Many of USD’s International Students represented their home countries as flag bearers during this years All Faith Service. Ryan Blystone explains the beauty of the service as one of the many community building experiences for students of all faiths and backgrounds at USD to participate in.
From USD Magazine – Once a year, at the start of the University of San Diego’s spring semester comes a reminder of hope and of what’s possible when people come together.
“What I really like about this event is that it talks to my heart,” said Sarra Tlili, an Arab and Islamic studies scholar. “The dances, the music, singing, it was all so beautiful, so moving. The Jewish reflection was quite fascinating, reminding us of the humanity of basic relations. Really, each activity was different and had its own flavor, but each one contributed something.”
Tlili, a University of Florida professor, was basking in the emotions from both attending and participating in USD’s 22nd annual All Faith Service, Jan. 29 in Shiley Theatre. It was here that 600-plus among the USD campus community witnessed thoughtful and, at times, spellbinding reflections connected to the theme, “Water: A Sacred Trust.”
Each year the All Faith Service highlights a principle of Catholic Social Thought. This year’s focus, “Solidarity with the Human Family,” heralded water, which is an essential part of life and the ecosystem, as an opportunity to reflect on solidarity with others. Water holds a cherished place within the practices and beliefs of several faith traditions. Water symbolizes life and it cleanses and purifies. Devotion to water as a resource and inspiration for peace and harmony was displayed beautifully by Native American, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim faith expressions.
“I wanted to communicate that water is truly not just a precious gift, but vital for our survival and for the survival of everyone,” said Tlili, whose Muslim reflection was the featured presentation. “Water is not just a physical thing our lives depend on, but there is a very important spiritual dimension linked to it. As a creature that praises God the way we praise God and, as a sign, we too are signs of God’s wisdom, creativity and power. Water shows us that. I also wanted to show that water is like when we awaken certain things we all know so well. In our scripture the same stories are told to reawaken us to life. If not, we start to take it for granted.”
From the moment the processional music, “Wayloyo Yamoni,” from Christopher Tin’s The Drop That Contained the Sea, played, the aisles were filled with USD student dancers, banner holders, flag bearers and following them was Rev. Michael T. White, C.S.Sp., USD’s resident university chaplain. Once all participants were on the Shiley Theatre stage, the engagement began.
“Diversity enriches us all,” said Father White during his welcoming address.
The Native American reflection was done by Lakota herbalist/educator Kathy Willcuts and Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe dancer-musician Steve Garcia. The duo presented “Wakan Mni Mni Wiconi.” Garcia played the flute flawlessly while Willcuts, with grace and precision, showcased the sacredness and life-giving qualities of water. Willcuts offered water to the Four Directions, as well as Mother Earth and Father Sky.
Upon completion, Monica Lopez Lacome ‘17 gave a Native American prayer of intercession and Founders Chapel cantors, Tori Berba ‘17 and Sarah Zentner ‘15, voiced a short chorus, “May the waters of the earth become our sacred trust.” This verse was repeated after each student-offered prayer, given by Audrey Miciano ‘15 (Christian), SOLES’ Kate Vosti ‘16 (Buddhist), Faisal al-harbi ‘16 (Muslim), Austin Jacobs ‘17 (Jewish) and Neha Chinchanikar ‘15 (Hindu).
The USD Choral Scholars, who made its first-ever appearance in the event’s history, performed the Christian presentation. Choral Scholars Director Emilie Amrein and students performed a rousing rendition of a southern folk hymn, “Down in the River to Pray,” which talks about the act of a river baptism. At first, all members had their backs to the audience, but every few seconds a few turned to face the audience and it finished with the whole group singing as one powerful, united force.
Performing in the All Faith Service was a thrill for first-year students Haley Pugh and Alec Palmer, who are from Arizona and Connecticut, respectively.
“It hit me when we walked in how many people were there, wanting to be there and to be together,” said Pugh. “It was a beautiful event. Everyone’s performance was beautiful.” She specifically pointed out the Hindu dance by Bhavika Maniar and Noopur Mehta to “The Eternal River Yamuna.” Stated Pugh: “I really enjoyed their dance moves. I felt I could really see the water coming down when they made movements with their hands.”
Palmer said he appreciated being part of something bigger than himself and to continue bonding with his fellow singers. “It was so special to have the chance to perform in something like this, to be part of something that embodies the idea of peace. And to do it with a great group, a great community of people, was just amazing.”
The Buddhist reflection was a chant by the Venerable Phramaha Witchuphong Kanpanya, Ven. Phramaha Boontherd Thongmon, Ven. Phramaha Cherdchai Wannawan and the Ven. Phramaha Chaiya Kalapak. They focused on water and its purest form and the pouring of water is homage to ancestors and the souls of others.
Tlili’s reflection reminded the audience of everything water stands for — “every living thing. It sustains and nurtures life … water is sacred as life is sacred.”
Jewish Rabbi Andrew Kastner told a riveting story of a great-grandfather, who lay dying, but provided life lessons in a final conversation with his grandson. He spoke of life as a unique combination of change and permanence; a mix of solid and liquid. “Seasons change, a beginning comes from every end, such as snow melting to provide water for rivers, leaves changing colors. Everything is balanced. Everything in the spiritual world has a counterpart.”
Father White provided a closing message of hope for greater unity and that water is a shared value. Through dance, blessing, song, chant, storytelling and the keynote reflection, “we should be striving for not what separates us, but for what unites us.”
Tlili appreciated that the service took place on a university campus and the audience for whom the majority was comprised — current students.
“As important as academics are, and the need to figure out things, to ponder a number of things is important, but what truly shapes us is when we get it across to the newer generation. Our attitude toward water is that everyone is wasting way too much. I’m not saying it is the young people. We all need to work on ourselves and remember that water is a gift, a precious gift, and we’re not treating it as well as we should be. I hope this message came across well because if it teaches us all to treat water with less wastefulness, that will mean everything.”
— Ryan T. Blystone
To see more photos of USD’s International Student’s at the All Faith Service, click here.