Westminster Interfaith: Promoting Dialogue Between People of Faith

The agency of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster for Interreligious Dialogue

Westminster Interfaith Newsletter

Issue 67 – July 2010 – Editorial

The pilgrimage is a movement

For good reasons, much of this newsletter is devoted to the 25th multi-faith pilgrimage for peace, which was a most memorable event for all those who took part. We revisit the Catholic bishops' teaching document on interreligious dialogue and look forward to Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain and much more, including belated greetings from the Vatican to the Buddhist community on the feast of Vesakh.

After an eventful, exhausting but spiritually uplifting day, some people commented that the pilgrimage was now a movement. It has a life of its own and will continue to grow, they said, because it is a work of God. We were merely God's instruments. The day's events would certainly seem to support this opinion.

More people than ever before took part. Of course, there were lots of old friends, but also many newcomers of all ages, especially young people, who thoroughly enjoyed the experience and intend to come again bringing their friends with them. Let's hope so. We need to keep them posted.

Over 300 people of all faiths and none took part. All helped make this a memorable pilgrimage full of joy and expectation. Indeed, we thank them all for their participation and contribution. We thank, especially, all our hosts who welcomed us so generously at their places of worship and made our short or long stay such a joyful occasion. We thank those individuals, who acted as 'guardian angels' and gently shepherded the pilgrims from one place to another. We thank all those who booked in advance, sent donations, bought pilgrimage booklets. We thank those who brought flowers to place at the tombs of Cardinal Hume and Brother Daniel and those who had the foresight to bring incense sticks for our prayers at the end of the day. We thank those who gave us feedback and sent their impressions. We thank everybody for their patient and loving presence and being so positive despite the numerous difficulties we encountered throughout the day. In short, we thank everyone who made the 25th annual multi-faith pilgrimage for peace such a great success and a fitting tribute to Brother Daniel, who started the pilgrimage as a way of fostering respect and understanding between the religions.

This year's pilgrimage was full of pleasant and amazing surprises, confirming that interreligious dialogue is part of God's plan and that nothing is impossible to God. The first surprise was seeing so many people inside Westminster Cathedral attentively and reverently following the Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, whose homily really set the tone for the day. To see so many going up for a blessing at communion was very moving. I was moved by the crowds who gathered at Cardinal Hume's tomb, prayed silently and laid flowers there. To see them happily gathered outside, in the sunshine, with the Archbishop, ready for the next stage of the pilgrimage, was a heart-warming yet frightening sight.

How were we going to get all these people across London by bus? Somehow, almost miraculously, we did. To discover them at every venue, often before I arrived, was truly amazing, especially on a day, when there was a major protest outside the Israeli Embassy and a massive demonstration through Central London, which seriously disrupted travel arrangements for everyone. It was all part of the journey and most people took the disruptions in their stride. The welcome and hospitality we received everywhere seemed to make up for the difficulties. Everybody commented about it. Was it all coincidence or was there a mysterious plan of God at work?

The highlights of the pilgrimage varied according to the individuals. Many cited the Mass at the Cathedral. For others, the Shabbat service and Bar Mitzvah at the synagogue was very special. To see nearly 300 pilgrims happily sharing in the Jewish liturgy on the Sabbath day was truly a sight to behold. So was the sight of crowds of happy people inside the Stern Hall being lovingly served a tasty lunch by the Sikh men and women of Sachkhand Nanak Dham International, who had got up very early that morning to prepare the meal. Everyone referred to the hospitality offered to us in Southfields by members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, who, on that day, were mourning the death of about 90 members of their community, who had been killed during Friday prayers at a mosque in Pakistan. We mourned with them. Many signed the book of condolences and offered prayers and words of solidarity. The Sikh Gurdwara South London will be remembered for the relaxed atmosphere of the langar, where we sat sipping tea, munching samosas and cakes and chatted, followed by the words of welcome, prayers and music in the temple upstairs. Many commented on the short but very moving multi-faith prayer service we shared around Brother Daniel's tomb. It really was a fitting way to round off a very special and eventful day.

Not surprisingly, some people thought that the pilgrimage had become a movement with a life of its own. There was certainly a lot of joy and good humour throughout the day despite the difficulties. A special atmosphere pervaded every moment. God's Spirit was moving gently but powerfully in all those who took part. Many new friendships were created. People really did meet God in friend and stranger. It was truly an expression of interreligious dialogue at its best and everyone was involved.

The words of Zak, my eight year old grandson, seem to sum up the day well. He is now on his third multi-faith pilgrimage for peace and loves every minute of it. Throughout the day, he was happy, active and attentive, talking to everyone, asking relevant questions, leading the procession with Bhikkhu Nagase and carrying the Nipponzan-Myöhöji banner. At the cemetery, he lit incense sticks, placed them around Brother Daniel's grave and joined in the prayers. Asked for his impressions on the pilgrimage, he said: "It's fun. There is always something to do. You meet lots of different people. You go to lots of different places. You always learn something new. And the food is good. It's a great day!"

Jon

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