Three dynamic religious leaders talked with Canterbury students about exploring our differences and similarities during a recent virtual interfaith panel. The event, co-hosted by the Theology Department and Interfaith Council, was part of the School’s Social Justice Series.
Imam Gazmend Aga, Father Joseph Donnelly, and Rabbi Eric Polokoff—affectionately known as “The Three Amigos”—have led meaningful interfaith prayer and discussions across Connecticut.
The three speakers centered their discussion with Canterbury students on a theme—commonality. “To understand one’s own religious beliefs, one also needs to know about other systems and practices,” Rabbi Eric said. “In this way, we become familiar not just with our differences, but we are able to celebrate our commonality.”
Father Joe concurred. “Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have more in common than in how they differ. There are real commonalities and beliefs that they share,” he explained. “Religious faith communities have a significant and important role to play in our world. There is a reason people are drawn to one another as people of faith.”
He stressed how that is more important than ever in today’s world. “The example of how we live our life—the call to social justice, the call to peacemaking—is at the core of who we are as religious people,” he said. “It has become apparent, both with the culture in which we live and particularly in these years of pandemic, that we are called to exert a different kind of presence in the world.”
And that is a key goal of “The Three Amigos,” according to Iman Gazi. “Whenever we share our stories, we want to see more ‘three amigos’ in every place—three amigos in a school having different friends; three amigos sharing stories and being witness to how the more we know each other, the less prejudices we will have. We will see that as human beings, regardless of our race or our thoughts, we share a lot with everyone.”
Their sharing certainly touched the Canterbury students in attendance. “I was inspired by how each of them spoke from the outlook of their religion while also building off each other's points,” said Sarina Sheth ’22. “The conversation meant a lot to me because it demonstrated the importance of identifying where my own personal beliefs and values intersect with others. Finding that common ground and learning from diverse religious philosophies is critical in order for us all to come together and advance social justice; to be aware of, accept, and embrace each other’s differences.”
Veikko Eskelin ’23 felt the same way. “It was refreshing to see three great people, each a leader in their respective communities, uniting to fight back against the division that has plagued humanity for millennia,” he said. “These men truly understand what it means to have compassion, and for that, I have great respect for them.”