Heinz Chapel holds MLK Interfaith Service

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Heinz Chapel holds MLK Interfaith Service

Tuesday evening’s Martin Luther King Interfaith Service was attended by about 100 students and community members.

Tuesday evening’s Martin Luther King Interfaith Service was attended by about 100 students and community members.

Caela Go | Staff Photographer

Tuesday evening’s Martin Luther King Interfaith Service was attended by about 100 students and community members.

Caela Go | Staff Photographer

Caela Go | Staff Photographer

Tuesday evening’s Martin Luther King Interfaith Service was attended by about 100 students and community members.

By Rebecca Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

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At Heinz Memorial Chapel Tuesday evening, worshippers of different faiths sat in the same pews and celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Service was attended by about 100 people. The event, hosted by the Office of Cross Cultural and Leadership Development, the Office of Interfaith Dialogue and Engagement and the University Association of Chaplaincies, was a commemoration of King’s racial justice advocacy as well as a celebration of all religions through poetry and music.

Emiola Jay Oriola, the program manager and founder of the OID, said the theme of the event, “Common Ground, Common Good,” was inspired by King’s desire to reach out to people of different religions and backgrounds. King was famous for working with leaders of various faiths, including Mahatma Gandhi. King adopted many of Gandhi’s nonviolent tactics into the civil rights movement in the United States.

“King patterned many of his strategies of the civil rights movement from boycotts to marches to readily accepting jail time after Gandhi’s leadership in India,” Oriola said. “King was unequivocally in his Christian commitment, but at the same time he viewed the powerful commonality across all faiths.”

A large portion of the service featured various religious performances. One of these groups, Some of God’s Children’s Gospel Choir, performed two a capella songs, “Better is One Day” and “Adoration.” Mikala Aleksandruk, a junior health services major and member of the choir, said these songs were a way for the group to promote understanding among religions.

“Both of these songs were to adore who God is and the God we serve,” Aleksandruk said. “[This service] is really important for Martin Luther King and the interfaith effort because everyone should be able to freely express and worship the God they serve.”

Another group that performed was Hillelujah, a Jewish a capella group based out of Hillel JUC that includes members from Chatham University, Carnegie Mellon University and Pitt. Hillelujah performed two a capella pieces, including one in Hebrew titled “Yachad.” Zachary Sussman, a senior at CMU and member of the group, said honoring Martin Luther King Jr. is important for Jewish people.

“We think it’s really important to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. because some of his values reflect so strongly with Jewish values,” Sussman said. “Yachad in Hebrew literally means together.”

Aleksandruk said while she was impressed by all the performance groups, Hillelujah stood out to her because of their passion.

“I think the Hillelujah a capella group was so beautiful,” Aleksandruk said. “The passion they had and how friendly they were, you could see just by watching them.”

The presentations extended beyond singing, though. Craig Hayes, a sophomore English writing and poetry major who serves on the student advisory board for the Office of Interfaith Dialogue and Engagement delivered a poem he wrote himself called “Love is the Weapon.” The poem focused on King’s difficult decision to fight for civil rights.

“Were your footsteps unstoppable in the efforts to stop the wasting of blood? Did you ever ask yourself, ‘Would I be enough to stop the suffering of bodies?’” Hayes said. “I bet the word echoes, reverberates through these vast hallways. I bet it was for love.”

Two dance groups on campus, Hearts Ablaze Dance Ministry and Pitt Sangeet, also performed. Hearts Ablaze and Sangeet dance to Christian and Indian classical music, respectively.

During the service, Oriola also presented the Martin Luther King Jr. Creating Community Common Ground Award to two students — Khushana Chaudhri, a senior media and professional communications major, and Lia Solomon, a senior urban studies, politics and philosophy and nonprofit management major — who he believed promoted interfaith dialogue on campus. Both are also members of the student interfaith advisory board.

Chaudhri, who is also the president of the Muslim Student Association, said part of her advocacy work is creating awareness among religions. Last semester MSA participated in Boxes and Walls, a simulation designed to depict what marginalized groups undergo daily. 

“For MSA we tried to depict how Muslims are racially profiled during TSA airport security checks,” Chaudhri said. “We plan to do more interfaith collaboration to connect to other people and learn more about their worldviews and way of life.”

Solomon said this connection among religions is a necessity for a just future.

“We cannot comfort each other in times of sorrow, support each other’s political needs or celebrate each other in time of joy if we do not see, know, appreciate and love one another,” Soloman said. “We have to learn to stand together because we need each other in the fight for change and justice.”

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