November 25, 2002
-- Martin E. Marty
Sighting interfaith groups and movements nationally serves one kind of purpose. But just as "all politics is local" (and the local is the national/global), interfaith endeavors witnessed up close, in particular locales, are especially revealing.
While there are good reasons to support endeavors by people to cooperate and converse across the boundaries of religious communities, some of us develop a low threshold of boredom for those that confine themselves to joint worship, thinned-out theologizing, smiles, and similar expressions of good will. I'm in the yawning camp, so let me talk about an exception.
Louisville's Cathedral Heritage Foundation, with its annual "Festival of Faiths," stands out in the recall of my travels and probes. Since I've been a sometime consultant, speaker, awardee, and guest there, it's important to say "I have an interest." But this interest stems from my admiration of Louisville's model.
Most compelling to me is the way that the Cathedral Heritage people have created a paradigm in which the particular faiths do not lose their integrity while they learn from each other. Here's the deal: the Foundation has helped restore the Cathedral of the Assumption there, the oldest cathedral-in-continuous-use "west of the mountains," as East Coast folk would say. It was in danger of falling to the ground, as its parishioners dispersed. Now it is spectacularly restored, and a vital congregation worships there. When it is "Catholic space," it is very "Catholic space."
At the same time, the Foundation models an understanding of "public space." Weekly something or other goes on there for the public, at no cost. As few programs do, the Festival of Faiths involves the city's elites -- but also schoolchildren and a variety of publics. I've seen Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, and others not at all uneasy at this "Cathedral of the Assumption" -- doesn't exactly roll off the Protestant tongue -- being regarded hospitably, as peers, and made to feel at home.
Another feature: instead of celebrating celebration and being interfaithy about interfaith, the Heritage folks concentrate on a theme each year. This year it was how each faith regards "sacred texts." It has also dealt with multi-faith approaches to "the family" and similar substantive topics. It's no surprise then that one actually learns from these encounters.
If other cities match Louisville for enterprise, support, and achievement, I hope they are not made envious by my having selected this one. It would be good to have connections made among such city inventions, and even a bit of competition. I don't imagine Louisvilleans have had time to write a "here's how to do it" manual, but I'm sure www.cathedral-heritage.org is a good place to inquire and make contact. They can probably send stuff.