The Courtyard of the Gentiles and Better Together Day

April 29, 2014

This post shares reflections of three Georgetown students—Aamir Hussain, Trishla Jain, and Niki Khanderia—who participated in the Vatican's first "Courtyard of the Gentiles” event in the United States from April 9-11, 2014. The event focused on the role of arts, literature, and culture in fostering interreligious dialogue. Georgetown also joined colleges and universities around the United States on April 10 to celebrate "Better Together Day", a day of inter-religious cooperation sponsored by the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC). Together, the two events were a powerful representation of the growing international interfaith movement.

As a Muslim American, I was most moved by the interfaith celebration that focused on quotes from American history that support diversity. Examples included George Washington’s letter to a Rhode Island synagogue declaring that America would “give to bigotry no sanction” and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s speech at Seneca Falls. This event, like Eboo Patel’s book Sacred Ground, demonstrated that religious pluralism and respect for difference have always been central to American identity. It is not surprising that IFYC trains leaders using the methods of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which spearheaded the American civil rights movement. The celebration’s conclusion with a quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the final section of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech placed the interfaith movement in the context of a contemporary struggle for equality and human rights.

The second plenary discussion, which featured authors, scientists, and professors, explored the human condition and how humans search for meaning. For me, the most powerful reflection that came out of the session was the idea that all humans, either consciously or unconsciously, are striving to find meaning. The panelists explored the notion that the sciences, arts, and religion are all avenues through which humans strive to find meaning. This notion fits in seamlessly with the goal of IFYC’s Better Together Day, as neither proscribes a path for humans to take in order to lead meaningful lives, but advocate respect and understanding of all the ways that humans search for and find meaning.

At the end of the day, a group of about fifteen Hoyas, each belonging to different or no faith traditions, gathered for an interfaith meditation event. Buddhist, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Hindu, and Jewish ministry groups introduced their faith’s take on meditation at a special place on campus and led a guided meditation for all the participants. Usually we are constantly on a moving train, each cab being our thoughts and worries; meditation is stepping off the train and into the train station. In doing so, we should realize that we are not only our thoughts and worries; we are so much more. Thinking critically about personal experiences, widening horizons to other faiths, and pressing the pause button on life guides each of us along our spiritual journeys. Our interfaith meditation was a pivotal event that opened our eyes to the immense diversity of meditative religious practices while simultaneously warming our hearts with the remarkable unity.

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The Courtyard of the Gentiles and Better Together Day