The heavy rain during Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013 was seen as a blessing. The blessing which fell on the peace vigil organised by the Ahl Al Bait Society Scotland and Focolare Movement Scotland on Tuesday 12th September in Glasgow was certainly abundant: the rain was torrential. The event was held in George Square, at the heart of the city and was open to people of all faith communities and beliefs, with the aim to stand in solidarity with all those who are suffering in the world and to give witness that the way of peace is possible.
Archbishop Emeritus Mario Conti, Chair of the Bishops’ Conference’s Committee for Interreligious Dialogue, remarked that “people voted with their feet” by being present and resiliently facing such ‘dreich’ conditions. He added: “the rain made us work harder”, and made the vigil “memorable”. Many of those present commented on the positive effect of the rain, which “brought people closer”. “It was also the chance – as one participant commented – to really think of all those suffering in all kinds of weather and extreme situations”.
The Lord Provost of Glasgow City Council, Eva Bolander, warmly welcomed everyone. Her words and her presence expressed the priority of working with people of all faith communities and of different ethnic groups. The Lord Provost’s message: “We stand together for peace, for unity, for humanity.”
We were grateful to receive this message from the Reverend Graham Blount which was read out to all: “Glasgow Presbytery of the Church of Scotland warmly welcomes the witness of faith communities coming together in a peace vigil for hope, as an important way in which we respond – positively and together – to the forces that spread division and fear. While unable at short notice to send a representative (as we are meeting as a Presbytery tonight), our thoughts and prayers are with you.”
Addressing the sea of faces emerging from under umbrellas and brightly coloured hoods, and having to shout above the noise of the rain pelting down on a fragile gazebo, Daniel Scullion, a law student and part of Focolare, expressed us all: “I’m from Glasgow, and I believe this city understands the value of solidarity and unity. The city thrives on multiculturalism and integration; we are all lifted up by our diverse community, of which we are each a key component. Human beings are helped in the day-to-day struggles of our lives when we stand together and support one another – all the more so when we see ourselves and our shared values in those who at first glance may appear different to ourselves. This gathering of different faiths and cultures is a testament to how unity works in spite of diversity; and indeed, how diversity strengthens us, when we each remember to greet all of our brothers and sisters with open arms, and with a smile. Each of us can go forth and instigate this change, despite the apparently hostile world around us; each of us a messenger of hope and peace.”
As part of the vigil sixteen thoughts on peace, from the Muslim and Christian traditions, were held up on large sheets of paper and read out. One of them was St Teresa of Kolkata’s “Peace starts with a smile”. Others from the Prophet Muhammad were: “The best thing one can do in the world is to keep peace and spread it” and “Be bearers of good news and courage, and do not be bearers of discourage”. Chiara Lubich’s phrase “Let us love other countries as we love our own” and St Mary MacKillop’s insight that “Forgiveness is love” reinforced the invitation to keep our hearts wide open.
The relationship between Ahl Al Bait Society Scotland and the Focolare has grown over the last year; the esteem we have for each other and the joy we experience in being together and in discovering all the values we share, was the motivation for ‘going out’ to give witness to dialogue and unity in a more public way.
Representing the Muslim Council of Scotland, Dr Mohamad Edrees, referred to other wars, particularly in the Middle East. He encouraged events like the vigil, believing that public opinion can influence politicians to take more steps towards peace. Fariyah Thomas, also representing the Muslim Council of Scotland, was one of our readers, whilst on behalf of the Ahl Al Bait Society, Sheikh Rehan Ahmad helped us all to see the greater significance of our being there together, as the water ran down our necks and flooded into our shoes.
Continuing in our battle against the rain, small labels were passed round on which people were invited to write their own message for peace, for then hanging on a colourful tree, lent by Interfaith Glasgow for the occasion. The Director of Interfaith Scotland, Dr Maureen Sier, was present, as was Sr Isabel Smyth SND, Secretary to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference’s Committee for Interreligious Dialogue. Sr Isabel also congratulated everyone for simply being there and shared a writing produced by members of different faith groups, confessing that we can be prisoners of prejudice, “bound by the chains of yesterday’s wrongs and tomorrow’s fears” and asking to be “set free from our fear of one another, free to celebrate our beliefs and our liberty as one universal family.”
More than tolerance, it is fraternity that we are called to foster. Moreover, peace begins with us, in our communities and in our relationships. These were the messages which many brought home, symbolised by the white roses which were given out as people left. Practical tools were also offered. For example, reference was made to Richard Rohr’s powerful image of “holding” our own pain, “as in a bowl of water” and being able to contain it and transform it, instead of drenching others with it. (Given the sheets of water falling from the top of the gazebo, the analogy was especially effective!) In this way the path of forgiveness is open, and we can be bearers of peace instead of sowers of hate and disunity.
In concluding the vigil, Archbishop Conti pointed to the words overlooking George Square ‘People make Glasgow’ and reminded us to count on one another as we seek to be bearers of peace. One of water-stained messages on Interfaith Glasgow’s tree, reads: “No one can take away this joy from us”, the joy of recognising each other as brothers and sisters of the one human family.
What people said after the vigil
“It was great to see people standing up for peace and to listen to what they had to say.”
“Thank you for inviting me to such a worthwhile event! It was great to play my small part and there were times when I was so wrapped up in what the speakers were saying (especially the representative of the Muslim Council of Scotland) that I was able to forget about the miserable weather!”
“I had a lovely time and it definitely was a special moment.”
“People loved it. Thought the quotes were great, the roses and tree were fantastic, very interactive.”
“I know we have worked for this with honesty and from our hearts. We worked as a team, and it was a great success. May Allah protect us all.”
“What love to have been given ponchos [offered to give protection from the rain] – so appreciated.”