This spring, a grand conjunction of faiths occurred when, for the first time in 31 years, Ramadan, Easter and Passover occurred at the same time, as well as the Sikh holiday of Vaisakhi, the Baha’i celebration of Ridvan and the Hindu holy day of Ram Navami.
To mark the singular occasion, the Chicago Theological Seminary, Lutheran School of Theology, American Islamic College, Parliament of the World’s Religions and Hyde Park Kenwood Interfaith Council joined forces, brainstormed, and came up with the world’s first Interfaith Trolley.
Stopping at spiritual depots along its Chicago route, two trolleys carried 60 people of a variety of religions on a journey encompassing no less than eight faiths in the name of education, understanding and peace.
First stop: Rockefeller Chapel of the University of Chicago Office of Spiritual Life, host to “all spiritual and religious interests at the U of Chicago,” according to Spiritual Life Program Assistant Anna Duong-Topp.
At the Chapel, the trolley riders heard Mayher Kaur, the leader of the Sikh Student Association, explain Sikh practices. Then a Hindu student described Ram Navami, a Hindu holiday that fell on April 10 and celebrates the birth of Lord Rama, whose story is told in the Sanskrit epic poem the Ramayana. Next, a Jain spoke of her faith’s beliefs and the April 14 festival of Mahavir Jayanti, which marks the birth of Jainism’s founder.
Next stop: Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church where trustee Patricia Butts' opening words were, “Welcome to the birthplace of gospel music!”
Then a stop at the Claret Center where Heiwa No Bushi, a BodhiChristo teacher from the Thomasville, North Carolina, Buddhist Center said, “The most important part of your living is to live and love wastefully. If you love wastefully, you are living fully.” BodhiChristo is a unique blending of the teachings of Jesus and the Buddha.
The moveable feast of faith continued with a stop at KAM Isaiah Israel Synagogue where Rabbi Frederick Reeves informed the riders that “‘KAM’ is Hebrew for ‘Congregation of the West’ because in 1847, Chicago was the West. Not the Midwest, but the West.” Rabbi Reeves went on to explain that Passover is a holiday that is celebrated at home, which gives each family a chance to create its own unique Passover. You can go from one home to another and have two beautifully different Passover experiences.
At the modest Masjid Al-Taqwa, where the mostly Black congregation is pitching in by doing the renovations, Imam Tariq El-Amin commented, “You’ve got to dig deep. And then you have to roll up your sleeves.”
On the ride back to the Chicago Theological Seminary for an interfaith iftar (the fast-breaking meal eaten by Muslims after sundown during the month of Ramadan), Saba Ayman-Nolley, president of the Hyde Park & Kenwood Interfaith Council, gave an overview of the Baha’i celebration of Ridvan, explaining that the holiday celebrated the “springtime awakening of humans” when people can lay down their weapons and embrace a message of love and brotherhood.
Back at the Seminary Timothy J. Gianotti, president of the American Islamic College, shed some light on what really happens during Ramadan. “We fast from all the things that are getting in our way,” he said. “We fast from our own sense of egocentric centrality in the universe. We fast from the habits of mind and habits of being that get in our way—or in other people’s way—in terms of the spiritual life.”
Rabbi David Minkus of Congregation Rodfei Zedek was one of the faith leaders presiding over the feast. He offered a prayer: “Let us renew our love for one another. Refresh our souls and gifts of promise here in what will grow from our coming together. Grant us health, fulfillment and peace.”
Muslim Khawla Hammad said, “What a beautiful experience today!”
Ding, a Buddhist nun from China echoed Ms. Hammad’s sentiments. “With every tradition, I listened to touching stories and amazing people. They just melt my heart.”
Lixin Zheng, a recent graduate of the University of Chicago Divinity School said, “I learned so much, especially on the meaning of different holidays.”
When will the Interfaith Trolley ride again? Hopefully, it will not require another 30 years and such a conjunction of holy days to start lining up for tickets.
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