Building Bridges Across Religions
By Susan Kratzer '18
Religious differences have a long history of sparking controversy and discord, but the students, faculty, and staff at Saint Mary’s have found a way to strengthen community ties through religious conversations.
In February, the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a national non-profit organization based out of Chicago that holds interfaith events at US colleges and universities, in collaboration with the religious studies department, held a weekend retreat on campus.
Students and professors from Saint Mary’s attended along with neighboring universities including Notre Dame, Bethel, and IU South Bend. The goal was to foster dialogue between people of differing faiths with hopes to create an interreligious community, ultimately helping people come together over their similarities and better understand their differences.
The weekend began with an optional bus tour around South Bend to different sacred sites including the Islamic Society of Michiana, the Sinai Synagogue, and the Hindu Temple of Central Indiana. Later, the participants communed back at Saint Mary’s where they discussed how to approach interfaith dialogue as well as what inspired them to learn more.
“The goal was not to convert anyone or to water religion down to where we ignore disagreements, but to come together over the things we have in common and eventually be able to talk about our differences with the foundation of a community,” said Sophia McDevitt ’20, who helped organize the event.
The weekend also included a panel of local religious leaders including an Evangelical preacher, a Buddhist nun, representatives from the women’s interfaith group in South Bend, and others. The conference ended with an interfaith service in which different religions were represented through song.
“It was awesome to see college students who wanted to engage and discuss these issues and understand people with different views than themselves, and be able to have this discussion at Saint Mary’s,” McDevitt noted.
The weekend retreat sparked much interest among students and will continue the work started by the IFYC through the new interfaith club, Better Together. In April, the club celebrated National Better Together Day — a day of action headed by the IFYC to work toward interfaith peacebuilding. The club hosted the speaker Catherine Cornille, professor of religion at Boston College, who spoke about women and interfaith dialogue, as well as a student panel.
Iman Omar ’19 who attended the interfaith conference and is one of the students working to organize Better Together, is glad the club has been started at Saint Mary’s.
“I think it is immensely important for Saint Mary’s to have an interfaith club to not only encourage different worldviews but to also allow all students to have a space where they can feel valued and heard and included.”