Westminster Interfaith: Promoting Dialogue Between People of Faith

The agency of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster for Interreligious Dialogue

Pilgrims arriving at St Mary of the Angels

Walking along the street with banners

Arriving at St Sophia, Greek Orthodox Cathedral

Greeted by the Rabbi

Asking questions at the Second Church of Christ Scientist

Members of Sachhand Nanak Dham International explain their spirituality

Front view of the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre

Al Manaar – Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre

Arriving at North Kensington Methodist Church

Musicians at the Central London Gurdwara


The 23rd Annual MultiFaith Pilgrimage for Peace

The pilgrims assembled at St Mary of the Angels where we were warmly greeted by Alfred who spoke about the pilgrimage and the church.

From St Mary of the Angels we walked to St Sophia, the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, where we were met by many other pilgrims. About 150 of us packed the cathedral for a full sung Eucharistic service in English. At the end of the service, Fr Theonas invited everyone to come forward and receive a small piece of bread from a basket. We were made very welcome and felt highly honoured.

Leaving St Sophia, we passed the beautiful Anglican church of St Matthew's, where they were having a sale of books and artefacts and we stopped to greet the Jewish community who were celebrating the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) at the synagogue across the road. The Rabbi kindly came out to greet us and wish us well on our pilgrimage.

We followed Alfred and Nagase who led the procession chanting with his drum, followed by the banner and the pilgrims, some carrying coloured placards with 'London People of Faith for Peace' on one side and a quotation from the Holy Books of the different faiths on the other side.

Sr Simon and Sr Elizabeth, wearing high visibility vests, shepherded about 160 pilgrims safely across main roads and made sure no one got lost or left behind. Amina and others were busy distributing leaflets about the pilgrimage to passers by and shops on the way and inviting them to join in.

By the time we reached the Second Church of Christ, Scientist, there were nearly 200 of us. We entered a spacious, bright and comfortable area, which looked a bit like a theatre and we were made very welcome by a team of helpers, including Philip Wylie and Ruth Smith, who told us about the history of the church and Christian Scientists and answered all our questions.

Next, we welcomed members of the Sachhand Nanak Dham International to speak to us about their work. Once again, they were providing us, as they have done every year, with lunch of sandwiches, samosas, fruit and drinks which they brought by van from Birmingham.

After lunch, we all found our way to the Al Manaar (Lighthouse) Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre. We were all graciously welcomed into this brand new, purpose built Centre, which aims to provide the Muslim and wider community with a focal point for a range of spiritual, social, cultural, economic, educational and training activities.

Aicha and Fahim treated us to an entertaining and informative history of the Centre and of the local Muslim community. They answered numerous questions about Islam and the Muslim Centre then they led us into the Mosque itself - a beautiful carpeted light and airy space, able to accommodate hundreds of worshippers. Unfortunately, we had arrived too late for midday prayers and too early for evening prayers.

Following the Notting Hill Riots in 1958, Dr Donald Soper was instrumental in setting up at North Kensington Methodist Church in 1960, a Group Ministry whose aim was to build up the congregation to be a force in the area. Gradually the congregation increased with many people from Africa and the Caribbean finding a warm welcome there. The church went through many changes over the years. Various improvements were made to the interior of the building to provide space for church and community activities. The team ministry was reduced and now only one minister looks after the congregation.

Pastor Robert, who took part in most of the pilgrimage, not only made us very welcome and spoke enthusiastically about his ministry and church, but also treated and honoured us with a traditional well known hymn played full blast on the magnificent organ, which was installed in 1886.

At the Central London Gurdwara we had the great honour of sharing in a typical Sikh service of worship consisting of musicians singing verses from Guru Granth Sahib, followed by a talk on aspects of Sikh life and scripture. The main cantor and musician then brought each of us some warm Karah Prasad (sweet made from semolina, ghee, sugar and water), which we accepted in our cupped hands. The service usually ends with a prayer requesting God's blessing for all humanity. One should not applaud in a gurdwara, it is impolite.

After the service we were invited downstairs to share in Langar, the free community meal, which is served to anyone who attends the gurdwara. It was a most welcome, delicious, varied and abundant vegetarian meal coming right at the end of the pilgrimage, when most of us were quite tired and hungry.

We sat on the floor eating and chatting together. When I went to get another chapatti, I was amazed to see that the person, who had played and sung for us and given us Karah Prasad, was now busily washing pots and pans in the scullery, while others continued to serve food. Sikh commitment to service is an example to all of us. Before we left the gurdwara and made our separate ways home, we were all presented with an English copy of their scripture, yet another extremely generous action.

I took part in this pilgrimage for peace for the very first time this year. A number of things struck me most forcibly throughout the pilgrimage. One was the total sincerity and generosity of everybody I met. Everyone who welcomed us at each place of worship was very happy to share their faith and practice with us.

Most of the places of worship we visited were open every day from early morning to late evening. It was very encouraging to see so many believers enter their places of worship for individual or communal prayer and devotions, even if it was just literally for a minute or two. Another observation was the genuine reverence and respect members of other faiths have for the dignity and sanctity of each person, every living thing, all places of worship, sacred vessels and artefacts, icons or images, holy people, past and present and last but not least, their Holy Scriptures. All of them signs pointing to the mystery and presence of God among us. It is a joy to behold and a salutary lesson for all of us.

The multifaith pilgrimage is an excellent way to meet people of other faiths, find out about their beliefs and practices, share experiences and stories with pilgrims or others on the way, pray and be prayed for, and generally become enriched in so many ways including spiritually. It really is a gift of God, a peaceful, reflective and fun way to spend a Saturday, side by side and face to face with people of other faiths and none.

I look forward to the next Pilgrimage for Peace.

Photos © Rumold van Gethen.

Members of the Sikh community serving Langar

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Alfred greets the pilgrims

Bhikku Nagase chanting with Buddhist drum

Receiving the antidoron after the Greek Orthodox Eucharist

Arriving at the Second Church of Christ Scientist

Presentation of Certificates to
'Faiths Together' course students

Lunch in the garden at Second church of Christ Scientist

Conference room / extension to the Prayer Hall at Al Manaar

At Notting Hill Methodist Church

Pilgrims enjoying Langar at the Gurdwara

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