Bringing a message of respect for religious tradition and a call for a new youth movement for the 21st century, Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, drew an enthusiastic standing-room-only crowd to Saint Mary's Soda Center Tuesday evening.
Patel was impressed by the turnout of approximately 600 attendees, remarking "One of the things that I love about this College is that you take this seriously. You take this notion of religion and diversity seriously."
A recent appointee to the White House Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Patel spoke to the overflow crowd of Saint Mary's students, faculty, staff and community members about the need for an interfaith youth movement in this century.
Devotion to a religious tradition and spiritual calling is no barrier to an appreciation for religious diversity and pluralism, Patel said, citing the example of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose deep Christian faith and call to social justice was profoundly inspired by the Hindu faith and non-violent protest movement of India's Mahatma Gandhi.
"The more Catholic you are, the more Muslim I am and the deeper a relationship we have," Patel said. "Think about this with King. The more King learned about Gandhi, he didn't become less of a Christian. He became more of a Christian."
Patel's message of religious pluralism, which came during the College's yearlong interfaith initiative, was embraced by Saint Mary's students and members of the surrounding community.
"I really enjoyed what he had to say. It was really powerful," said sophomore Ryan Pascual.
Audience member Hapreet Sanhu, a member of the Sikh community of El Sobrante, was delighted to hear the Muslim activist's speech at a Catholic college. "It's important to see young people reaching across religious lines because older people are not readily going to do that. It's the younger generation that's more open to change."
Barbara McGraw, director of SMC's Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism, said the large turnout indicates SMC community members and residents from around the area are very interested in religious diversity, cultural inclusion and the interfaith youth movement.
"This represents an opportunity for Saint Mary's to partner with people all over this area and the nation," she said.
Patel and other members of the Interfaith Youth Core facilitated leadership workshops on campus Wednesday, Sept. 16 during Community Time. Student interfaith leadership workshops took place in Claeys Lounge in the Soda Center, while workshops for faculty and staff were held in Delphine Lounge.
Patel's visit to Saint Mary's College was sponsored by the College Committee on Inclusive Excellence, The Disney Forum, Office of Mission,
Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism, Mission and Ministry Center, Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action and the Theology & Religious Studies Department.
-- Michael McAlpin
-- Office of College Communications
Photograph by Gorbachev Lingad '10