July 17, 2011
Bridging the Faith DivideIt is so good to be here to help welcome His Holiness to our beautiful city of Chicago. I am so really deeply honored -- and frankly a little giddy -- to be a part of the program. It feels something like Christmas.
Over the past six weeks, members of the greater Chicago community have engaged in an extraordinary project called "ArtReach." All of us have an artist inside us. It's part of our DNA as human beings. We have all witnessed the power of the arts to deeply connect people, to open our minds to new ideas and express our innermost sacred selves. The imagination isn't just simply reserved for children. The imagination can be, for all of us, a very real gateway to joy, understanding, liberation and peace. Art Reach acknowledges the power of that creative spirit and celebrates it as essential to the creation of compassion and action.
The sculptures that you see here on stage have been created by people of all ages, colors and religious beliefs in order to honor each other's faiths and inspire all of us here today to find our own ways of reaching out and connecting with people whose beliefs may differ from our own. The ArtReach program has been a very real way of bridging the faith divide that His Holiness will be talking to us about today.
Participating religious groups representing twelve of the world's religions each chose a religion other than their own, studied its sacred symbols and contemplated its meaning. Each group worked with a visual artist who helped guide their work, but the ideas in the artistic expression came from the group's collective vision. Almost two hundred people worked with enthusiasm and excitement on these sculptures. What seemed like a simple gesture -- that people of many faiths could be called upon to design and decorate the icons of the world's religions -- took hold with surprising strength. Good natured curiosity blossomed.
Soon enough, for example, members of the American Indian Center who were considering the Baha'i nine-pointed star, decided to visit the Baha'i Temple in Evanston. Meanwhile, the congregants of the Am Shalom Temple had been given an icon by the American Indian Center, and they were eager to have an opportunity to discuss it. So, having caught wind of the visit to the Baha'i Temple, they wanted to meet the Native Americans there. And so it went. And a dialogue was born.
Much like the world that we all aspire to live in, the collective whole of the sculptures is a sacred expression of many beliefs and practices coming together and working as one. Separate beliefs, but with a common purpose of respect and service to humanity. As the Dalai Lama said, and I quote: "If all religions make the betterment of humanity their main concern, then they can easily work together in harmony for world peace. Interfaith understanding will bring about the unity necessary for all religions to work together."
We are grateful today for this beautiful art and for the work of all the community artists who created it. And we hope that this is just the beginning of our work together. And we urge you all to create your own ways of reaching out and extending a hand of friendship and peace to everyone in our community.