Opening Music, Dato Jagadeesan, Rev. Dr. Susan Chamberlain

On April 2, 2017, Region * hosted an Interfaith Conference in Santa Ana, California, which was attended by more than 250 people. All the speakers both enlightened and inspired attendees with their profound understanding of their faiths, often highlighting common threads that run through all faiths and unified them.

Dato Jagadeesan from Malaysia and the leader of the Sathya Sai International Interfaith Subcommittee opened the conference with a soul-stirring sharing of his experiences with the Friendship Group for Inter-Religious Service (FGIS). The FGIS, an inter-faith service group in Malaysia collaborates with volunteers from various religious backgrounds to organize medical camps, sports days for handicapped children, song festivals, dramas and inter-faith choirs. The talk concluded with an inspiring video of FGIS‘s many service projects.

Rev. Dr. Susan Chamberlain, President of the Interfaith Council of Orange County, fascinated the audience with the perspective of Gnostic Christianity, a little-known denomination that emphasizes the direct and personal experience of the mystical and Divine. She traced the many common themes that thread through Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and expounded on the affirming message of Unity in all faiths: that the essence of God is in all creation and we experience that Oneness through loving service for all creation and the earth.

Venerable Sumitta Maha Thero, Acharya Mahadevan, Rabbi Arthur Perles

Venerable Sumitta Maha Thero, Founder - President of the University of the West Pali Society of Los Angeles, emphasized the Buddhist teaching of embracing all of society as one’s own. He then led the audience in a beautiful loving kindness meditation session in which audience were unified in sending positive intentions for the wellness, happiness and health of all beings, seen and unseen.

Acharya Mahadevan, Secretary of the Chinmaya Mission of Southern California, explained that Hinduism is in essence a way of life that focuses on the body, mind, and intellect (BMI) as a vehicle to realize our true inherent Divine self: the formless pure consciousness, from wherein all love and compassion emanates. He expounded on the Hindu core philosophical message that Moksha (liberation from physical bondage) could be attained through selfless acts of loving service, with no yearning for the fruits of the action.

Rabbi Arthur Perles, Doctor of Divinity in Jewish Studies and a member of the Seminary of Biblical Studies in Corona, spoke on how to connect the Christian Gospel with its Jewish roots. Reading from the Torah, the Rabbi spoke of forgiveness as a path of restoration for a world that it is out of alignment with God. He stressed that Love of Elohim (God) transforms everyone and this unifying principle of Love seeks the highest good for all.

Imam Malik Tariq Mahmood, Mobed Zarrir Bhandra, Rev. Laura Lofaoia Ava Tesimale

Imam Malik Tariq Mahmood, from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community began with an Arabic blessing for all. The Iman reminded the audience that the word Islam means “peace and complete submission to God”. He stressed the true message of the Muslim faith, which calls for self- purification and serving humanity. Quoting from the holy book of Quoran, the Iman highlighted the message of selfless service that Islam shares with all faiths-  that true believers of Islam are those who sacrifice for the needy without seeking reward, and honor and help humankind without distinction of religion, race or color.

Mobed Zarrir Bhandra, senior priest from the Zoroastrian Association of California, engaged the audience by inviting all present to open their hearts to God’s message of love and recognize God’s presence by as simple gesture of holding hands and repeating the words ‘your religion is great and so is mine.’ Zoroastrians believe all religions lead to the same God and that each person has a unique path.  He stressed that the path to abundance, peace, and harmony among all was through good thoughts, words, and deeds, in short, loving service to all.  

On behalf of Indigenous faiths, Rev. Laura Lofaoia Ava Tesimale, founder of One Global Family Foundation and the Council of Interfaith & Indigenous Women-Youth, inspired all with the story of how her own painful experience of homelessness and domestic violence served as a powerful impetus to dedicate her life to serve the poor and disenfranchised. Inspired to make a difference, the Reverend created the One Global Family Foundation which has partnered with many other agencies to provide aid and most of all, hope to the most impoverished communities, serving many youths and women. She ended her talk reminding us that Love was the essence of everything, reiterating that “Love is the source, the path, and the goal.”

It was a day that fed the soul and inspired all to embrace the Unity of Faith in a meaningful way through promoting a genuine understanding of the common themes that ground all these various faith: Love and Service. Dato Jagadeesan concluded the event with an inspirational call to transform tears of sorrow to tears of joy, and led everyone in a beautiful song inspired by the words of Jesus, “Love One Another as I Love you.” The day ended with a reception during which members of the audience had the wonderful opportunity to inter-mingle with the day’s speakers and reflect on the day’s events and the expansion of their own spiritual understanding.