Neighbours across cultures and beliefs

Manusha Verma performed an Indian dance (Megan Cooke/AQ)
Manusha Verma performed an Indian dance (Megan Cooke/AQ)

St. Thomas University’s third annual Celebration of Faith in Diversity hosted over 100 members of various faiths in the Kinsella auditorium Saturday.

The morning talk focused on what it is to be a neighbour, and after lunch, performances were put on by religious leaders and followers around Fredericton.

Madhu Verma, a devotee of Maritime Geeta Bhwan Hindu temple, spoke about her transition from more communal living in Northwest Pakistan.

“Our neighbours become extended families,” she said of her homeland. “The community gets together and they help each other… Everybody gets together to get to know each other and enjoy each others company.”

She told the story of her neighbour in Canada.

“Our relationship was limited. They’d say ‘hi, how are you,’ and that was it. But they were nice.”

One day she read in the paper that he passed away.

“I was upset. I went to visit the funeral home, to pay last respects. I went there, very sad to be losing a good neighbour. His wife came, and she says ‘who are you?’ I just looked at her and said, ‘I’m your next door neighbour’… and the question comes back to me – ‘who am I?’”

Dr. Alexandra Bain’s first year religious studies class organized the event, in part to help people find a bigger sense of identity, making new and often cross-cultural connections. She created this event and has organized it with her class each year. Next year, she hopes to take it a step further.

In the “mosaic society” we live in, we are supposed to touch but do not blend, maintaining cultural identity. This can lead some to feel isolated. Bain hopes “Visiting Neighbours” will bring faith communities together each taking turns to host dinner for the public, as a part of the Celebration of Faith in Diversity.

Unfortunately, this year Rabbi Yosef Goldman of Fredericton’s Sgoolai Israel synagogue was set to host, but decided not to after undergoing surgery on his shattered elbow.

The synagogue was not represented as planned, but still nine different faiths made it to the show.

“I’m delighted with the event this year. The students did a great job organizing it. They were able to bring in several new faith communities to the event,” said Bain.

One of those new groups was St. Margaret’s Anglican Church. Members put on a puppet show for the kids in the audience, and finished with a song. It was basically Anglican muppets.

Others put on shows that highlighted the different traditions that make them unique. Members of Kingsclear First Nation performed a smudging ceremony, a member of Fredericton’s Shambhala Meditation Centre guided a meditation mini-session, and the STU Campus Ministry put on a play, acting out the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

During coffee breaks youth spoke to elders, Christians spoke with Muslims and traditional natives and students spoke with religious leaders about each other’s beliefs and culture.

“In all of the diversity, there is a very fundamental unity, which is the discovery of – Call it god, the spirits, the creator – Whatever word you use… The language may be different, but our realities are mostly the same,” said Father Don Savoie of the STU ministry. “Maybe I’m an agnostic, Maybe I’m an atheist, maybe I’m a believer, but we all have a bedrock in our experience that allows us to continue.”

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