Louisville's Festival of Faiths

Today we come to the end of our series on Tibetan Buddhism in the Midwest. As I said earlier, His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 19-21 for a festival on Engaging Compassion. Tickets for his public talk on May 19 are already sold out but there are still places left for his public teachings on May 20. See www.dalailamalouisville.org for details.

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But that’s not the only reason to go to Louisville in May. During the week prior to the visit of the Dalai Lama, the city of Louisville will hold its annual Festival of Faiths. This celebration of religious diversity is in its 18th year and is normally held in November, but it’s been moved to coincide with the Dalai Lama’s visit. I’ll be there and hope you might consider a trip as well.

The Festival of Faiths began in 1985 when Louisville’s historic Cathedral of the Assumption needed repair and a community-wide campaign was launched to raise funds for the work. Those who were involved decided to continue their interfaith efforts even after the cathedral was restored, recognizing the benefits to their city of encouraging dialogue between religious groups.

(photo courtesy of Festival of Faiths)
(photo courtesy of Festival of Faiths)

It’s really quite amazing how the Festival of Faiths has grown to become an internationally recognized event that attracts thousands of people. Its goal is to foster interfaith understanding and cooperation, which it does through addresses by visiting speakers, prayer and meditation services, panel discussions, music, art and films. In 1998, it was even commended by the U.S. Senate for its efforts to foster religious tolerance and understanding. Through the years it’s received many requests for information from people around the world who are interested in exploring how the Festival of Faiths model might be developed in their own communities.

This year’s theme is “Sacred Silence: Pathway to Compassion.” The festival includes a mini-retreat on Tibetan Buddhism, presentations on how compassion is defined in Eastern and Western spiritual traditions, a session on compassionate governing led by Louisville major Greg Fischer, and an impressive list of guest speakers that include:

  • Matthieu Ricard, molecular biologist turned Buddhist monk, author and photographer
  • Fr. Richard Rohr, globally recognized ecumenical teacher and author
  • Seyyed Hossein Nasr, one of the world’s leading experts on Islamic science and spirituality
  • Siddheshvari Devi Ji (Didi Ji), founder of Radha Madhav Society
  • Swami Atmarupananda, renowned teacher of Hinduism
  • Arjia Rinpoche, director of the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana
  • Rabbi Arthur Green, scholar of Jewish mysticism and

    Neo-Hasidism and professor in the non-denominational

    rabbinical program at Hebrew College in Boston

Fittingly, this year’s festival derives great inspiration from the 1968 meeting between the Dalai Lama and Thomas Merton. The meeting, which took place when Merton traveled to India, brought together the leading representatives of Eastern and Western contemplative spirituality. The Dalai Lama has said that Thomas Merton was one of the three most influential people in his life (Merton, alas, died just a few weeks after their meeting, but it’s clear that the Dalai Lama also made a deep impression on him). Since that historic meeting, both traditions have benefited from each other in countless ways. This year’s festival will deepen those connections even further.

Interfaith dialogue is often held up as an ideal, but it rarely happens at a deep level. I greatly admire the efforts of Louisville to build bridges and increase understanding between religions. The Festival of Faiths is truly a model of how interfaith dialogue can be done. I think Thomas Merton would be pleased to see what has grown from the friendship he struck up with a young monk from Tibet all those years ago.

The Actors Theater of Louisville and the Galt House Hotel are the venues for the 2013 Festival of Faiths, which will be held May 14-19, 2013 in Louisville. For details, see Festival of Faiths.


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  • Mississippi Pilgrim

    Enjoy! I know you will. I anticipate reading about your experience and thank you for these recent posts.

  • Darcy

    Louisville is really an fine example of people of faith coming together. I am just imagining the first person brave enough to stand up and say – I think we should use OUR resources to restore the cathedral. Were others thinking the same and not speaking up? Did the folks from the cathedral come asking with no expectations?

    I’m struck by this because of how difficult it can be to get anything done by committee!

    This sounds like an incredibly rich conference, and I’m so lucky that you will be in attendance to report back to the rest of us. I have to admit though, I had already looked into tickets to see the Dalai Lama and found they were sold out.

  • Douglas

    Thanks to your heads-up information, I’m taking my three sons with me for the Dalai Lama’s May 20th day of teaching. Since 2 of them are based in Bloomington, Indiana, and all three born and raised there (and elsewhere), we’ll be visiting the Tibetan Center in B-town as well. Finally, we plan to attend some of the Festival of Faiths conference, and gather in some of the attractions surrounding Louisville, including a trip to Merton’s Abbey of Gethsemani. Their upbringing was as spiritually eclectic as possible, and all three have chosen the Catholic faith as their spiritual path, while that was the beginning of mine. Lots of life and prayer circles will be intersecting as my sister-in-law, who went to school in Louisville while living near the Actors Theater, and my brother will be joining us from Maryland. None of this would be happening had we not heard about it from you, so thank you again for spreading the word!

    • lori

      How wonderful, Doug! I’m so pleased you let me know this. It pleases me greatly to hear I helped plant the seed for this trip.

      Lori Erickson

  • http://www.festivaloffaiths.org Chris Wooton

    On behalf of the Festival of Faiths, many thanks to you for including information about our Festival on your website. We hope that you and your subscribers can make it to Louisville May 14-19 for what should be our best Festival of Faiths ever.

    A couple of quick program notes:

    1.) Tickets for the May 2013 Festival of Faiths will go on sale in early March. Details will be available at http://www.festivaloffaiths.org. Send an email to chris@interfaithrelations.org to receive Festival updates.

    2.) In addition to our Festival of Faiths in May 2013, we also plan to host another Festival of Faiths at its usual time in November 2013. Dates and details for the November 2013 Festival of Faiths are to be determined. Again, watch our website for more information.

    Thanks again!

    -Chris Wooton

    Director of Communications

    Festival of Faiths