Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By Michael Alexander
(L-r) Kwanza Hall of the Atlanta City Council, Brother Shankara of the Vedanta Hindu community, Tayyibah Taylor of the Muslim community, Ali Gunal of the Islamic community and Rev. Dr. Dwight D. Andrews, senior pastor of First Congregational Church, join the congregation in singing "The Lord Is My Light and My Salvation."


Lourdes Centennial Begins With Interfaith Service

By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published December 6, 2012

With a fire lit from the eternal flame at Martin Luther King Jr.’s tomb, a glowing lantern was processed into the sanctuary at Our Lady of Lourdes Church marking the beginning of an interfaith prayer service recognizing the church’s dedication to all in the local community over the last 100 years.

The celebration, held Nov. 15, was one of many commemorating the parish’s jubilee during the third week of November. Featuring representatives from various faiths, including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and others, the service was entitled “Called to be Light in the World” and focused on the unifying theme of light across the different faith traditions.

“We gather in the name of the one who created us,” said Our Lady of Lourdes pastor Dominican Father Jeffery Ott. He described the event as a celebration of love and light, values “that bind us together as people,” and ones that have been present at Lourdes since its establishment in 1912.

Dominican Father Jeffery Ott, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Atlanta, welcomes everyone to the 100th anniversary interfaith service, Nov. 15. Photo By Michael Alexander

Featuring song, dance, scriptural recitations and personal commentary, the dialogue between faiths at the event reflected the parish’s involvement in collaborative service efforts with various faith traditions throughout its history in the Atlanta area.

Among these outreach efforts are Atlantans Building Leadership for Empowerment (ABLE), a multicultural interfaith coalition that advocates for empowerment of ordinary people at the grassroots level, the Lourdes Lunch program for the hungry, the Simon’s Call AIDS ministry, meant to educate the parish and the community on HIV/AIDS and its prevention, and the St. Vincent de Paul ministry, which provides assistance with food, clothing, shelter and transportation expenses, among other ministries.

In addition, every year volunteers from Our Lady of Lourdes join volunteers from other churches to build a Habitat for Humanity home for a deserving family. The Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver and the Junior Knights and Junior Daughters all began in the last quarter century.

The idea of an interfaith service sprang from the friendships Father Ott made during a World Pilgrims trip earlier this year. On this interfaith pilgrimage, members of varying faith traditions visit sacred sites and engage in interfaith dialogue, sharing their own perspectives and traditions.

Hema Shilpa Uppala performs a classical Indian dance of “Soul and Light.” Uppala attends the Hindu Temple of Atlanta in Riverdale. Photo By Michael Alexander

Cathy Crosby, who helped arrange the interfaith service at Lourdes, made the same trip in 2011 and recognizes the power of interfaith dialogue. A parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes for some eight years, she is actively involved with interfaith efforts in Atlanta.

“We have to think on a personal level,” said Crosby, adding that World Pilgrims is so successful because it focuses on building relationships and fostering dialogue. “Legislating things like peace are not as effective as building relationships.”

“Jesus was nothing but inclusive,” she said. “He always had his arms open.”

This dimension of spirituality is present at Our Lady of Lourdes and is displayed by their many outreach programs. Those of other faiths who were in attendance at the interfaith event recognized the important role that Lourdes has played in the local community and its significance in bringing people together of all walks of life.

“It is a privilege, and humbling, to be here at this celebration of the centennial,” said Tibetan Buddhist Geshe Lobsang Tenzin, founder and spiritual director of the Drepung Loseling Monastery Center for Tibetan Studies in Atlanta. “On behalf of the Tibetan community here in Atlanta, and on behalf of all Tibetan Buddhists, I rejoice in your accomplishment and wish that you continue to flourish and provide your service to humanity.”

Tenzin’s sentiment was one echoed by many present, whether they had long-lasting relationships with Lourdes or were simply aware of the role the church has played in the community throughout its 100 years. Tenzin also discussed the spark of divine light found in all humans, a spark that can be seen through the service and programs of the parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes.

Tayyibah Taylor, a representative of Islam at the event, also used the theme of light to address Lourdes’ service, wishing them many more years of “light and bliss.”

“I am humbled and honored to be a part of this celebration. One hundred years—wow, what a great accomplishment,” she said. “Congratulations. I pray that God will continue blessing you for many more centuries.”

“We glorify God as light of the heavens and the earth. And as worshipers we seek to be near that light, to be of that light,” said Taylor. “Let us work to ensure that we reflect that light to everyone.”

Following each brief talk by a representative from a different faith tradition, many of those in attendance voiced an “Amen” aloud, confirming the solidarity between traditions and displaying an openness to dialogue despite their differences.

Participants from various faiths encircle the church and lift their candles up in the air as the choir sings “Hold Up The Light.” The theme of the interfaith service was Called To Be Light In The World. Photo By Michael Alexander

The crowd was also treated to a classical Indian dance by Hema Shilpa Uppala as well as a recitation of a Qur’an verse by Ali Gunal and commentary by Brother Shankara of the Vedanta Center of Atlanta and the Rev. Walter Kimbrough, pastor emeritus of Cascade United Methodist Church, Atlanta.

Many joined in song when appropriate but otherwise remained quiet and respectful as they listened to the words of the invited guests. At the end of the prayer service, each attendee lit a candle and encircled the sanctuary while singing “Hold Up the Light.”

“The world is so full of darkness, so we have to take a stand. If your brother slips down and falls, just give him a helping hand,” the crowd sang.

“This interfaith service, with all its participants, is now a part of Our Lady of Lourdes history and will be a cherished reminder that the celebration of our first 100 years was shared with various communities of faith in the spirit of peace, prayer and unity through shared light,” wrote Father Ott to the guests in attendance.