Hilaire Campbell writes in Touchstone
Rev Freddy de Alwis believes interfaith cooperation is vital for world peace. Born and raised in Sri Lanka, he was appointed to Howick Pakuranga Trinity Methodist Church four years ago. He brought with him an experience of interfaith community that he felt was missing in NZ.
“I felt lonely. So I decided to contact nearby churches with my idea of starting an interfaith initiative,” he says.
His aim was to get people from different faiths working side by side on community projects. Two months ago Freddy met with members of the neighbouring Catholic Church then other churches caught on to his idea. Because of their enthusiasm interreligious friendship group. It consists of Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant people.
“The beginning was very exciting. I talked with the Muslim imam, Dr Ali Boorooni, at our local mosque, and visited the Buddhist temple for their presentation on creating caring societies through meditation and Christianity. The highlight was hearing a Muslim imam from Iran talk about the love of humanity irrespective of religion, ethnicity and skin colour. ‘That’s the real Islamic faith’, he said.”
A core group from the different faiths met with Freddy on the 11th of April at Trinity Methodist Church. They wholeheartedly supported his idea for interreligious friendship and agreed to proceed. They extended an invitation to 20 representatives from each faith to a meeting at Trinity Church.
About 130 people attended. The key speaker was Dato’ Jega Jagadeesan, who addressed the role of faith in creating national unity and a caring society, and each group gave a short talk on spirituality. As one speaker said, it is not about claiming our own space and our own faith, it is about working together for a common purpose.
“We were very pleased that Whaea Taini Drummond from the Howick marae could be present,” Freddy says. “Like other marae, Howick is free of interdenominational barriers so we very much wanted their blessing.”
Since then the group has had several very positive meetings. “We are now in the very early stages of dialoguing and breaking barriers. We already have one goal – to identify and reach out to disabled children and their caregivers to honour and bring them together. And that’s just the start.” Freddy believes the bonds that are being created are just as important as the project itself. Meeting for coffee, having vegetarian food together and “just going the distance” have been wonderful. “Everyone was happy and even at 10pm no one wanted to leave.”
Freddy hopes the friendship group can dispel prejudice towards different faiths. “New Zealanders have a little fear about the Islamic religion and fundamentalism so we want to iron that out. Muslim people have come a long way to live here in harmony. We want to explode the hatred and ignorance that some of them experience.” No single religion has a monopoly on the friendship group. “We all have ownership of it,” he says.
His initiative has the full support of Methodist Church leaders. On April 27th the core group will meet to share their ideas for working together on community projects.
Freddy trained in Sri Lanka then worked for the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) in Thailand. He did post graduate studies on social development at St Francis Xavier University in Canada before coming to NZ.
His background is Buddhist. “My mother died as a Buddhist and pushed me towards ordination in the Christian tradition. I’m pleased I took this step,” he says. Freddy says he has always worked for human rights and religious co-existence. “People live their religion and that’s wonderful, but if there was a third world war it would be about religion. If we respect other faiths and converse we can avoid that.
Freddy believes in God’s humanity. “God loves everyone, whether black or white, of any faith or none. When we start trying to be like Him we’ll have world peace.”