Suburban faith leaders share messages of peace, unity
Leaders of suburban faith communities came together Sunday to share messages of peace, unity and religious harmony during the 2017 World Peace Day Interfaith Prayer Service in Naperville.
Dozens of faith practitioners, including members of Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Unitarian Universalist communities, filled North Central College's Wentz Concert Hall to commemorate the day.
Keynote speaker the Rev. JoAnne Terrell, an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Michigan and an associate professor of theology, ethics and the arts at Chicago Theological Seminary, was chosen to foster inclusion, officials said.
"As a United Methodist college we are called to be neighbors and called to be witnesses," said Eric Doolittle, college chaplain.
With minority religious communities facing backlash and the country's deep political and social divisions, the theme for this year's event was "Breaking Down Walls: Stories of Hope."
"No matter who we are, you have chosen each and every one of us to love and protect one another," said Gemma Guenther of DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church.
Audience members spontaneously joined in singing as the Midwest Ismaili Choir performed "We Are The World." The sounds of classical Indian string instruments and melodic chanting of meditation hymns set a serene atmosphere of calm.
Ranganath Hemmige of Sri Venkateswara Swami (Balaji) Temple of Aurora said serving the community and serving God are linked according to the principles of Hinduism.
"These virtues or ethical principles are good, but we need to take this to the next level," he said. "How do we translate this into a set of practices?"
Hemmige said his faith teaches controlling one's mind and positive thinking are keys to happiness and contentment in life. He recited a prayer for peace in Sanskrit.
Leaders focused on the commonalities within their traditions.
Ajahn Thapakorn, a Buddhist monk from the Buddha Dharma Meditation Center in Willowbrook, said breaking down religious walls requires recognizing the elemental nature of humans and the forces that bind us, such as water, air, wind, fire, earth and individual consciousness.
"There is no conflict between humans, if we understand the truth," he said. "We have oneness. Do not let any religion become the boundary of the mind. It only knows what we create."
Affan Farid, a representative of the Islamic Center of Naperville and a freshman at the University of Illinois at Chicago, suggested learning from each other's unique perspectives.
"The most dangerous society is that in which individuals are shunned and banned for having different thoughts," he said. "Caring means for us to accept others' perspectives even though they may be different from our own. Criticism in the right manner can be extremely effective, but we have to accept it before we can deliver it."