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Student participation in world gathering of religions informs Interfaith Prayer Service

Several student participants in this year's Interfaith Prayer Service were also part of a Creighton delegation to the Parliament of the World's Religions last October.On its surface, Wednesday’s Interfaith Prayer Service, an integral part of Creighton University’s annual Founders Week festivities, didn’t look all that different from past events.

But one of the underpinnings of this year’s service made for an atmosphere of more profound reflection for several students who had a hand in the service’s planning and who are eager to forge a new path for Creighton to think about its religious diversity.

Last October, a group of seven Creighton students participated in the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City, the oldest and largest gathering of people of faith from around the globe. Creighton sent Christians of the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox stripe, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus, and they, in turn, encountered Sikhs and Baha’is and Taoists, among dozens of other faiths.

“It was pretty incredible,” said Hank Elbert, a junior in the Heider College of Business and one of Creighton’s Catholic representatives at the Parliament. “There were 10,000 people, from every religion you’ve ever heard of and some you haven’t. But we were all there under a common purpose — to talk about our faith, to celebrate it, to ask questions. It really was a way to find God in all things.”

The Parliament, since 1893 held every few years at sites around the world, was in the U.S. for the first time since the early 1990s.

And while the long agreed-upon dictates of polite conversation eschew the mention of religion, the students found not only courtesy in their discourse among people of different convictions, but discernment and curiosity, true celebration of the diversity of the world’s faiths.

“There was no stigma about talking religion,” said Shaxii Joshi, a junior majoring in neuroscience in the College of Arts and Sciences and a Hindu representative for Creighton at the Parliament. “That was one of the first questions people asked. It was the whole purpose for being at the Parliament. Everyone was very open about really wanting to know more about you and your faith tradition. They wanted to ask questions, to find out more.”

Along with other Creighton representatives at the Parliament, both Joshi and Elbert had a role in Wednesday’s Interfaith Prayer Service, too. After attending the Parliament and taking part in a number of workshops and prayer sessions, being able to plan for the Creighton service and put into practice some of the elements learned in Salt Lake City was an active affirmation of faith.

Joshi helped open the service with the ringing of a small bell, a traditional call to prayer in Hinduism, and also helped bring the event to a close with chanting of a mantra centered on peace. Elbert asked three questions of reflection in a closing examen. Both also took part in a candlelight processional and recessional from the service.

“I think there’s always an understanding we have more in common than we have issues that divide us,” Elbert said. “Creighton is unique in wanting to celebrate the diversity of faiths we have on campus and in our eagerness to learn from different faiths.”

The theme for this year’s Interfaith Prayer Service, “Peace: The Heart of Humanity,” is one Creighton’s Parliament representatives hope to impart through future projects of their own.

Presently, the Parliament-goers from Creighton are working on putting together a Sikh worship service followed by a langar, a communal meal shared by all visitors to the gurdwara, the Sikh place of worship. At the Parliament, Sikhs from all over the world cooked for thousands of attendees each day. Joshi said having a langar at the University would allow students to do the meal preparation and share food in the same spirit.

“The idea is that all are equal and to prove this the rich and the poor, men and women, children, sit together in a common space and eat the same food,” Joshi said. “It promotes peace and understanding when you can sit down with others and share a meal. We’d really like to bring that here to Creighton as another way to encourage people to learn more about other faiths.”

The atmosphere of engaged inquiry and celebration of diversity at the Parliament and in the Interfaith Prayer Service, Elbert said, are the kinds of things that give him daily pause to reflect on his own faith and the ways in which the world — seemingly riven by religious and political factionalism — is very often coming together to promote peace and justice.

“It’s the kind of dialogue that can take place anywhere, that should take place anywhere,” Joshi said. “At Parliament, it was very encouraging and heartwarming for all of us to see people asking questions and truly wanting to know more. We want to keep that feeling of openness and curiosity going at Creighton in as many ways as we can.”

Creighton University is a Jesuit, Catholic university bridging health, law, business and the arts and sciences for a more just world.