Diocesan News

SJU Day of Immersion Explores Cultures and Faiths, Builds Bridges

By Sister Annelle Fitzpatrick, C.S.J.


At the Sikh Cultural Society of Richmond Hill, above, members of the St. John’s University community learned about the beliefs and practices of Sikhism. (Photos courtesy St. John’s University)

The Guinness Book of World Records has recently conferred on Queens, New York, the distinction of being the most religiously diverse metropolitan area in the world!

And St. John’s University (SJU), one of the largest Catholic universities in the U.S., is keenly aware that they have the privilege of attracting a student body that reflects the diversity of the borough by educating a unique population of students, comprised of Catholics, other Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and many others.

In an effort to learn more about the students they serve and the cultures and religions of Queens, the Vincentian Center for Church and Society in collaboration with Campus Ministry and the Sisters of St. Joseph, sponsored a day of immersion into the practices and traditions of Judaism, Islam and Sikhism.

Respect, Instruction, Prayer

More than 50 members of the SJU community, ranging from students to alumni, and including professors, public safety professionals and administrators, visited Sikh, Muslim and Jewish places of worship both for instruction and prayer. The day concluded with a Sabbath meal at which the various traditions were present.

“We chose to host this learning experience on a Friday, because Friday is the day of worship for both Muslims and Jews and participants could actually see – not just a building – but their neighbors at worship,” explained Father Patrick Griffin, C.M., director of the university’s Vincentian Center.

The day began by visiting a Muslim mosque where participants observed the Jumu’ah noon day prayers and listened to a lecture on the tenets of Islam. The bus then headed to Richmond Hill, where the visitors were graciously welcomed into the Sikh Gurdwara – one of the largest in North America – to observe and pray with their Sikh neighbors at a Kirtan service and learn more about their teachings on selfless service to those in need.

Including the practice among Sikh men of wearing turbans. At left, Father Patrick Griffin, C.M., dons an orange turban.

After departing the Gurdwara, the bus turned toward the Forest Hills Jewish Synagogue, where the guests had the opportunity to partake not only in the lighting of the Sabbath Candles and but also participate in the traditional Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat Service.

The evening concluded with what most considered the highlight of the day – a communal Sabbath meal in which Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs sat down together to break bread and build bridges of understanding and friendship.

“When we first announced the workshop we were hesitant because we weren’t sure if people would be interested,” said Sister Nora Gatto, D.C., campus minister for retreats and interfaith formation.“But the workshop generated such interest, we had to actually close registration.  We were delighted with the response!”

Most attendees agreed it was a long day but shared the same sentiment: “Who needs to travel to Saudi Arabia, Israel or India when you live in Queens? Queens has it all!”