World Religion Day: Oneness in diversity

News Release

January 21 marked World Religion Day. It’s a little different from World Water Day or World Book Day as it wasn’t set by an intergovernmental organisation to raise awareness of an issue. Instead, it’s an occasion for people of different faiths to come together through dialogue and service. Instituted in 1950, it has come to be observed around the world on the third Sunday in January each year.

But how did it get started? A visit to the village of Langenhain provides answers. Located in this suburb of Hofheim near Frankfurt in Germany is Europe’s only Bahá'í House of Worship. While World Religion Day does not belong to any one faith tradition, it was first established by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís in the United States.

 

“It was the initiative of the Bahá’ís to have a day when all world religions would pray together for peace and celebrate the oneness of the religions,” said Fariba Dorner, custodian of the Bahá'í House of Worship. The oneness spoken of here does not require all to adopt the same creed. It’s a oneness in diversity, a hope that the world’s religions will help to bring about love, peace, and respect.

“God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of his great and marvelous work,” said Orson F. Whitney, an early leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members of the Church, commonly known as Mormons, are encouraged to respect those with differing beliefs and to engage in interfaith relations to benefit the communities in which they live.

Early Mormons experienced fierce persecution. Today, a call for religious tolerance and freedom is part of their sacred canon. One of their thirteen Articles of Faith reads: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

Mormons work to further the cause of religious freedom internationally and often partner with other religious organisations to provide service and relief to those in need. World Religion Day is a chance for followers of different faiths, including Mormons, to be one in the work of God.

Gaining a greater respect for various religions on World Religion Day can easily be accomplished by attending a religious service and getting to know the people there. Having been the custodian for nearly three years, Dorner says that places like the domed Bahá’í sanctuary in Langenhain are built “for humanity as a place of contemplation and prayer, a place where the souls get together and unite.”

If attending a worship service, religious roundtable or service activity is not possible on World Religion Day, people of faiths may pray for each other wherever they may be.

Jennifer Wiebers, a third-generation Bahá’í in Germany said, “A prayer actually comes into its full meaning when the person uses those words to change their behaviour or their life, what they do in the world around them. This is the real meaning of prayer: it comes out in the action of the human being.”

If heartfelt prayer leads to a better world, piece by piece and person by person, then perhaps those of different faiths can be one in diversity, not only on World Religion Day, but throughout the year.

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