Faith Leaders Take Interfaith, Intercultural Pilgrimage Across Cape Town in Celebration of UN WIHW 2020
The images in this article are kindly shared by Rev. Berry Behr and the event photographer, Laura Elizabeth Pohl
Cape Town Interfaith Initiative hosted 7 Sacred Days in Cape Town, a week-long tour of community engagement in observance of the United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week. Around 30 representatives and leaders from diverse religious traditions gathered for this packed week-long pilgrimage.
The group visited local houses of worship, grassroots organizations with healing missions, Cape Town communities, and landmark institutions of Cape Town’s history. Throughout the visits, the group learned from local community groups, offered prayers of community healing, and shared in experiences of togetherness.
The Parliament served as a strategic partner for the event organizers and Parliament Vice-Chair Dr. Bhadra Shah and her guest Dr. Jayana Clerk, a distinguished author and lecturer in comparative religion, were two guests among the group.
Day 1 - Saturday February 1
The group visited Ananda Kutir Ashrama for a shared meal, spiritual practice, and to learn about community initiatives. They learned about the Ashram’s initiative Children of Light, started to assist the children of a traumatised informal settlement nearby.
Day 2 - Sunday February 2
The group visited Elsie’s River, a community in the heart of Cape Flats bearing unhealed wounds from the apartheid era. Cape Town Interfaith Initiatives partnered with local grassroots organization Faith Hope Love Communities to bring their Prayers for Our City initiative to Elsie’s River. The event featured prayer, musical performance, and other sacred expressions in celebration of and in prayer for the healing of the community. Addresses from Deputy Mayor Alderman Ian Neilson, Chair of the Western Cape Religious Leaders’ Forum Rev Mark Long, and founder of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute Bishop Geoff Davies highlighted projects working to uplift the community.
Kate Davies of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute expressed that, “The opportunity to share our common humanity with members of faith communities happens all too rarely in our frenetic and fractured society. The marking of 7 Sacred Days during World Interfaith Harmony Week in Cape Town, was one such affirming encounter. Our shared worship, reflections and celebrations were a reminder of our rich but often painful history, our collective presence and our common future. As we face climate disruption, ecosystem collapse and worsening poverty in an increasingly unequal world, we must nurture this human and earth community of reconciliation and hope. Thank you to the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative team for organising and marking this inspiring week.”
Day 3 - Monday February 3
The group traveled to Robben Island, the famous island prison home of the political leadership of the anti apartheid movement. The group was joined by local activists and received a tour from former prisoners who recounted their harrowing experiences and shared inspiring messages of forgiveness.
Day 4 - Tuesday February 4
The group received a tour of District Six Museum from Noor Ebrahim, who experienced forced removals first hand and shared a touching message of forgiveness. Next they traveled to Bo Kaap where they received a tour from historian and veteran Mohammad Groenewald of Auwal Mosque and Tana Baru – the first Muslim burial site officially acknowledged in 1804 after religious freedom was granted to Cape Muslims. The day ended at a local Muslim radio station, Voice of the Cape, where Dr. Shah and Dr. Clerk participated in a radio show hosted by Yazeed Kamaldien.
Day 5 - Wednesday February 5
The group visited St Mary’s Cathedral (The Church of Our Lady of the Flight into Egypt), where they received an address from His Grace Archbishop Stephen Brislin on the importance of including those who are often marginalized. They learned about the local history of Catholicism, originally banned in Cape Town, from Very Reverend Father Rohan Smuts. The group then took part in an Open Hearts Open Minds discussion, at the Dutch Reformed Church where apartheid Prime Ministers were inaugurated. The format was an “interfaith café” engagement on The Healing Power of Interfaith. The day ended with an interfaith concert hosted by the Progressive Jewish Community at Temple Israel Green Point and organised by the SA Cape Jewish Board of Deputies.
Day 6 - Thursday February 6
The group participated in morning devotion at a recently opened Ramakrishna Centre, then spent the day appreciating the land, visiting Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and Chapman’s Peak. The Brahma Kumaris community then hosted a dialogue, where Dr. Shah addressed the group on the Parliament’s role in creating harmony.
Day 7 - Friday, February 7
The group met with a gathering of grandmothers and grandfathers who call themselves “Yelders” in reference to their young minds despite old age, sharing stories and prayer with one another. Next on the schedule was a visit to Claremont Main Road Mosque, historical and previously controversial for serving a non-white community in the midst of a proclaimed “white” haven. Rev Berry presented a Friday sermon on World Interfaith Harmony Week and what it means to Cape Town. The week was wrapped up with Friday night Shabbat with the Progressive Jewish Community at Temple Israel Wynberg, including a joyful service, celebratory music, and a shared meal.
“I was very impressed by the participation of a cross-section of faith communities; Baha’i, Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic and Protestant Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Unitarian, Khoisan and African Tradition. For dignitaries such as the Deputy Mayor, the Vice Chairperson of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and others to join and feel the “often much ignored” soil of the Township, and equally enjoy the sun and fresh air from our Host from Above, was heart-warming to say the least. The conversations were indeed inspiring and filled me with hope of a much better future for all. Thank you for inviting me and allowing me to say a few words,” shared Ebrahim Mohamed, the President Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam.
If you’re interested in hosting your own World Interfaith Harmony Week event, and want to learn more about how you can get involved, you can learn more on our World Interfaith Harmony Week web page.