Established by the United Nations, World Interfaith Harmony Week serves to promote harmony and tolerance between different religions, faiths, and beliefs, according to an email sent by Jennifer Elliott ’94, Assistant Head of School for Residential Life and Dean of Students. Celebrated in the first week of February, World Interfaith Harmony Week encourages the commonality of “Love of God or Love of the Good, and Love of the Neighbor,” according to Elliott’s email.
At Andover, the week was celebrated with an Interfaith Harmony Cake at Paresky Commons on Wednesday, a cookie baking and decorating party hosted by the Catholic Student Fellowship (C.S.F.) and Baking Club, and a gathering of the weekly interfaith prayer blanket knitting project.
“Part of [World Interfaith Harmony Week] is just awareness raising, to this campus and this community knows that the United Nations thinks this is important work. To me, that is humbling, that the United Nations is saying that we need to be going across divisions whether it’s faith or goodwill… this isn’t just a Catholic thing or a [Andover] thing, it’s a United Nations thing,” said Mary Kantor, Roman Catholic Chaplain.
Melanie Garcia ’22, a member of CSF, believes that World Interfaith Harmony Week focused on promoting unity and respect between all different peoples.
Garcia said, “I think [World Interfaith Harmony Week] is important because we need to learn to respect that we all believe in something bigger and that might manifest in a different way for each person. The reason why religions think this is to seek something more than yourself and to have meaning in your life. I think we should be respecting that in each other and acknowledging that religion is a fundamentally good thing.”
According to Kantor, World Interfaith Harmony Week at Andover was prompted by an anniversary within the global Catholic Church. Encouraged by the Catholic community, other faith and belief groups have been a part of the week in the past, including the Muslim Student Union and the Jewish Student Union.
“In 2015, the Catholic Church worldwide was celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of one of its core documents that was on the Catholic Church and other religion. The document was about being in dialogue with other religions and recognizing other truths in the world and working together with other people of good will and of other faiths. Since the Catholic Church, worldwide, was celebrating and recognizing that document, the Catholic community on this campus then decided to do something to mark that document and also to use that as a way to kick off the Interfaith Week on this campus,” said Kantor.
Despite the existing secularity on campus, a majority of the world believes in some form of belief, according to Kantor. Kantor emphasized that Andover should promote discussion and awareness for religion as well.
“[Interfaith Week] open up spaces to have conversations… I think the school is so intentional about diversity and equity and inclusion, for religion too, there needs to be those deliberate spaces as well. Whether its programs or speakers or social events just to say that we’re all have different beliefs or are people of good will, let’s just do some good together,” said Kantor.
According to Melinda Zhang ’21, a board member of Baking Club, the collaboration between C.S.F. and the Baking Club was a success and elicited enjoyment within the attendants.
“Our goal is to work together in different communities and foster community values and have lots of people come in and just have fun making cookies,” said Zhang.
On Wednesday, February 6, C.S.F. held a fundraiser for local food banks in the Merrimack River Valley. Corresponding with “Love Your Neighbor,” C.S.F. encouraged students to donate and help provide food for nearby communities.
“Things like charity are issues that often concern many religions. It’s something that everyone cares about. It’s an act of kindness, which is something that religions tend to revolve around,” said Garcia, who assisted in collecting donations.
According to Emma Brown ’19, Co-President of C.S.F., the interfaith blanket project is a means to collaborate and aid communities that are facing difficulties. Since last year, the C.S.F. has made blankets out of knitted squares and given them to Welcome Blanket, an organization which sends homemade blankets to welcome immigrants, and to a local cancer ward.
“Something that is a constant thread throughout all faiths is this idea of prayer and community. To be able to make a prayer blanket, as you’re knitting or crocheting or whatever it is you’re doing with your hands, you’re setting your intentions with that and with all the people you are working together with, with each kind of square being individual and coming together to form a greater thing and again, wrapping you in almost a hug of well-wishes. To me, that is a really beautiful way of prayer taking physical form in the world,” said Brown.