12th annual Interfaith Awareness Week
By A. David Dahmner
The Madison Times
More and more, we live in a global society where faith traditions,
religions, and spiritualities collide.
"And the more that we know about each other, the better our society
will be," says Rev. Father John Brian Paprock, founder of Interfaith
Awareness Week which will be celebrated for the 12th year Dec. 6-12 in
Numerous religious and cultural activities and events have been
planned for Interfaith Awareness Week, which is devoted to promoting
awareness, understanding, and respect for the many different religions
in Madison and Dane County.
"I had a dream of all kinds of people and all kinds of faiths walking
around in the Capitol Rotunda," says Paprock, of the origin of the
event in the '90s. "It was an idea that would enhance the fact that we
live in a multicultural and multi-faith environment. I saw that there
was a tremendous need for this. Some people were doing it, but I
wanted to make it broader."
Paprock, who is a priest of the Holy Transfiguration Malankara
Orthodox Mission in Madison and director of Inroads Interfaith
Ministry, noticed back in the '90s that very little was reported on
involving religion in general. "There was stuff about Christianity
constantly, but not about other religions," Paprock says. "I felt like
this was really a problem."
In the mid-'90s, Paprock put together a directory for spiritual
resources for south-central Wisconsin. "It was the only thing like it
that existed anywhere," he remembers. "At the same time, I got
involved with some people and said, 'We need to start a center for
Interfaith stuff — not just dialog; but service, education, and
leadership.' People looked at me funny and wondered how it can be
In 1998, he wrote a letter to the governor about a proclamation
involving Interfaith Awareness Week. "This was around the time of the
50th anniversary around the declaration of human rights which says
that there should be the freedom of religion for all people," Paprock
The first Interfaith Awareness Week Proclamation was signed by
Governor Tommy Thompson in 1998 and it has been proclaimed every year
since. It was the first state in the United States to make such a
proclamation. This year, Governor Jim Doyle, Dane County Executive
Kathleen Falk, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, and Middleton Mayor Kurt
Sonnentag have signed the proclamation. "Kathleen Falk is the only
person to have signed the proclamation since it started," Paprock
Every year the Interfaith Awareness Week event ads more displays as
more religions join. That first celebration had 8 displays, now,
Paprock says, they have more than 20.
Inroads Ministry is a co-sponsor of the event along with Greater
Madison Interreligious Association (GMIA) and the American Hindu
Association. Reverend Anne Wynne, vice president of GMIA, is
coordinator and facilitator of the noon program at the capitol
building this year.
The events and activities for the Madison area will kick off on
Wednesday, Dec. 9, with the 4th Annual Good Neighbor Interfaith
Celebration at the Middleton Public Library. Paprock will be helping
out with the display case there.
"We're doing an interactive thing where we have numbers by the
religious items and we will do a quiz: 'How many of these things do
you really know? What religion to they really belong to?'" he says.
"Good Neighbor-Interfaith Awareness" will be in the main display case
at the Middleton Public Library for the entire month of December.
Another interesting event will be "Christianity is an Eastern
Religion," a multifaith panel discussion including Orthodox
Christianity, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Sikh moderated by Renu Paul
of the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy. Also, diverse
faith presentations with music and dancing will take place at the 8th
Annual Interfaith Celebration at the Wisconsin Capitol on Thursday,
Dec. 11, noon. Afterwards, individuals of faith traditions will be at
displays to answer questions.
Throughout the week, "The World of Faith Traditions in Wisconsin" will
be on display in the Capitol Rotunda. There will be over 20 displays
that will include Unity, Unitarian Universalist, Sufi Order of the
West, Sikh, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Pagan, Orthodox Christian,
Methodist (UMC), Islam, Hindu, Episcopal, Eckankar, Buddhist, Beloved
Community, Baha'I and several other interfaith groups.
Paprock believes that Interfaith Awareness Week will help in the
building of our interfaith vocabulary which will be important for our
"I do believe that we are becoming a more worldly society and we're
going to need to broaden our vocabulary when it comes to talking to
people in what they believe and part of it is to understand those
terms that they use," Paprock says.
When talking about different religions and faiths, Paprock makes an
analogy to the competitiveness of sports adding that it's like the
difference between playing sports in a league and playing pick-up
sports. "When you're in a league, everybody knows who they are going
to root for, which side is which, and it's meant to be very
competitive," he says. "And that's how people view religion; as a
But society, Paprock says, is more like a pick-up game in that whoever
shows up gets to play. "[In a pick-up game], you usually just play
with who you got and you're not concerned with what side they were on
before," he says. "Often, if you're skins one time, you're shirts the
"Society is more like a pick-up game," Paprock adds. "You live, work,
and play in a society with people of all kinds of religion. I think
people like the idea of competition — it can be fun — but
unfortunately, when it comes to religious beliefs or racial and
cultural differences, we run the risk of creating war, as opposed to
"Our society needs more pick-up games," Paprock adds with a smile.
Interfaith Awareness Week the weeklong event celebrates religious
diversity and unity among different religions. It's all about
recognizing those who are different. All events and activities are
free and open to the public.
For more information, visit www.interfaithsociety.blogspot.com or
check out this week's "What's Up?" section of The Madison Times.