People from a wide variety of faith traditions will come together Oct. 11 at Our Lady of Peace Parish Center in Geneva to learn more about each other’s faith traditions and how they each view peace.
“Promoting a Culture of Peace: Bridges of Shared Values” is an interfaith peace forum sponsored by Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes in honor of the agency’s 25th anniversary. The event will feature representatives from six different faith traditions and hopefully will serve as a springboard for more interfaith discussion, said Ruth Putnam Marchetti, justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes and Catholic Charities of Wayne and Livingston counties.
“I think the main goal is to start a full conversation,” Putnam Marchetti said. “We hope first of all to get a great crowd, and hopefully the people who come will stimulate some conversations that will go on.”
Catholic Deacon George Dardess will be the keynote speaker, and he will share his thoughts about what is necessary in order to build a culture of peace. Deacon Dardess is a pioneer in building relationships between the Catholic and Muslim communities and has authored several books about the two faiths, including Do We Worship the Same God? Comparing the Bible and the Qur’an.
Deacon Dardess, who serves at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Rochester, plans to draw on several personal experiences as he suggests various ways in which people of different faiths can contribute to a culture of peace. Getting to know each other is one of the best ways for people of different faiths to be able to build enough trust to begin exploring their differences calmly and curiously, he said.
After learning about one another, people may even be surprised to realize their differences aren’t to be feared, but rather can enhance their understanding of their own cultures and faith traditions, he and Putnam Marchetti agreed.
“In order to have our own deepening faith, we need to appreciate our own faith … and also be able to support and appreciate what other people bring from their own faith communities,” she said.
Six panelists will take the floor after Deacon Dardess, each taking a few moments to speak about peace as it relates to his or her own faith tradition. The panelists also will be able to respond to Deacon Dardess’ commentary, Putnam Marchetti said.
Etin Anwar, assistant professor of religious studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, will represent the Muslim faith. Anwar is author of the 2006 book Gender and Self in Islam and was featured in the 2006 WXXI documentary “Muslim Women in Our Midst: The Path to Understanding.” Richard Rosenfield — cantor, spiritual leader and educator at Geneva’s Temple Beth-El — will represent the Jewish faith. Rosenfield, a former biophysicist, also is treasurer of the Geneva Area Interfaith Council and is a commissioner on the Geneva Human Rights Commission.
The Rev. Allison Stokes is founding director of the Women’s Interfaith Institute in Seneca Falls and will represent the Protestant faith tradition. She is author of Shalom, Salaam, Peace, which was commissioned by the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Church. Carl Appleton, who will represent the Baha’i community, has been a Baha’i for about 10 years and is very involved in interfaith activities. He organizes the weekly Unity Night at the Rochester Baha’i Center and is the public information officer for the Baha’i faith in Rochester.
Rochester attorney Frank Howard will represent the Buddhist faith. Howard served for 20 years as executive director of the Amitabha Foundation, a Tibetan Buddhist Dharma Center, and often has spoken publicly about Buddhism and Tibetan issues.
Once the panelists have finished speaking, they will take questions and comments from the audience, said the Rev. Janice Robinson, pastor of Geneva’s First Baptist Church and a member of Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes’ board of directors.
“We hope we will have a number of people from various faith communities so they can take this back to their communities. I think it’s very important that we, the people of faith, reach out to one another so we form bonds of more understanding and are able to talk to one another … perhaps without judging,” Rev. Robinson said.
Rev. Robinson hopes people who are inspired by the speakers might later seek out more opportunities to work and dialogue with people of other faiths and continue the forum’s momentum. Geneva is already an area rife with interfaith collaboration, she noted.
The Geneva Area Interfaith Council has been around for about 30 years in one form or another, said Mary Lou Strawway, who is in her third year as the council’s president. The council used to be ecumenical in nature and mostly included representatives from the local Christian congregations. That’s changed in recent years, however, and the council now includes representatives from other faiths, including the Hindu and Baha’i faiths, Strawway said.
“The Interfaith Council to me has made it clear that it’s our goal to work together to see that we are members of a greater faith community. What links us is we are people of faith,” Strawway said. “You come together to serve God’s people. We are all part of his creation, and it’s God’s creation that we serve.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about the forum, call 315-789-2686, ext. 104.