World Interfaith Harmony Week

by Guest Contributor

Sr Caroline Vaitkunas RSM works in the Peace, Ecology and Justice Office at the Columban Mission Centre in Essendon, Australia and details World Interfaith Harmony Week and how Columban Missionaries around the world are expressing their commitment to human fraternity through interfaith initiatives.

World Interfaith Harmony Week (Feb 1st – 7th) was established by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2010 to enhance mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation among people.  Each year the observance is an occasion for the world’s churches, mosques, temples and other places of worship to spread the message about interfaith harmony and goodwill.   World Interfaith Harmony Week highlights how the universal values of love and service can bring people of faith together to build bridges across boundaries and help make the world a better place.

Columban missionary Fr. Patrick McInerney has been working in interfaith in general and Christian-Muslim relations in particular, in Sydney for more than twenty years.  Fr. Patrick explains that in addition to theological and religious dialogue, interfaith is also about the dialogue of life.  This includes being a good neighbour by showing respect, appreciation and kindness.  Interfaith dialogue also includes working together on social issues from a place of shared values.  Fr. Patrick says “interfaith is more than the formal academic conferences, talks and seminars, as it includes the relations we develop with friends from other faiths, which draws us into sharing their joys and sorrows.”  There are many positive outcomes that flow from a commitment to interfaith harmony.

In February 2019, during his Apostolic Journey to the United Arab Emirates, Pope Francis made a landmark declaration with The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar on human fraternity for world peace and living together.  The joint declaration is a sign of mutual respect to advance aspirations towards a universal peace that all can enjoy.  On human fraternity, the declaration states, “faith leads a believer to see in the other a brother or sister to be supported and loved.  Believers are called to express this human fraternity by safeguarding creation and the entire universe and supporting all persons, especially the poorest and those most in need.”

medical outreach in Pakistan
Columban missionaries responding to the Pakistan flood disaster by the operation of a medical outreach team from Joti Centre, the Educational and Cultural centre of Hyderabad diocese. Photo credit: Fr. Tomas King

Columban missionaries in Pakistan are expressing their commitment to human fraternity in response to the catastrophic monsoon rain and flooding that devastated a third of the country in 2022.  Thirty-three million people were impacted, over two million houses damaged or destroyed and over one million livestock perished.  One of the ways Columban missionaries are responding to the disaster is by the operation of a medical outreach team from Joti Centre, the Educational and Cultural centre of Hyderabad diocese.  This service reaches poor families in rural areas where no other medical outreach team has reached.

Alarmingly people worldwide are increasingly swept up by the consequences of spiralling conflicts and environmental disasters leading to ever increasing numbers of refugees and internally displaced people.  Many people who are forced to flee face unwelcoming, hostile and inhumane conditions.  Messages and actions that give witness to our common humanity are therefore more important than ever.

In an address at the Vatican on January 10th 2022, Pope Francis said “there is a need to overcome indifference and to reject the idea that migrants are a problem for others. The results of this approach are evident in the dehumanization of those migrants concentrated in hotspots where they end up as easy prey to organized crime and human traffickers, or engage in desperate attempts to escape that at times end in death.”

For more than twenty-five years, Columban missionaries have been working in one of the most impoverished areas of the US/Mexico border: Rancho Anapra, located on the far western edge of Cd. Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico.  Anapra receives hundreds of Mexicans who are internally displaced by poverty, climate change and drug violence.   Columban Fr. Bill Morton says the US/Mexico border area attracts drug traffickers and human traffickers and is a very high-risk area for violence and the recruitment of youth into criminal mayhem.   The Corpus Christi Parish, administered by the St Columban Missionary Society is one of the few places where residents of Anapra can find support and pastoral care.  A new initiative adopted by Corpus Christi Parish is the Embroidery Project that brings together a small group of women and girls to embroider together, share a meal and build community.  Fr. Bill says the Embroidery Project goes beyond a business, it is a humanitarian project. It serves as a network of support and solidarity.”

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