Interfaith celebration at Roehampton University - 8 May 2006

 A Rabbi told stories in a garden; a Muslim teacher explained a passage from the Koran; there were Bible readings, a performance of Hindu and Sikh song and dance; personal testimonies, sacred music and international food, at Roehampton University's first celebration of faith and culture yesterday.

Nearly one hundred people attended the day-long event organised by a committee headed by the Catholic chaplain, Fr Robert Kaggwa.

In his welcoming speech, Mike Castelli, Principal Lecturer in Education pointed out that it was very appropriate that the university, established as one campus, on what had once been separate Anglican, Methodist, Catholic and secular foundations, should be holding the event which reflected its diverse community.

He continued: "It has been our understanding that faith is not synonymous with religion. To take faith at it fundamental and foundational level, it is faith in oneself, faith in the meaning of life, faith that life makes sense, that the world has meaning and is worthwhile and, from this foundation, faith may grow in many different directions; for some towards a home within a religious community, for some as part of a continuing journey of enquiry and search, for some in a resolution of agnosticism or atheism. Today's celebration embraces all of these."

The day began with a meal, social gathering and music. Next, in what one person described as 'religious speed-dating' - Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh representatives held short storytelling sessions. Finally, after some performances of song and dance from the different traditions, the day concluded with representative from each faith expressing what they valued in their own faiths and others.

Shoba Sait, who is Hindu, said she loved the Hindu belief that God is everywhere. She admired Muslims because they must give a percentage of their earnings to the poor. Muslim teacher Abdullah Trevathan said he valued the Muslim sense of the shared suffering of all humanity and its generosity. He admired the strength of Jewish family values. Aviva Dautch said she loved Jewish humour and the fact that they were able to have so many opinions on one subject. She liked the way Christians focussed more on issues.

Catholic writer and Reader in Religious Studies at Roehampton University, Dr Tina Beattie, (asked to speak on her faith and Buddhism) told the gathering she felt the day had been a wonderful bringing together of different faiths. It was important she said, not just to focus on shared beliefs but also to see what could be learnt from each other. As a Catholic she loved the Incarnation, the vulnerability of God, in the crib, the cross, God's sharing in the suffering of ordinary people. But she was saddened by the way the Christian message was sometimes distorted. if all Christianity was like the one practised by George Bush, she said: "I would be a Buddhist.... In Buddhism I see a call to Christians to experience non-attachment, letting go. It has a good deal to teach us."

At the end of the gathering there were calls for further inter-faith events. Some suggested that a regular discussion forum could be established or speakers could be invited to give in-depth talks.

The chaplaincy already runs informal get-togethers for people of different faiths and has a regular Fair Trade breakfast.

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