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Saint Mary’s to host interfaith prayer service to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

| Thursday, January 23, 2020

While Martin Luther King Jr. is most known for his activism and involvement in the civil rights movement, he was also a proponent of interfaith dialogue and community. On Thursday, Saint Mary’s will hold an interfaith prayer service, open to the entire community, which will feature several students and faith leaders from various religions. 

Sophia McDevitt, a senior religious studies and social work double major and president of Better Together — a club which regularly hosts interfaith events — said this prayer service seeks to recognize some of the contributions King made towards interreligious dialogue and interfaith acceptance.

“[King was inspired by] Mahatma Gandhi and also combated anti-semitism publicly,” McDevitt said. “So to honor and recognize [his interfaith work] in addition to the work he did with racial inequality and civil rights, we wanted to have this prayer service to bring together people of different faiths in order to try and continue his work.” 

The interfaith service will host many community members of different faiths, McDevitt said. 

This includes esteemed faith leaders such as Venerable Wuling (Shi Wuling) who is currently the resident teacher of the Buddhist Society of Elkhart and vice president of the Pure Land Learning College Association. According to her website, Wuling was ordained in Taiwan and was a student of Venerable Master Chin Kung, a Buddhist monk and founder of the Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation. 

The Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL) is also helping to sponsor the interfaith service. Mana Derakhshani, director of the CWIL office, said she feels this interfaith prayer service is a great tribute to King’s legacy.

“CWIL is happy to support any event that brings together people from different cultures, races or religions,” she said. “I believe sharing in each other’s faith traditions is one of the ways we can walk with each other and increase our understanding of each other’s humanity. What better way to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. than to pray for justice, love and peace in our various faith traditions?”

King was dedicated to bringing people together, McDevitt said, and he sought to recognize the humanity of all humans.

“He encouraged us to recognize that just because we don’t share a common experience doesn’t mean that we all aren’t humans coming together,” she said. “I think he would even say that as a Christian, it was part of his call to come together with people different from him — whether that be a religious or racial difference.” 

McDevitt said King was an advocate for working together both in theory and in practice, as much of the work he did during his life, including sit-ins and protests, was not done without the help of others. Yet, McDevitt said it is important not to forget that many people in the ’50s and ’60s saw King as a radical for preaching about love and acceptance. 

“I think it’s important that we don’t water down what MLK was trying to do,” she said. “I feel like now he is such a public, well-accepted figure, but back then he wasn’t as accepted. He was seen as a troublemaker — I mean, he was assassinated by a person spurred by a group of people who had issues with him. What I mean is, even though what Martin Luther King Jr. was doing wasn’t accepted by many people back then, what he was doing was still right. Right is right. It’s important that we continue to pursue what is good and what is true even in the face of adversity.”

In this, McDevitt said she feels there is still more work to be done to carry on the beliefs and ideals of King, like “bringing people together from different backgrounds in order to build more of a community that is focused on recognizing the humanity of others.” 

Thursday’s interfaith service, McDevitt said, is a step towards building that community. 

“As a Catholic college, part of our mission is to ensure that people are protected and that they have the ability to practice their religion,” she said. “There was a time when people tried to deny [Catholics] the right to practice our religion, so it’s important that we stand together. That’s what MLK recognized — we have to stand together, because when they come for one of us, they come for all of us.” 

The interfaith service is open to all students from the tri-campus community as well as people from the community-at-large and will be held in Stapleton Lounge at 4:30 p.m.

McDevitt said the event will begin with King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech and continue with the sharing of religious prayers and traditions. She said the service will conclude with a performance from Notre Dame’s Voices of Faith Gospel Choir and a unity ritual.

For those interested in furthering their understanding of interfaith dialogue, McDevitt said Better Together club is hosting an interfaith training day on Feb. 1 which is open to all students.

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About Gina Twardosz

Gina Twardosz is a senior English Writing and Communication Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. She's the co-editor of the Investigative Unit, a Saint Mary's social media liaison, and she occasionally writes for SMC News and Scene. Gina is a tried and true Midwesterner and yes, she does say "ope" often.

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