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July 8, 2009 > Interfaith festival celebrates religious diversity

Interfaith festival celebrates religious diversity

By Simon Wong

Diversity is one of Union City's strengths. Officially, it is one of the most diverse cities in the United States. The City's 50th Anniversary Celebrations (UC50) are the ideal opportunity to display the sense of community and tolerance that exists.

The faithful flocked to Charles F. Kennedy Park on Decoto Rd on June 27 to celebrate their own and each others' faiths at UC50's Interfaith Festival which took three years to organize. Some made the pilgrimage from Pinole and Campbell.

The day-long, ecumenical gathering saw clergy and congregations from 18 churches, gurdwaras, mosques and temples celebrate faith in many different ways. Buddhists, Catholics, Muslims, Pentecostals, Protestants and Sikhs showed respect for each other.

Opening invocations were delivered in Punjabi, Spanish, Japanese, Tongan, Thai, Tagalog, Tibetan Chinese and English.

Key note speakers from different churches and senior clerics from overseas and within the US addressed the crowds. Bishop Socho Koshin Ogui (Buddhist Churches of America), Master Samantha Chou (Purple Lotus Temple & Buddhist School), Father Jose Leon (Our Lady of the Rosary Church), Saint Dharam Singh Khalsa, U.S. Jathedar of Damdami Taksaal and Yasir Ali (Islamic Circle of North America) offered prayers and messages of hope and friendship.

Visitors enjoyed O Nami Taiko (Japanese drummers) from the Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church, Wat Buddhanusorn dancers from the Thai Buddhist Temple, dancers from the Purple Lotus Temple & Buddhist School and song and dance by Youth of St. Anne from St. Anne's Church.

Spirits were raised further by bands and choirs from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Brown Temple Church of God In Christ, New Covenant Evangelistic Christian Center, Victory Center A.M.E. Zion Church, Hillview Baptist Church, New Hope Baptist Church, Union City Apostolic Church and Campbell Community Church.

The colors, sounds, ceremonial, symbolism and languages of different denominations juxtaposed in one location gave food for thought.

"I'm not really a religious person," confided several visitors. "Nevertheless, I appreciate the message of co-operation, friendship and tolerance."

The event was both celebratory and educational. Belief, faith and devotion are personal and come in many guises. Booths were ranged around the edge of the park close to the amphitheatre offering information and literature about different religions and spiritual practices. People were on hand to answer questions. The onus was on the individual to explore further if they desired. Chair of the Interfaith Festival Committee Myrla Raymundo, Program Coordinator Larry Gissible, Master of Ceremonies Roy Panlilio, who is also one of the City's Planning Commissioners, and all the volunteers involved set the tone perfectly.

"The City has also helped to make this event possible. The Sikh community has generously provided food and refreshments which we weren't expecting," said UC50 Chair Helen Kennedy appreciatively.

Everyone gathered at the amphitheater for the finale - a rousing rendition of "America the Beautiful" which is often included in songbooks of a number of religious congregations in the US.

The song's refrain "America! America! God shed His Grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea' captures the Festival's and Union City's spirit. It was a fitting end to the day.

"Everyone involved in the past three years has made today a great success. Larry Gissible did a tremendous job on the program. The Interfaith Committee will continue to meet beyond the Festival and organize quarterly gatherings at each others' places of worship," concluded Myrla Raymundo.

Visit for more details about planned community events in 2009, volunteer opportunities, sponsorship and donations. Commemorative items are available online, at Paddy's Coffee Shop and at UC50 events.

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