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Voices Entwined: Reflections on Interfaith Unity

The mission of The Saint John’s Bible embodied at the Parliament of the World’s Religions

Posted August 18, 2023 in Religious Institutions
Meghan Stretar, Assistant Director of The Saint John’s Bible, Heritage Edition, answers questions for event attendees.

Without realizing it, the rhythm of my childhood was centered around the Catholic liturgical schedule: Mass at 8 am every Sunday, preparing for the annual Christmas concert in elementary school, no meat on Fridays during Lent, and Holy Days of Obligation. More often than not, I had a Catholic hymn stuck in my head that I would hum around my house all week, much to the delight of my three siblings.

Outside of school, none of my friends were Catholic. The few times my best friend Whitney invited me to go to her Lutheran Church with her seemed so completely other than what I knew. Stepping out of the safety of what I knew in my Catholic sphere—even into a Lutheran Church—felt very much like an interfaith experience.

While I now understand the distinctions between ‘ecumenical’ and ‘interfaith’, it strikes me, still, how little I know about faith traditions outside of my own. In graduate school, I took a class on World Religions and spent a semester in mild discomfort as I attempted to understand the basic beliefs in the Hindu, Islamic, and Buddhist traditions. My discomfort, I realize, was not dissimilar to how I felt entering a Lutheran Church as a child.

The chapter on the reception of guests in the Rule of St. Benedict provides an image of what radical hospitality looks like in action: “to meet [the guest] with all the courtesy of love…with every kindness shown” to them (R.B. 53.3, 9). This chapter offers me a reminder of how to respond in the face of my discomfort. Instead of rejecting the ideas or passing them along simply as ‘different’ because they are not my own worldview and belief system, I am challenged instead to lean in, to ask questions, and to learn from faith and spiritual traditions that extend beyond my own. Each time I do so, I find I am strengthened in my own faith practice.

August 14-18 marked the 9th international convening of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago. I spent the week there with Fr. Michael Patella, Tim Ternes, and Jason Engel, along with 5 volumes of The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition. A week of communion, community, and conversation with people from around the world on many different faith journeys, it was not lost on me that this act of coming together intentionally is precisely the mission of The Saint John’s Bible and Heritage Program. The image I carried with me throughout the week was one of the illuminations from Psalms – where the oscilloscopic voice prints from communities at prayer are woven together: the monks of St. John’s Abbey at prayer are joined by chants from the Jewish, Native American, Taoist, Hindu Bhajan, Greek Orthodox, Muslim, and Buddhist Tantric traditions. No one is dominating over the other, rather, they co-exist together in harmony.

I know I have not become an interfaith expert this week in Chicago. Yet I know I brought with me the strength of my own background and faith tradition and the desire to dialogue and learn from others. I am filled with hope that the Parliament’s gathering, though concluded now, continues to be an embodiment of this illumination: people of faith from around the world on our journeys, together, our spiritual imaginations ignited, voices entwined.


Meghan Stretar
Meghan Stretar, M.Div. Assistant Director, The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program

Read further to learn more about our participation at the Parliament of the World’s Religions HERE.

Read about the Heritage Program’s longstanding relationship with the John Roberts Printing company HERE.