The power of words—to heal, to guide, to forgive and to love—was celebrated at the 11th annual Interfaith Dinner in the Marvin Center’s Grand Ballroom Tuesday evening.
Student representatives from different faiths, including Buddhist, Jewish, Catholic and Muslim religions, shared some of their favorite words at the annual dinner, designed as an opportunity for students to discuss the commonalities in their varied faiths and experiences.
President Steven Knapp, Diane Robinson Knapp, Provost Steven Lerman, Lori Lerman and Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Terri Harris Reed joined students for a vegetarian and non-dairy dinner before the ceremony, which included musical performances by Jewish a capella group Shir Madness, the Voice Gospel Choir and graduate student Huiquan Liu, who performed on the Chinese instrument guzheng, or zither.
Junior Jessica Hoffner, event student coordinator and founder of GW Hillel’s Challah for Hunger, talked about the ways social media has changed interactions around the world— and has made the impact of words more powerful than ever.
“Simply put, there are some estimates that put the number of languages spoken on our planet from 6,000 to 7,000, and that does not include dialect and signed communication,” she said. “Words are a primary source of communication and their significance and importance is inscribed in most religious traditions. Words and the way they are communicated can bring healing or hurt, happiness or despair, war or peace.”
In his remarks, Dr. Knapp recalled the recent shooting of a 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai, a Pakistani teenage activist who was targeted for promoting education for girls on her blog, as an example of how words can “plunge us into violence, and hatred and discord and division.”
“I think it’s very fitting and appropriate that a month after Malala’s tragic injuries we come together to celebrate the power of words,” he said. “I want to congratulate our students. You’re the ones that have really brought us together for this annual period of reflection in which we can exhibit the kind of respectful dialogue, the sharing of each other’s foods and each other’s traditions, listening to each other’s music, hearing each other’s deepest convictions, and do that in a spirit of engagement and respect that I think is an example to our community and our world.”
Senior Dimple Mirchandani, president of community service organization Ahimsa— Sanskrit for “non-violence”— spoke about the Ahimsa principle, which promotes peace and kindness. This principle was on display in October at the National Gandhi Day of Service, when more than 200 volunteers from different faiths came together to volunteer in the District, she said.
“This day of service successfully transcended barriers, and rightfully proved that words have the power to inspire, invigorate and innovate for a better future,” she said.
Junior Quinn Baron of the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, told the audience that God warns about the impact of words and urges people to speak in love, not hate.
“God has asked us to use our words for good, by loving one another, and building each other up through the words of encouragement he gives us through his Bible and what he says about the people he created,” said Mr. Baron. “Through God’s grace, we are able to see people’s needs, potential and the good in them. With this insight into people’s lives, God gives us the ability to encourage and love everyone through the words of his promises.”
Rachel Miklaszewski, music director at GW Catholics at the Newman Center, said her parish united around her family when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Recalling texts from the Gospel of St. John and Beatitudes that call for service to others, Ms. Miklaszewski said this cry of unity and compassion echoes in all different faiths.
“The words in many religious texts unite us to serve others,” she said. “Together we can unify around these words and translate them into action full of compassion. Together, we can feed the hungry, give rest to the weary, and comfort those who have faced sorrow. Together, we can change the world.”
Timothy Kane, associate director for inclusion initiatives, delivered the evening’s benediction. He asked guests to bow their heads in a prayer of hope, citing the opening monologue from the movie “Love Actually,” which describes how all the phone calls from victims of 9/11 to their loved ones were about love, and not hate.
“When we feel less than and different than the rest, let us hope,” said Mr. Kane. “When we use our power of words to tear down rather than to build up, let us hope. When we forgive and ask to be forgiven, let us hope…and when we remember that love—actually—is all around us, let us hope.”
He concluded the event by asking guests to sign greetings cards to benefit We Are Family and St. Mary’s Court, an effort organized by the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service.