World religions celebrated

Jacqueline Slanley

St. Edward’s University held its first annual “A Gathering of Faiths,” in conjunction with a similar event to be held in Melbourne, Australia in December.

The event that inspired the festival, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, occurs every five years in a different international city with the goal of bringing together the world’s religious and spiritual communities. It is the world’s largest interreligious gathering, according to the parliament’s Web site.

Similarly, the event at St. Edward’s on Oct. 1 was created to be a celebratory gathering of students, faculty and staff to discuss and explore different world religions in order to encourage understanding and cooperation between faiths.

James Puglisi, associate director of campus ministry, said the goal of the festival was to promote religious diversity along with literacy and to build knowledge and awareness.

“The more you know about religion the less conflict you will have with religion,” he said.

The festival began at 11 a.m. on the Ragsdale Lawn where various stations were set up to highlight different religions and provide students with interactive opportunities for religious exploration. Students who stopped by were able to make prayer bracelets, listen to music with religious influences ranging from Judaism to Buddhism, hear stories, read through different bibles and watch a play performed by the Transit Theatre Group.

A station that attracted the largest audience consisted of four to five pictures drawn by young children depicting how they believed the world came into existence based on their religious beliefs. The pictures were then transferred to oil on canvas by a former St. Edward’s student, Taylor Browning who graduated in Spring 2009.

“The festival was liberating, open, and accepting,” said freshman Gaby Flores.

Overall, Puglisi said that he was satisfied with the turnout to the event.

“We had a consistent flow of people through the stations,” Puglisi said. “It seemed like people were receptive to what was offered.”

The lawn displays were followed by two panel discussions in the Maloney Room. The first was a student panel discussion that allowed three current St. Edward’s students to represent their various faith traditions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

“It was a good interchange between the panelists,” Puglisi said.

Following the panel’s discussion, the annual Nostra Aetate discussion began. The discussion united representatives from the greater Austin religious community to explore the values reflected in Nostra Aetate, the groundbreaking Vatican II (1965) document that expressed a commitment to dialogue and understanding among diverse faith traditions.

The St. Edward’s community consists of 40 different religious denominations, according to Campus Ministry. As a liberal arts Catholic university, St. Edward’s goal is to guide each student on an educational and spiritual journey to share their own faith, find common ground with other students and discover the potential that lies within. St. Edward’s is the only school in Texas that hosted a pre-parliament festival.

Puglisi said it is important to show that even though St. Edward’s is a Catholic university, the community is still interested in looking at religious diversity and the university encourages this exploration.

“A large part of the Catholic religion is to look at the dignity of all people,” Puglisi said.

Toward the end of the festival on the Ragsdale Lawn, guests were invited to sign a banner which is to be sent to the conference in Australia. The signing was done in order to show that small steps are being taken to acknowledge the different faiths in the world.

The festival was sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Leadership, University Programs, the School of Humanities, Campus Ministry, and Leading E.D.G.E with the overall goal of instilling beneficial qualities within the campus community in order to promote dignity, knowledge and common justice.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions was first held in Chicago in 1893. The event’s goal is to gather business, education, religious, environmental and secular leaders to promote social cohesion and solutions.

The 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions will be held December 3-9 in Melbourne, Australia.