Faith And Inclusion Are Not Opposites
For some, interfaith is viewed as a choice between staying true to one’s faith and being inclusive. These two are not mutually exclusive concepts. This is fairly evident in my institution’s experience in our interfaith initiative. It’s also fairly evident in my experience as an immigrant.
Holy Family University is a small faith-based institution in Northeast Philadelphia with two-thirds of our student population identifying as Christian. Most recent data suggests that those who identify as non-affiliated are the fastest-growing faith group, which is in keeping with national trends. This is most evident, especially among our graduate students.
Our interfaith initiative started in February 2020, when our president granted the request of the Diversity & Inclusion Team to create an interfaith space. In the summer of the same year, the Team applied for and was granted an IFYC Racial Equity & Interfaith Cooperation Award. The funds were used to furnish the interfaith space which later on was named the Reflection Room. Through IFYC’s guidance, we planned for the launch of the Reflection Room, and on April 7th, 2021, in a virtual event called Celebrating the Diversity of Faiths, we commemorated the launch of the Reflection Room. The event featured multiple voices from our community, from faculty, staff, and students, coming from different faith traditions.
What has happened in our institution provides a template for similar institutions that may be going through some challenges in establishing an interfaith program. It shows that being true to one’s faith and being inclusive are not opposites.
Our nascent interfaith program shares the same theme as my own journey as an immigrant in this country. I am an immigrant from the Philippines, and like most immigrants, I had to deal with experiences of exclusion. And in those moments, I always find solace in my own faith, particularly the Bible. As an immigrant, as someone who moved from one place to another, as someone who has been a stranger in this land, when I read the Bible, I find comfort and solace. The Bible has always been clear on how strangers have to be treated:
- “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21).
- “The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow” (Psalms 146:9).
- “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “ (Matthew 23:35-46).
As an immigrant, when I am troubled by experiences that I perceive as moments of exclusion, I seek and find inspiration in my faith. And this is proving to be true as well for our institution, that faith can bring us together.
As an institution of higher education, we are founded by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, and are guided by our mission of seeking “direction and inspiration from the life and teaching of Jesus Christ”, affirming “the values of the Judeo-Christian tradition”, and witnessing “to the dignity of each person and the oneness of the human family.” Furthermore, we direct our actions towards the fulfillment of these core values: family, respect, integrity, service and responsibility, learning, and vision. Two of these core values have become our main sources of motivation in establishing an interfaith program: respect and vision.
Respect is the affirmation of “the dignity of the human person through openness to multiple points of view, personalized attention, and collaborative dialogue in the learning process and in the interaction among members of the University community. The University seeks to instill an appreciation of and respect for differences so that its graduates can function successfully in multicultural contexts.” Another university core value, vision, allows us to go back to our roots, an education that is “grounded in a Judeo-Christian worldview that serves as a foundation upon which to address contemporary problems and to build a vision for the future.” This Judeo-Christian worldview provides us a pathway to welcoming other faiths, as Pope Francis has said, the Church is “aware of the importance of furthering respect of friendship between men and women of different religious traditions” and that those who do not belong to any religion “are our precious allies in the commitment to defend human dignity, build a more peaceful coexistence among people…”
One of the most iconic images associated with the Holy Family is the nativity scene--Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, bringing together and surrounded by vastly different creatures: shepherds and their sheep, Magi from the east, angels--a perfect symbol for interfaith. Faith can and does bring people together. I have witnessed this in my personal life and I am witnessing this in how my institution lives its mission.
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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.