Building bridges between faiths, one visit at a time
Last month, Freddy Khambata, head priest of Tata Agiary, Bandra, hosted a group of visitors at the agiary from an unusual source -- 25 members from St Peter’s Church, Bandra. Members of the group, who were visiting the agiary as part of a visit organised by a multi-faith committee formed by the church last year, recalled relishing a sweet dish called Malida at the agiary and drinking tea from an earthen cup with the head priest. “It was a warm experience,” one of the group members said.
The group also visited Jama Masjid, Bandra, where they learnt about namaz and azaan and Sri Vitthal Rakhumai temple, Bandra, where they learnt the significance of garbagriha (sanctum sanctorum) and aartis, among other things of cultural and religious significance.
The visits, which took place on February 9 and were termed as an inter-religious pilgrimage, were part of a programme called ‘Building bridges with people of other faith’. These were the first visits undertaken by the group. The multi-faith committee said it plans to organise more visits.
Father Aubrey A Mascarenhas, assistant parish priest, St Peter’s Church, said the church had formed a multi-faith committee last year under the leadership of parish priest Father Frazer Mascarenhas. The committee consists of seven members from different communities including Hindus, Parsis and Muslims.
“For over 10 years we have been having social gatherings on national holidays such as Independence Day and Republic Day, where a section from the Holy Quran, Gita or other religious texts is read by people from these communities, along with texts from the Bible,” said Aubrey.
Head priest Khambata spoke about the similarities in archangels in Christianity and Zoroastrianism. “It was pleasant because we spoke about how St Michael for them and Meher Yazad for us are the angels of justice. It gave us a chance to understand and respect everyone’s religious sentiments,” he said.
The first event organised by the multi-faith committee was a dandiya dance last year at the grounds of St Stanislaus High School, which is attached to the church. “The success of that event led us to try and acquire a better understanding of different religious traditions. This is when we decided a visit to these religious places should take place,” said Mani Patel, member of the multi-faith committee.
Minaz Chanaria, social worker, decided to take the lead and reach out to heads of various religious places. “People whom I had to approach to seek permission were my friends. Some of them even told me, ‘When we are welcomed to Mount Mary on Christmas day, the doors of our religious places are always open to you as well’,” he said.
Participants of the programme termed it as an experience that ended up “strengthening their faith in Jesus”. Writing about the visits for the parish newsletter, Arlene Creado said she was pleasantly surprised at the “respectful welcome and warm hospitality” that she experienced from people of other faith, who treated them as “their brothers and sisters”.
On the other hand, trustees and priests from the places this group visited said the visit was trying to bring together and find similarities in different religions.
“There has always been a Ganga-Jamuna culture in our country where different religions blend together because each of them speaks about peace,” said Shahnawaz Thanewala, trustee of Jama Masjid. “Just like Hindus believe that water is required in their prayers, we also wash our hands and legs before praying, or for that matter Christians refrain from having non-vegetarian food during Lent. Everywhere, you would find similarities,” he said.
Hindu hosts of the group said the idea of the visit was strengthen the idea that ‘God is one’. “People believe in different aspects and give different names to God, but that’s not the case, we are all brothers, who were divided over the years,” said Shyam Wagh, trustee of Vitthal Rakhumai temple.
Father Frazer, who formed the multi-faith committee, said, “Recognising the genuine religious experience of other traditions is important in acknowledging the presence of God in the human community. The respect we show to the religious experience of people of other faith, strengthens our own faith in a loving God who reaches out to all his children. The pilgrimage therefore brought deeper respect for God’s action in the world and for our brothers and sisters of other faiths”.