While the borderlands region is a rich mixture of flora, fauna and culture, the local diversity of religion can often go unnoticed. One recurring gathering aims to change that.
Multiple Tucson sects and religions are hosting the third annual Interfaith Celebration of Unity and Prayer this Thursday, March 7.
Leaders from the St. Odilia Catholic Community; the Third Church of Christ, Scientist; the Tucson North Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; the Casas Adobes Congregational United Church of Christ; the Muslim Community Center of Tucson; and the Baha’i Faith of Oro Valley are hosting the event, and decided to focus this year’s gathering on the concept of gratitude.
“We found that gratitude is something no one says, ‘Well, my religion doesn’t teach that.’” said Ayaz Malik, MCCT Interfaith Dialogue Lead, and event emcee. “Gratitude is a key component of faith, whether it’s the blessings God provides or the blessings that come from others.”
This year’s celebration is titled “Gratitude Summit in the Desert: Becoming One in Faith and Gratitude” and features an interactive program with messages from each of the participating faith groups, as well as community musical numbers and prayers.
Malik said while last year’s event was mostly a presentation from a single speaker, this year will have an interactive exhibit where representatives of each participating religion offer examples of what their belief system says about gratitude.
“Some of the clergy said they will sing a hymn, some will chant, and some will tell stories,” Malik said. “As I speak to each, it will be like one person’s journey seeking knowledge. But at the same time the audience will go on the journey with me.”
At the end of the presentation, attendees will use their smartphones to write one or two words they think define gratitude. The words will then appear on a display screen, with everyone’s definitions in a unified cloud.
This year’s event will be hosted at the newly built Muslim Community Center of Tucson. On a rotation from the beginning, the St. Odilia Catholic Community hosted the event’s first year and the Tucson North Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints hosted the second year.
Father Miguel Mariano, from St. Odilia, first conceptualized the interfaith celebration, feeling a need to foster a sense of peace and unity among local religious communities.
“I reached out to these fellow congregations because I wanted to be a better neighbor, work together and develop good relationships with my fellow travelers on the road of life,” Mariano said.
Last year’s theme was “Together on the Journey in Mercy, Love and Peace,” focusing on the power of coming together. Beyond prayer and sermon, the events also featured video and song presentations relevant that year’s theme.
“People are hungry for peace, but we cannot speak about peace if we don’t have peace in our hearts,” Mariano said at the 2018 gathering. “We’re all human beings, and as such we’re all children of God.”
The first interfaith celebration of prayer and unity was held in March 2017, and exceeded expectations when more than 600 people from the local community attended. Even more are expected this year.
“We want to remove the, what I call, ‘innocent ignorance’ of each other’s religions,” Malik said. “No one has a monopoly on God.”
Attendees are asked to bring donations of marinara sauce (in cans, not in jars) or packages of noodles for the Interfaith Community Services Food Bank. The Third Annual Interfaith Celebration of Unity and Prayer begins at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 7 at the Muslim Community Center of Tucson. 5100 North Kevy Place. Free. All faiths and ages welcome.