SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 5: Celebrate heroes of the interfaith movement today by honoring the Four (Immortal) Chaplains: a group of four U.S. Army chaplains—each of a different religious tradition—whose collective sacrifice inspired the nation.
By handing over their lifejackets while aboard a sinking ship in World War II—then linking arms, praying in their own respective religious traditions, the men provided a shining example of religious unity across doctrinal boundaries. Their story has been retold in numerous documentaries, memorials, books and annual ceremonies. (Wikipedia has details.)
The Dorchester was a civilian cruise ship built in 1926 that later was converted for military service during WWII. By the time renovations and additions were finished, a ship originally built for 315 passengers could now carry more than 900. On Jan. 23, 1943, the USAT Dorchester left New York for Greenland—but it never arrived at its destination. The service ship was slammed by German submarine U-223 at 12:55 a.m. on Feb. 3; three-quarters of the men aboard the Dorchester perished that night.
The one ray of hope in this great tragedy was the four chaplains. The four were a Methodist chaplain, the Rev. George Fox, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Roman Catholic Father John Washington and Reformed Church in America Minister Clark Poling. Their example calmed down the ship’s men when the electrical system failed. They attempted to help organize the evacuation of the vessel. While passing out a short supply of life jackets, the chaplains took the jackets off their backs and gave them to other men. (Learn more at ImmortalChaplains.org.) Today, some recognize Four Chaplains Day on Feb. 3; others observe on the first Sunday of February.
Last week, many individuals and congregations echoed the chaplains’ example by taking part in World Interfaith Harmony Week. The London Central Mosque hosted the Healing the World event on Feb. 1, during which representatives from different religions discussed sources of hate and how to better encourage interfaith relationships. (Check out an article here.) A World Interfaith Harmony Assembly in Syracuse, New York, last Sunday showcased songs, dances and even humorous skits.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.