Interfaith Awareness Week celebrates a decade of tolerance
Interfaith Awareness Week celebrates a decade of tolerance By A. David DahmerThe Madison Times - December 2008
Orthodox Christians, Mennonites, Unitarian Universalists, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and more came together to celebrate "A Decade of a Week of Awareness: Interfaith Awareness Week" Dec. 7-13 at the state Capitol. Various displays in the Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda, titled "World Religions in Wisconsin," showcased the diversity of faith traditions in the area.
The Rev. John Brian Paprock, who serves as the organizer of Interfaith Awareness Week and is a priest at Holy Transfiguration Malankara Orthodox Mission, gave the keynote address at the Interfaith Celebration at the Capitol Dec. 10, which marked the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the 10th anniversary of Interfaith Awareness Week in Wisconsin.
"The idea of fundamental human rights is not 60 years old," Paprock said. "However, we acknowledge and celebrate the 60th anniversary of a universal declaration of human rights that was attested and affirmed by the fledgling United Nations in 1948. The idea of basic human rights is as old as humanity, from the time of a shared common existence in this world, with its equal-opportunity problems."
The first Interfaith Awareness Week Proclamation was signed by then Gov. Tommy Thompson in 1998 and has been proclaimed every year since. Paprock says Wisconsin was the first state in the USA to make such a proclamation.
"Sixty years ago, a declaration of common human rights was affirmed by people from all over the face of the earth; by people speaking different languages, having different cultural and religious traditions," Paprock said. "If Babel was a wounding of humanity by breaking up a unified people, perhaps this declaration is a healing ointment. After 60 years of such a global declaration; after 10 years of such an awareness week, we still have a long way to go."
Before Paprock spoke, the Interfaith Awareness Week Proclamation was read aloud and Sunil Sankara, Kathak Hindu dance from North India, performed.
"Here we are in the present, gathered from all over the world, in a secular common building, still struggling to understand one another," Paprock said. "Our focus has shifted. We are not so much interested in building a tower to heaven, but rather in building bridges. Bridges built upon universal human rights connect scattered peoples across chasms of diversity.
"I believe every bridge that we build makes a better world for all of us. Maybe we have needed to be separated by languages and cultures and distances in order to spiritually develop into the divinity for which we have been created," Paprock added. "For in the struggles to understand, we learn empathy. In the difficulties to tolerate differences, we learn mercy. In the extraordinary encounter with those that are different than ourselves, we encounter a transcendent divinity that is greater than us all."