Celebrating dialogue in Guyana
Scarboro missioners celebrate with Hindus and Muslims
By Kate O'Donnell
As a Christian living in Guyana, I have had wonderful opportunities to celebrate with our Hindu and Muslim brothers and sisters. Christians comprise 57 percent of the population of Guyana; Hindus comprise 33 percent; and Muslims comprise nine percent.
In its openness to include all religions, Guyana officially celebrates Christian, Hindu and Muslim holidays. For me, these celebrations have been a joy as well as an education.
Scarboro missioners Estrela De Souza (L) and Kate O'Donnell with a Guyanese friend enjoying "seven curry" served on a Lotus leaf at a 50th wedding anniversary for Hindu friends. New Amsterdam, Guyana.
The Hindu religion celebrates many holy days that rejoice in the victory of good over evil. Diwali was the first Hindu festival I experienced. A joyful festival of lights, Diwali is celebrated in October or November. That first celebration proved to be the first of many experiences of wonderful hospitality that has fed my spirit and my body.
"Seven curry", a popular dish at Diwali and other Hindu celebrations, is served on a Lotus leaf and eaten with the fingers. It is certainly "finger-licking good"; in fact, it is scrumptious.
Phagwah is another celebration of good over evil. It is a spring festival that takes place in March or April. During this festival, we joyfully throw coloured water and sweet perfumes on one another to match the scenic beauty, colour and fragrances of the season.
At these Hindu festivals, I have been accepted and made to feel most welcome. During these gatherings, the Pandit (Hindu clergy) willingly explains to me in English what is happening. The Hindu services are joy-filled, prayerful and very musical. Chanting with the members of the congregation brings me peace and contentment.
Islam also figures prominently in my life. A Muslim couple, Sheila and George, rent me an apartment in their home. They have always made me feel very welcome and a part of their family, inviting me to celebrate with them their special holydays, including Eid al-Fitr, a joyous three-day celebration at the end of Ramadan, the annual month of fasting. I have invited George and Sheila to break their fast in my apartment and their prayers have touched me deeply.
Scarboro missioner Kate O'Donnell and friends in the community take part in the springtime Hindu festival of Phagwah. People joyfully throw coloured water and sweet perfumes on one another ot match the scenic beauty, colour and fragrances of the season.
They also invited me to their nephew's wedding; a Muslim wedding was a new and interesting experience for me. Sheila and George are always happy to join me in celebrating my Christian holidays such as Easter and Christmas. I have attended some services at the mosque and have always been warmly welcomed.
Whenever there is a public event or function in Guyana, prayers are offered by representatives from each of the three religions. Here I am speaking of events such as a Rotary dinner, the celebration of Town Day, or a candlelight memorial service for those who have died of AIDS. Tensions exist among the various ethnic groups in Guyana, but there is harmony among the religions.
Election time in Guyana is usually a period of social unrest that leads to fights and many killings. But last year, for the first time since Guyana's independence in 1966, the election period was very peaceful. I believe that this came about as a result of a Peace Rally that was held at the Botanical Gardens in the capital city, Georgetown. Held a few months before the elections, the Peace Rally was attended by representatives from all the political parties. Representatives of the three religions offered prayers for peace. Coming together like this is surely what will bring peace to our world.
My time in Guyana has truly been a time of great blessing and I am thankful for the opportunity to experience God in such diverse ways.
The Peace of Jesus Be With You!
As-salaam Alaikum! (Muslim peace greeting)
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti! (Hindu peace greeting)
Scarboro missioner Kate O'Donnell has been serving in Guyana since 2004. Kate lives in New Amsterdam and is involved in prison and hospital ministries, including the psychiatric hospital. As well, Kate is connected with many children in orphanages and in the neighbourhood where she lives.