Alex Kanya ‘22
Each day, people are born, and people die. A new movie is released, and another bookstore shuts down. The world’s landscape, once appearing constant, now incessantly shifts as chaos threatens to consume the established order of modern society. This reality is inherently frightening, as there seems to be no sense of permanence to anything on this Earth. According to 20th century scholar Mircea Eliade, this terror is what draws humanity to the practice of religion. Religion provides meaning in a seemingly random reality, and it gives people a sense of identity, affirming that they mean more than simply the sum of their actions.
Eliade had a theory that presented a new means of challenging the existential crises that have plagued humanity since the species’ dawn, called “A New Humanism on a Global Scale.” This concept essentially states that the only way to find meaning through religion is through a serious examination of a wide array of religious traditions, rather than isolating one’s spiritual and social awareness in one perspective. Eliade believed that the sacred was a constant within religious practices around the world, and therefore religion was a natural candidate for cross-cultural study and eventually a greater understanding of the distinct spiritual traditions within the global community.
This connection of seemingly-disparate religious traditions was on full display at the College’s Eighth Annual Multifaith Community Prayer, celebrated on the first day of class this spring semester, as we began a new chapter in this community’s ongoing book. Spiritual leaders from the College Chaplains were joined by faith leaders from the Worcester community, all of whom brought passages and songs from their own religious traditions, forging a much greater sense of solidarity among the many faiths that comprise our College, and our neighbors around the city.
The service began with Holy Cross students stepping forward to light candles reflecting their diverse worldviews, from Judaism to Jainism, from Hinduism to Humanism, alongside Christianity, Islam and atheism, with no belief system excluded from the service. With that, the display of solidarity began. Reverend Ray Demer of the Boundless Way Zen Temple in Worcester recited a Buddhist prayer for the journey, encouraging all to embrace difference and celebrate kindness. Dr. Saleem Khanani and Shaikh Mustufa, from the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester, read an Arabic passage from the Quran, expressing a call to righteousness and devotion to God. Teresa Murphy ‘19 performed “O Day of Peace,” a Christian hymn devoted to the idea that even those who greatly differ from one another can coexist in a peaceful setting, as “the wolf dwell[s] with the lamb.” Dr. Kolar Kodandapani, representing the Hindu Community of Worcester, recited a passage from the Shanti Mantras, Hindu prayers believed to calm the speaker and their surroundings, that called for an accumulation of light and peace in our world. Rachel Reef-Simpson of Temple Emanuel Sinai of Worcester was joined by her son in performing a Jewish hymn, aptly titled “The Peace Song,” that urged a global sense of peace through the increasing chaos in our society.
Finally, all of the assembled students, faculty, and faith leaders joined together in praying for peace around the world, reflecting the unmistakable theme of the service. It is only through this sense of unity and solidarity among those with radically different worldviews that inclusion for the marginalized, safety for the fearful, and hope for the hopeless can be found in an undeniably dark time. Even beyond these relatively concrete benefits, this service also demonstrated that by actively learning from those with differing religious backgrounds, each individual can achieve a greater understanding of the underlying similarities within human nature on a global scale.