sylvia Maddox, a Protestant, said, her goal on the panel was ‘“to share the gifts of Protestant faith formation, its values, and the unique lens it offers to understand the formation of other faith traditions. I learned that in our awareness of a global-interconnected world, we are all seeking to learn about the ways in which we share the same desires and same longings. I saw this in the students who were listening but also in the presenters. Everyone has stories they want to tell and it was a gift to have a place of hospitality to share stories.
“To work with the interfaith council groups is exciting because it offers a vision of hope for the future. I think that interfaith dialogue and education are the way in which we can most effectively deal with global issues such as economics, ecology and violence. They also create a human and spiritual bond between people of all faith traditions. Having actual people tell their faith stories is very much a part of the spirituality of incarnation. I think that the better we are able to affirm and articulate our faith traditions, the more open we will be to engage in true dialogue. Once we see, once we’re aware, we’re open to divine oneness.”
Another Protestant, UIW student Marcella Wilkinson, a McNair Scholar, said, “I learned from this event, that we’re all human first! Because of this, there really are more similarities than differences running through all of our veins. We really are one big family, who need each other. Neighbors, not strangers. Participating in this event caused me to reflect on my own beliefs and relationship with God. This event caused me to revisit who I am as a person. I never want to offend anyone who is not like me and the best way to combat ignorance is through education. Events like our interfaith dialogue act as a vehicle for understanding; events like this are extremely informative and provide the necessary ingredients to build relationships with individuals outside of our own comfort zone.
“One of the panelists, my Muslim sister, Dr. Fatma Korkmaz, a UTSA professor and head of the Turkish Women’s Group, encouraged us to ‘focus on the mountains and not pebbles.’ We as citizens of the world, who follow in the divine way of Love thy neighbor, need to look at the good and not the bad, focus on the big similarities and not the minute differences.”
Korkmaz, representing Islam, said, “I feel that God-minded people are more close to myself than people who don’t really care.”
Dr. Lopita Nath, a UIW history professor, discussed life with her Hindu father and Baptist mother, and her life as an “idol-worshipping Hindu” married to a Hindu from a tradition that prohibits idols. Nath described her life as richer for her parents, and now her husband’s family and her, attending faith events with each other. Nath said her in-laws now attend Christmas parties at her house.
“This (interfaith dialogue) was fascinating in that every faith represented there had the same basic principles,” Nath said. “They all stressed on the compassion, truth and righteousness and wanted their children to become good people. I love any opportunity to learn from other faiths. I wanted to make people understand the basic idea of Hinduism and also to learn from others.
“I want to be a part of this effort and I think UIW is going in the right direction. Events like this create an awareness and also inform people of the direction the university is going and will be going in the near future. At this point in world affairs, when one sees a breakdown of every possible solution towards world peace, only dialogue and efforts like these can keep people focused. This event fitted well with the university’s mission of creating enlightened and global citizens. Events like this are the bridge between the university and the global world.”
UIW student Gloria Park, a Korean who practices Buddhism, said, “I learned that despite what faith an individual has in a philosophy or religion, we, as a collective society, can learn and grow from and with each other. I believe that the only way to have world peace is through dialogue. Interfaith dialogue can transcend any boundaries and austerities of culture and politics. Being a part of the interfaith discussion and council has made me stronger in my own faith.
“My goal for this event was to educate the people at the event about Buddhism and to help them understand the oneness of all faiths through the interfaith discussion. I feel that this was accomplished based on the comments from attendees after the event. I hope that more students become a part of the interfaith student organization. I believe that in order to have a healthful life, a person should have some sort of faith and be able and willing to share their faith with others.”