When it comes to learning, there is nothing like experience.
“I have a religious education degree from the U of R and I learned much more in an hour with the people at the Hindu temple or at the mosque than I remember learning in some of my classes in a whole semester,” said Teresa Hartman, one of the teacher chaperones who took 31 Sacred Heart High School students on a tour of non-Christian holy places in Regina May 6. The trip included visits to a Hindu temple, a Buddhist temple, a Jewish Synagogue and the Roman Catholic cathedral.
The world religions tour was the brainchild of Steven Boucher, who teaches French and world religions at Sacred Heart. He explained he had two reasons for wanting to do the trip.
“The first is that we sometimes think that religion isn’t attached to culture and it is because, if this is something that you believe, it’s part of who you are and I think that in the Catholic schools we don’t want you to have to hold that at the door,“ he said. “We embrace everyone that comes through our school.
“I think the second thing is, we spoke about tolerance and this is why I love teaching world religions is because you have to have a foundation somewhere and the first foundation, the first step has to be at a level of tolerance, and so the best way to have that level is to experience other religions. Rather than just learn about them, experience them, go visit them, see what they’re about, see their practices, see what they’re engaged in and see why people are part of that religion. From our own Catholic perspective, how can we have an ecumenical dialogue if we don’t know where people come from?”
Aaron Fulawka, one of the Grade 12 students on the trip said he got a lot out of it.
“I had a very positive impression,” he said. “It was a good opportunity to get to know people I didn’t really talk to in the past four years and just get out of that comfort zone and push the boundaries of acceptance and why we judge people the way we do and kind of break those boundaries down for ourselves.”
Fulawka is a world religions buff who does a lot of reading on spirituality and philosophy. Although he is “not exactly pro-religion,” he said he gained a degree of tolerance, if not acceptance, from the experience. And despite his reading, there were some surprises.
“I learned quite a bit actually, just in regards to some of their teachings, some of their critical teachings like regarding their gods, the principles of their gods, their core beliefs, like in Judaism, how they don’t really believe in a hell, only really a heaven,” he said. “It was a big surprise and, I guess, a welcome one.”
Cassandra Nerbas knew very little about eastern religions before the trip.
“There were a few similarities that I didn’t realize that there were until I went on the trip,” she said adding, as an example, the common belief in an afterlife. She was particularly taken with the Buddhist concept of reincarnation recognizing, that while quite different than the Catholic belief in going to Heaven, there is also a similarity in that both represent a form of rebirth.
Nerbas also gained a greater understanding of others.
“I think there was a tolerance in the sense that people believe some things we don’t and acceptance that it’s okay,” she said.
Hartman summed up the trip philosophically.
“The one thing that I took away from that day was the similarity that, and the belief that, other religions are accepting,” she said. “The people from the Hindu temple said, it doesn’t matter if we call our god God or Buddha or Allah or Krishna or Vishnu or whoever, we all pray to a god, It’s a different language, but it’s a similar belief. Every place we went to said that their basic underlying belief is good thoughts leads to good action and every one of the world religions has that, the idea of kind of a golden rule. It was just really comforting because so much of our differences in the world are based on religious differences and trying to get power based on religion and I think ultimately most religions are peaceful. They’re peaceful, they’re loving, they’re accepting, they’re open and I’m just very, very thankful that Mr. Boucher planned this day.”
She hopes it will become an annual event.