1st-7th February: UN Faith & Interharmony Week

On 20th October 2010, The World Interfaith Harmony Week was unanimously adopted by the UN after first being proposed at the UN General Assembly a month earlier by H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan. It was agreed that the first week of February would be observed as World Interfaith Harmony Week and be based on the pioneering work of The Common Word Initiative which started in 2007. The Two fundamental religious Commandments; Love of God, and Love of thy Neighbour are at the heart of the three Monotheistic religions and therefore provided the most solid theological ground for Muslim and Christian leaders to find common ground without compromising any of their own religious beliefs. This idea preys on the generosity and goodwill of mankind and is inclusive of those with other faiths and those with no faith at all.

The Virgin of Suyapa is a 6cm tall wooden statue of the Virgin Mary that lies in the suburb of Suyapa in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa and on Sunday 3rd February it is her Name Day, coincidently aligning with the UN Faith and Interharmony Week. The Virgin of Suyapa is the patron saint of Honduras and many thousands of Central Americans make the pilgrimage to see the statue each year to celebrate this day in 1747 when it was originally found. It is an extremely important religious image due to its believed miraculous powers and so there are processions of the statue all around Honduras in early February where people flock to see her. In the town of Marcala where we are currently residing there was a procession through the streets, followed by a service in the main church that Sunday morning and we decided to accompany our neighbour Doña Maria as a show of support to the community for their local beliefs and traditions.

Honduras is a predominantly Roman Catholic country due to its time under Spanish occupation and so the church service was not too dissimilar to one that could be experienced in Europe. At the beginning there was a remembrance of the people that had recently passed away, and children were blessed as the natives squeezed in the rudimentary church from several open doorways. Some patriotic blue and white material was on show inside, but the vibrant nature of the hymns, clothes and attitudes really created the atmosphere, with a highlight being embraced by some of the local women who recognised us from Women’s Day and blessed us. There was also a strong feeling of family and community as children laughed and grinned, adults wore bright, multi-coloured threads and some of the women handed out white lilies.

Faith and Interharmony Week is not about representing a certain religion or imposing the fundamental beliefs that become the pillars of each individual society, but standing shoulder to shoulder with each other as equals. As you may possibly expect, our group is a microcosm of contemporary Britain with a diverse range of religious beliefs, including Christian, Catholic, Sikh, Atheist and Agnostic. On top of this, Progressio was founded in 1940 by lay Catholics who were concerned by the silence of the Vatican during the rise of Fascism and hence its central views on empowerment, justice and independence stem from this. However, it has a policy of inclusion, hoping that people from all backgrounds can work together in the fight against poverty, and it is for that single reason why 12 volunteers from the UK stood side by side with the local community on February 3rd 2013. 


Progressio ICS volunteer James Martin reflects on The Virgin of Suyapa 

Photo chosen by Liv Ferrari and Lorena Cotza