St Andrews Hosts Gathering of World’s Religious Leaders

Deanna Coleman reports on the culmination of the Year of Interfaith Dialogue, the signing of the Declaration for Humanity.

“Wait, the Pope is coming?”

Yesterday’s most rumoured question. To answer your enquiry, no. However, Friday was not without its excitements. 

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The Chaplain to the University signing the Declaration

Lower College Hall was filled with over 130 religious leaders from around the world. This included the representative of His Holiness Dalai Lama, along with Buddhist monks and leaders from the UK Jewish community, all of whom attended to sign the St Andrews Declaration for a Shared Humanity.

The aim of the declaration (written by Mario Aguilar, a Divinity Professor at the University) was to unite faiths and teachings from around the world in order to recognise we are sharing the same fundamental principles of humanity, equality, diversity and freedom. The signing was preceded by a Hindu prayer by Kabir Babu and by Lisa Marie Husby’s poem about the devastating Utøya Terrorist Attack in 2011. Spectators listened with wonder and admiration as one voice spoke to us all.

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Charles, 8, and Pierre, 6, with their mum after the signing

Jokingly advising “no pressure”, Professor Mario Aguilar invited three Canadian children to also sign the declaration. He shared his hope that they would do “what we have not been able to do”, in terms of accepting each other’s religions. To many, this in itself seemed obscure because surely children as young as 6 do not understand fully the concept of religion, let alone comprehend an eternal declaration. After the ceremony, however, the eight year old Charles declared his reasons for signing the 11-point declaration: “All human beings are the same” and it is “for peace”. 

In order to demonstrate local support, the event was attended by 32 school pupils from Fife, as well as their teachers and dignitary members of the Fife Council.

One of the most insightful and intriguing interpretations of the event was by St Andrews student Omar Ali, who referred to the event as “one of the biggest faith gatherings that has ever happened”: 

“So you get all these people in a room together. And instead of saying look at all these things in our faiths that fit together, they’re saying our faiths are each beautiful in the same way yet they are different. It’s not saying ‘change yourself because I want you to be more like me,’ it is saying ‘I want you to recognise we are all different yet we can be in the same room, have great chats and have a good lunch and learn about each other’s religions while embracing that diversity.'” 

Ali further stated: “As everyone goes back to their communities, they’re going to go back and hopefully preach that message of ‘I was in this room and I had a wonderful time. I met wonderful human beings who are different from us and we should treat them as our equals’”.

Another facet of the event is the essay competition. Some of the pieces are extremely intuitive and thought-provoking as university students debate on a variety of issues, from the definition of love to what is a sense of community.

If some of you would like to get involved with this 3-day event, there is an open invitation for the Pier Walk this Sunday as prayers and offerings will be sent to India, an announcement that “we are coming” for further signing of this declaration.

See, you didn’t have to take the long way round Sallies Quad for nothing. 

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