Festival of Faiths promotes ‘Pathways to Nonviolence’

Gulalai Wali-Khan, left, an attendant of the 21st Festival of Faiths, spoke with Arun Gandhi May 18 following a panel discussion at Actors Theatre of Louisville. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Gulalai Wali-Khan, left, an attendant of the 21st Festival of Faiths, spoke with Arun Gandhi May 18 following a panel discussion at Actors Theatre of Louisville. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Arun Gandhi — the grandson of India’s legendary leader Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi — told listeners at Actors Theater of Louisville May 18 that his grandfather refused to see anyone as an enemy.

“ ‘I don’t have any enemies. I have friends who are misguided and I want to try and change them,’ ” is simply how his famous grandfather would put it, said Gandhi.

During a time when the devastation of gun violence seems to be on the minds of many in this city, Gandhi and some of the world’s leaders on the subject of peace gathered in Louisville to talk about “Pathways to Nonviolence” at the 21st annual Festival of Faiths, held at the Actors Theatre of Louisville May 17-21.

The theme of the event, organized by the Center for Interfaith Relations, was “Sacred Wisdom: Pathways to Nonviolence.”

Gandhi spoke on the theme of “Love Thy Neighbor” on a panel that included Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and The Rev. Allan Boesak, a humanitarian who worked alongside South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu to end apartheid in the 1980s.

During the program last week, Gandhi told listeners that when he was a 13-year-old, his grandfather taught him an important lesson about the nature of violence.

Gandhi recounted how his grandfather made him draw a “genealogical tree of violence” with “passive violence” and “physical violence” as the two branches.

Every night before he went to bed his grandfather asked him to examine his actions that day, as well as the actions of others toward him.

Each action, he noted, had to be placed under the appropriate branch on the “genealogical tree of violence.” The lesson, he said, was to examine how passive violence acted as fuel for physical violence.

“ ‘If we want to put out the fire of physical violence we have to cut off the fuel supply,’ ” Gandhi said his grandfather told him. “ ‘Since the fuel supply comes from each one of us we have to become the change we wish to see in the world.’ ”

It is essential, Gandhi said, that one understands how each person affects the cycle of violence.

“We cannot create peace if we’re not able to live in harmony,” he said. “We cannot practice nonviolence if we do not understand the violence we commit all the time.”

During his remarks, Archbishop Kurtz, too, discussed the path of nonviolence as one to which individuals must bring a sense of awareness and understanding. Living a life of nonviolence, the archbishop said, is “not a passive shunning of the world,” but an “active reaching out.”

Archbishop Kurtz told the gathering that each person is responsible for promoting peace, “not only in our own hearts, but also with one another as neighbors and as nation upon nation.”

In the pursuit of peace and walking a path of nonviolence, an understanding of human dignity and the necessity of creating dialogue is key, Archbishop Kurtz said.

“If we are to be peacemakers, we cannot simply seek to remove ourselves from the world,” said the archbishop. “But rather to seek to impart in everyone we meet that great gift of dignity and to understand that you and I need to accompany and enter into dialogue with people who believe as we do and people who do not.”

The Rev. Allan Boesak spoke about apartheid in South Africa and the path to reconciliation at the 21st Festival of Faiths May 18 at Actors Theatre of Louisville. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

The Rev. Allan Boesak spoke about apartheid in South Africa and the path to reconciliation at the 21st Festival of Faiths May 18 at Actors Theatre of Louisville. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

The Rev. Boesak drew on his witness of the violence that characterized the apartheid era in South Africa, to share with listeners the importance of reconciliation following violence.

Rev. Boesak shared the story of Nomonde Calata, whose husband Fort Calata was one of four anti-apartheid activists tortured and murdered in 1985.

The day Calata was faced with her husband’s killer, Rev. Boesak said, she let out a wail that seemed to have come from the depths of her being. The cry, Rev. Boesak said, was the start of the healing process and the first step toward reconciliation not only for her, but for the nation.

“She cried for justice — not for the dead, which is retribution — but justice for the living which is the justice that breaks down systems of oppression,” he said.

Rev. Boesak said Calata’s cry can be heard “everywhere people are despised, discriminated, excluded and exterminated because of economic status, gender, religion or race.”

Calata’s cry, he said, “is a ringing call to conversion to walk in the way of justice, peace and love.”

The five-day festival opened May 17 with an interfaith service at the Cathedral of the Assumption in downtown Louisville. Other programs during the event included “Media and the Public Trust” and “Face To Face with Islamophobia.”

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