Interfaith service affirms wisdom, peace, community
Participants share sacred texts from wide range of traditions represented across Saint Michael's College campus, with aim to soothe souls in troubled times
“It felt good to pray with people from different faith traditions who gathered in the same place at the same time,” said Saint Michael’s campus music minister Jerome Monachino ’91 following Tuesday afternoon’s timely, peaceful and uplifting “Interfaith Prayer Service for Healing and Peace” in the College chapel.
Challenges of the pandemic coupled with prominent and unsettling political and social divisions of the past year appeared to motivate the suggestion for such a service by community members during a recent online community-building “brown bag lunch” conversation, said Edmundite Campus Ministry Director Fr. Brian Cummings ’86.
In response, the ministry team, which also includes Anna Lester ’98, got to work on a program that would be widely inclusive of the many faith traditions animating and infusing wisdom and diverse richness into the Saint Michael’s community. One striking and comforting perspective emerging from the service, said an online viewer of the livestreamed event afterward, was how aligned the world’s major spiritual traditions appeared to be on matters of peace, justice, wisdom and healing, based on text selections shared during the service.
Fr. Cummings opened by welcoming the nearly 20 people who attended the 4 p.m. service in-person at the Chapel (following COVID-19 masking and distance protocols), with about that number again viewing the virtual livestream of the service. “The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness, the world and all its peoples,” Cummings said, quoting Psalm 24, before adding, “we gather to hear words of hope, healing and peace from various sacred texts from different faith traditions”
Kendra Smith, the College’s director of human resources and a devoted practitioner of meditation, offered a “Call to Quiet,” leading the assembled in deep-breathing and meditation in order to set the proper peaceful atmosphere for the service. She started and ended by striking a chime commonly used in meditation. “Aspire to keep a sense of peace and openness throughout the service while we breathe consciously, present to the world around us, allowing ourselves to be touched, living with inspiration,” Smith said.
Monachino’s meditative music and vocal selections – “Amazing Grace” to start, “Healing River of the Spirit” in the middle, and to close, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” interspersed with periods of purposeful silence throughout the service, which lasted just over an hour.
The heart of the program consisted of direct participants who took successive turns at the main altar lectern in the “proclamation of Sacred Texts on Healing and Peace.” These proclaimers included:
- Dean of the College Tara Natarajan of the economics faculty who drew on ancient Indian texts, first reciting Sanskrit verses followed with English translation; she explained Vedic traditions, the meaning of “Mantra” as used for “removal of diseases, misfortune,” that “ultimately helps lead to liberation.”
- Dan O’Malley ’22 based his reflection on Christ’s Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s Gospel, viewed within Catholic tradition; from this “code of living for His followers to aspire to,” O’Malley drew comparisons to current situations as a college community, country and world. The “poor in spirit” remind us of unemployed Americans or those in poverty, migrants, refugees and immigrants, he reflected. “Those who mourn” can be associated today with lives lost in the pandemic; the meek remind of the humility of health workers who put everyone above themselves… “those who hunger or thirst for righteousness” put in mind the struggle for racial and social justice today; ‘peacemakers’ made O’Malley think of Pope Francis’ reminder that “peace excludes no one and includes everyone.” The “merciful and clean of heart” remind us of those “who have remained patient and loving through it all,” he said. In all, the Beatitudes remind that “the tragedy, sadness and harsh challenges of this past year will slowly, yet surely, be transformed into peace, healing, and comfort,” he said.
- Lara Scott of Campus Ministry MOVE volunteer service office read from her Christian Science tradition, choosing passages that highlight the tradition’s connection to peace and healing. She quoted 1 John 4:16 — that God is love “and with finding full and deep understanding of this love comes strong faith that prayer has the power to heal and transform.”
- Rabbi Jim Glazier (religious studies lecturer for the College) drew from the ancient Jewish teacher ben Zoma on topics such as the wisdom and strength that is reflected in and required for avoiding anger. Rabbi Glazier said since ben Zoma died at an early age, he never attained the title of rabbi, “yet his teaching still is incorporated in our scared text, which shows you don’t have to achieve a title in order to achieve wisdom.” Later in the service, Rabbi Glazier led the gathered in a communal blessing, in a format of his petitions and congregational responses.
- Jacob Pelletier of Institutional Advancement, was raised Greek Orthodox and said his family’s tradition make him grateful “for the lesson it taught me about the importance of the family we create through times of grief, happiness love and growth.” He read from the New Testament Book of Romans, a passage that he said his mother helped him select: “…we …glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
- Professor Eva Pascal of the religious studies faculty said she was “a Christian who loves Buddhism” – the topic she teaches and writes about extensively in her scholarship, having lived some years among Buddhists in Thailand. She read verses from The Dhammapada in translation, which starts, “A single word that manifests peace is better than a speech of a thousand useless words,” setting a theme woven in some measure in the related subsequent verses she shared.
- Swapnil Jhajharia ’24 sang and translated prayers from the Hindu tradition with his reflections on their significance. The prayer he sang in Hindi stands for “Give us enough strength O lord.” One prayer spoke of evils of the world such as hate and war and how they are easier for some than taking responsibility “for our own actions, communities, planet, accepting our shortcomings and improving ourselves first.” Another verse highlighted “the exponential nature of empathy.”
- Koffi N’guessan, Fulbright Scholar in Residence, explained that his Christian background is through the United Methodist Church in his native Ivory Coast. He read from well-loved Gospel verses, such as, “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you…” and Love your neighbor as yourself, no other command is greater than this.” Both remind us that “before sealing alliance with God we must first make peace with the people around us,” he said.
After another silence period that followed the Sacred Text proclamations, James Downs ’22 and Alexandria Lembo ’21 offered Prayers of Petition adapted from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Reflections on Micah, with the congregation’s response, “Lord, give us healing and peace.”
Fr. Cummings, as closing words, read from a prayer offered on the service program from Saint Michael’s Trustee Sister Marianne Read, RSM, which ended, “Grant us a world where peace is built with justice…guided by love. May we be the example You want us to be in the world from this time forward…”