It’s an annual event that has become a treasured tradition for many throughout the area. On Jan. 1, faith communities in Naperville will host the ninth annual World Peace Day Interfaith Prayer Service.
“It’s a highlight,” said event coordinator Tom Cordaro, director of justice and outreach ministry at St. Margaret Mary Parish of Naperville. “It’s an event that sets the tone for the year and is a real tribute to the local community.”
The event began in Naperville as an initiative of Pax Christi Illinois, the local chapter of the national Catholic peace organization. Pax Christi was inspired by Pope John Paul II, who in 1986 brought together interfaith world leaders for the first Day of Prayer for World Peace.
“Pax Christi Illinois decided to do something similar to that,” Cordaro said. “We started to reach out to other faith traditions to ask them to pray with us.”
As the local event evolved, Naperville Interfaith Leaders Association and One Naperville began to co-sponsor it.
“It’s a way of lifting up the idea of celebrating our religious diversity and seeing that it has strength in our community and gives vibrancy to our city and country,” Cordaro said. “We have a strong desire to really celebrate this.”
Growing every year, World Peace Day Interfaith Prayer Service includes people from more than two dozen houses of worship and religious organizations representing faith traditions that include Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Baha’i, Sikh, Buddhist and more.
“All of these different communities have come together for one purpose, to promote peace among our neighbors and around the world,” said Bernie Newman, a member of Congregation Beth Shalom and of the executive committee of NILA. “It is a terrific way right here in Naperville to start the new year by building bridges of understanding and committing to peaceful co-existence while making new friends in the process.”
An interfaith committee coordinates the service each year around a specified theme. This year it is “embracing differences in our changing community.”
“We ask for the faith communities to look at the theme and then reflect on it within their own tradition,” Cordaro said. “Every group does something different and can express through song, poetry, reading through sacred scriptures or reflection.”
After the service, attendees participate in a creative project.
“This year we have cut-outs of profiles of people,” Cordaro said. “Attendees will come up and paste a profile on a large dark background. The profiles are multi-colored, so it will look like a collage expressing the diversity and unity of the community.”
The event will conclude with a reception.
“We all share each other’s special foods,” Cordaro said. “The fellowship that happens after the event is as important and special as the service itself.”
He says creating relationships insulates the community from harm.
“Events like this serves as a way of immunizing ourselves against anyone who would come into our community and try to divide us,” Cordaro said. “We’ve consciously taken the time to build relationships of trust and collaboration.