When members of the Interfaith Gathering at St. Thomas University, Fredericton, New Brunswick, heard about the harassment of some Jewish students at one of Fredericton’s two high schools, the group took action. It organized a community-wide “Bridge to Unity” event to collectively express interfaith unity and fellowship.
The Interfaith Gathering has been in existence since 2009 when the chaplain of St. Thomas University (Ms. Janice Ryan), two Baha’is (Drs. Deborah and Will van den Hoonaard), and the local Rabbi (Mr. Yosef Goldman) decided to hold weekly meetings to promote fellowship among people of diverse faiths and beliefs.
Without much fanfare or advertising, the Interfaith Gathering assembled on Thursday, 27 September 2012, on the banks of the Saint John River. They walked to a pedestrian bridge, encouraging their fellow citizens to take part in holding hands across the “Bridge to Unity.” As various writings (First Nations, Buddhist, Catholic, Baha’i, Protestant) were read and talks given, the group swelled to some 100 people; some joined the event when they noticed it from a nearby sidewalk.
The purpose of the initiative was to share what is interesting, inspiring and relevant about religion to contemporary society, said Will van den Hoonard. Participants were welcome to share their religion and beliefs in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship — a fellowship that was characterized by sincerity, love and understanding, and which goes far beyond tolerance.
The enthusiasm at the event was palpable. Commemorative T-shirts had been made and were handed out. Accompanied by a band playing “Stand by Me,” the procession — headed by a Pashtun Muslim carrying a candle — walked to the bridge.
Standing hand in hand, the participants formed a chain of fellowship and good-will which spanned a considerable length of the bridge. This human chain swayed and moved in harmony, with spontaneous exclamations of appreciation and happiness. As everyone returned to the riverbank, more kind words followed. Darkness descended, but no one wanted to leave; many expressed the hope that the event would be repeated next year.
The New Brunswick Beacon, a newspaper produced by St. Thomas University journalism students reported on the event.
Read the article published in The New Brunswick Beacon here.