Though Wednesday was one of the colder days in Ann Arbor so far this semester, the atmosphere of the spiritual event in the Diag that day was anything but. Five different religious groups gathered to celebrate religious freedom and demonstrate the importance of interfaith relationships and collaboration on campus.
The event, coined Festifaith, began last year to remind students of religious acceptance and alliance.
Though more organizations participated in the innagural year, this year’s sponsors included Sikh Students Association, Michigan Hillel, First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, Catholic Campus Community (formerly St. Mary Student Parish) and Muslims' Student Association.
Beginning with the noon prayer by the Muslim Students' Association, the event also featured prayers, speeches, poems and psalms.
According to student organizers, last year’s event featured three large whiteboards that stood in the middle of the Diag with questions such as, “What does your faith mean to you?” and “What can interfaith collaboration look like on campus?” Students could write on the boards to answer the questions and at the end of the event, the boards were disassembled and taken to different locations on campus for display.
Instead, this year student organizers opted for small whiteboards for students to write anything they wanted in relation to their faith. Afterwards, the organizers took photos of the students standing with the boards. They plan on posting the photos around campus to create a more long-lasting project to display and share.
Another aspect to the event that is different from last year is that the organizations are also working to plan an Interfaith Dialogue to further learn about each other’s religions.
LSA senior Meagan Shokar, president of the University’s Sikh Student Association, said the interfaith work organizers were conducting at the event was important to college campuses because of the variety of student backgrounds.
“There’s so much diversity on our campus that is not tapped into or not really explored, and a celebration like this where we’re showing the unity of students of faith and just showing that collaboration can happen is so important, so bringing other students who don’t know anything about our organizations onto the Diag to celebrate with us is a really special day,” Shokar said.
According to Shokar, Festifaith is an interfaith celebration of student commitment to their faiths and also a way for all of these student organizations to collaborate, promote each other’s work on campus and support each other in their faith.
“We hope to create a good sense of community on the Diag and showing solidarity with all the faith-based organizations that are here (on campus) and also those who aren’t taking part but who do a lot of things on campus to promote aspects of their religion and get the word out and really promote education,” Shokar said.
Business senior Linda Mifsud, an intern at St. Mary’s Catholic Parish, attended the event to support her church. She also wanted to show that the church cares about all faiths and welcomes everyone to their parish to study, attend mass or even just to learn about the Catholic faith. The church brought along their cardboard cut-out Pope Francis, which had also been at the Festifall event earlier in September, for students to come take a selfie with.
“I hope (to accomplish) friendship, really, and getting to know about other students and the different faiths on campus and learning how to interact together to build faith of students overall,” Mifsud said about the event.
LSA senior Jonathan Friedman, a representative of Hillel, said his religion has been a large part of his college experience since his freshman year, which included weekly dinners at Hillel. He is now one of the leaders of Shalva, a service held on Friday nights.
Fifty different groups run through the Hillel community center, most of which are Jewish, Friedman said. At the event, Friedman and other representatives of Hillel allowed passersby to shake the Lulav and the Etrog to teach about the Jewish holiday Sukkot.
“It’s become a big part of my life,” Friedman said. “Judaism is really important to me and the way I live.”
LSA senior Amanda Peters said she went to the event because she enjoys interfaith activities and she believes that all faiths and religions point to the same reality.
However, “There’s so many misconceptions between them (different faiths),” Peters said. “I think events like this are a really great way for people of different faith groups to interact and spread their message of peace around campus.”