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Multi-faith commitment to peace

by Clive Phillips

This year the annual multi-faith pilgrimage visited the East End of London, an area that has welcomed thousands of migrants and refugees of different faiths from France, Ireland, Russia, the Caribbean, Bangladesh and other parts of the world. The walk was a wonderful opportunity to share our faiths in a common commitment to peace and friendship.

We gathered among the trees in Altab Ali Park and remembered those who, like Altab Ali, have been the victims of racist attacks. We paused here for a moment at the Shaheed Minar to pray for peace and harmony worldwide and particularly in Tower Hamlets, in our neighbourhoods and communities among people of different faiths, cultures and convictions.

As we made our way along Whitechapel Road, passing the famed church bell foundry, we were warmly welcomed at the East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre, which are supplemented by the Maryam Centre that offers dedicated services for women, and a former synagogue now used by the National Zakat Foundation. We learned more about what Maryam (Mary), the Mother of Jesus, means for Muslims.

Our next visit was to the nearby East London Central Synagogue, the last functioning synagogue in Tower Hamlets. We took our seats in the gallery observing the small congregation below as they prayed and read in a limited form of the Shabbat service, and afterwards were heartily welcomed to join in the Kiddush.

In the 19th century there was a large German-speaking community in the East End. Based on the original German chaplaincy, the present church of St Boniface was consecrated in 1960. Fr Andreas Blum explained how Wynfrid (Boniface) brought the Christian faith to what is now Germany. After prayer, we were invited into the nearby refectory for a most enjoyable lunch very kindly provided, as in previous years, by Sachkhand Nanak Dham Sikhs who serve humanity selflessly.

Much refreshed, we continued to the Royal London Hospital, which has served the East End since the 18th century. Further along the Mile End Road with its busy market, half of us entered an oasis of calm as we were led in a prayer for peace in the domed chapel of St Benet’s Chaplaincy at Queen Mary University, while the rest of the group paid a visit to Guardian Angels Church nearby.

Our next visit was to the Mandir of Hindu Pragati Sangha, just off Mile End Road, a building that was founded as a permanent place of worship for the community.

The final stop was at the Gurdwara Sikh Sangat in Harley Grove, opened in 1977, where we learned about the principles and practice of the Sikh faith. Our fond farewells to each other were spoken over enjoyable refreshments.

Despite tired feet, it was a memorable day of walking, praying, sharing, understanding and learning together as a strong witness of multi-faith commitment to peace.