World Religion Day: Baha’is celebrate 70 years of recognizing religious similarities

“O Thou kind Lord! Unite all. Let the religions agree and make the nations one, so that they may see each other as one family and the whole earth as one home.”
Portion of a Baha’i prayer, frequently read on World Religion Day

Multiple religions checked against world graphic

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

SUNSET SATURDAY, JANUARY 16: Take a few moments to consider unity through diversity, joining Baha’is on this, the 70th observation of World Religion Day.

Initiated in 1950, World Religion Day follows an essential tenet of the Baha’i religion: the belief that all religions are one, with each prophet or messenger delivering God’s truth for his time and place. Though deeply engrained in the faith, the call to “consort with followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship” is particularly emphasized on World Religion Day. When a feeling of oneness amid world religions is lacking, Baha’is believe, true global peace can never be achieved.

Established by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States for the third Sunday of January, World Religion Day brings interfaith panels and discussions, conferences and multi-faith gatherings to Baha’i communities—many of which will be held virtually, this year. While followers of Baha’u’llah’s religion recognize Baha’u’llah in a primary way—as one who brought a message of unity that is essential for our time—adherents also accept such religious figures as Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad. World Religion Day was created to raise awareness of similarities between the spiritual principles of various faiths.

A United Nations week devoted to interfaith: The first week of February, the United Nations will observe Interfaith Harmony Week. This week is devoted to encouraging dialogue among faiths and recognition of similarities.

Four Chaplains Sunday: Congregations nationwide honor interfaith activists

Illustration of stormy night and men in small rowboat at sea

Click on the image to watch a short video about the Four Immortal Chaplains

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 3: Millions of Americans may be gathering in front of their televisions to watch the Super Bowl tonight, but during earlier hours, many congregations and veterans groups nationwide recall four chaplains whose courageous example has inspired generations of interfaith activists. This is Four Chaplains Sunday.

Did you know? In 1951, President Truman dedicated a chapel to the four chaplains.

THE FOUR IMMORTAL CHAPLAINS

On Feb. 3, 1943, the converted luxury liner Dorchester was struck by a torpedo while crossing the North Atlantic; the ship sank within 20 minutes. Hundreds of U.S. troops and civilians were aboard the ship when it was struck, and as passengers were scurrying to lifeboats, four chaplains—the Rev. George Fox (Methodist), Rabbi Alexander Good (Jewish), the Rev. Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed) and Fr. John Washington (Roman Catholic)—spread out and began helping the wounded and panicked. Amid the chaos, the four chaplains were calmly offering prayers and encouraging words. When life jackets ran out, the chaplains already had given their own to others fleeing the ship. The four men joined arms and said prayers, singing hymns as they sank with the ship.

Ceremonies in honor of the courageous men emphasize “unity without uniformity,” a primary part of the mission of the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation. The Chapel of the Four Chaplains was dedicated by President Harry S. Truman in 1951. In 1988, an act of Congress officially declared February 3 as an annual Four Chaplains Day.

A WINDOW AT THE PENTAGON

The four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross. In 1960, a Congressional Medal of Valor was created and presented to the chaplains’ next of kin. Stained glass windows of the men still exist in a number of chapels across the country—and at the Pentagon—and each year, American Legions posts nationwide continue to honor the Four Chaplains with memorial services. The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation continues to honor those who exemplify the heroic traits of the Four Chaplains, promoting “unity without uniformity.”

Four Chaplains Sunday: Practice ‘unity without uniformity’ for immortal chaplains

Blue dark night painting of older ship in back with men on lifeboat in foreground

A depiction of the Escanaba rescuing survivors of the Dorchester, the ship of the Four Immortal Chaplains. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 1: Today, many congregations and veterans groups nationwide recall four chaplains whose courageous example has inspired generations of interfaith activists. This is Four Chaplains Sunday in participating congregations.

On Feb. 3, 1943, the converted luxury liner Dorchester was struck by a torpedo while crossing the North Atlantic; the ship sank within 20 minutes. Hundreds of U.S. troops and civilians were aboard the ship when it was struck, and as passengers were scurrying to lifeboats, four chaplains—the Rev. George Fox (Methodist), Rabbi Alexander Good (Jewish), the Rev. Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed) and Fr. John Washington (Roman Catholic)—spread out and began helping the wounded and panicked. (Wikipedia has details.) Amid the chaos, the four chaplains were calmly offering prayers and encouraging words. When life jackets ran out, the chaplains already had given their own to others fleeing the ship. The four men joined arms and said prayers, singing hymns as they sank with the ship.

Though Feb. 3 is officially Four Chaplains Day, events remembering the men usually take place on the Sunday nearest to that anniversary. Ceremonies emphasize “unity without uniformity,” a primary part of the mission of the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation. The Chapel of the Four Chaplains was dedicated by President Harry S. Truman in 1951. In 1988, an act of Congress officially declared February 3 as an annual Four Chaplains Day.

Scholarship opportunity: Each year, the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundations sponsors a scholarship competition for students in grades 5-12, with the challenge of writing an essay, creating artwork or filming a short video about the importance of unity, cooperation and inclusion. This year, the theme is “Undiscovered Heroes,” and the deadline is Feb. 28. (Learn more here.)