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February 2020 – A Reflection for World Interfaith Harmony Week

Take a moment to reflect on the words from Fr Michael Barnes SJ on World Interfaith Harmony Week

Since 2010, the first week of February has been designated World Interfaith Harmony Week.

It’s an opportunity to remember that however different the words we use, and the images and ideas we hold sacred, certain basic values bind all religions, faiths and beliefs together, not least ‘love of the good and love of one’s neighbour’.

Why is it still important to observe such occasions? It’s only a few weeks since an angry mob stormed the citadel of free speech and democracy in Washington DC. One tribe deliberately set against another tribe; so easy for a self-serving demagogue to play on deep-set divisions and stir up unthinking violence. The cynic, no doubt, will dismiss such a tragic event as yet more evidence that politicians are no more to be trusted than the elites they claim to serve and the gullible crowds they exploit.

At such a moment the great religions of the world remind us of something better: the truth that human beings are not the centre of the Universe. We can be a crass and stupid lot, but, at our best, we are capable of acts of great heroism – and we are called to a profound holiness.

Maybe this week, in the middle of the mind-numbing paralysis forced on us by the pandemic, we can remember how fragile is our world, how easily trashed our most revered civic institutions, and how much we need our religious traditions – all of them – to teach us ways to be just, kind and compassionate, and to gather us together as the children of one loving God.

Prof Michael Barnes SJ teaches Inter-religious relations at the University of Roehampton.  Between 2007 and 2009 he was engaged in developing Faiths Together, an innovative educational project promoted inter-religious dialogue. He has taught at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome and was Director of Westminster Interfaith, an agency of the Diocese of Westminster dedicated to developing good relations between communities of faith in the London area.  He has been a consultant to the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue in Rome.