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Annual North Hills Interfaith Gathering to celebrate different traditions

| Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Kalyani Vats is a Buddhist who attended a Christian school and married a Hindu.

“All faiths are the same,” said Vats, 51, of Gibsonia. “They all instruct us to be good human beings and to be helpful to one another.”

Representatives from nine religious groups will help lead the 17th annual North Hills Interfaith Gathering at 3 p.m. April 27 at St. John's Lutheran Church of Highland in McCandless. They will discuss how the spiritual life of children and youths is nurtured in the various faiths.

The event, sponsored by the North Hills Anti-Racism Coalition, is free and open to all.

“The purpose is to identify and celebrate different faith traditions and cultures in the North Hills. The goal is to celebrate our differences and realize our similarities,” said the coalition's president, Theresa Orlando, 75, of Shaler Township.

The two-hour program will include an initial gathering and three interactive breakout sessions in which attendees can hear presentations by people of different faiths and ask questions. The event will close with common prayers and songs.

Afterward, homemade ethnic treats — including pizzelles, Irish scones and more — will be available while guests meet and mingle.

Participants will represent these faiths: Baha'i; Buddhism; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons; Hinduism; Islam; Judaism; the Lutheran Church; The Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers; and Unitarian Universalism.

According to Vats, typical Buddhist values include respecting all forms of life, always telling the truth and never stealing.

“We believe certain things, and practicing these things every day is important,” she said.

Venerable Soorakkulame Pemaratana, chief monk at the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center in Harrison Township, said that in his religion, passing on values to children is important.

“The prime duty of parents, according to the teachings of the Buddha, is to inculcate good virtues in their children. This duty is given a higher place than giving them a good education,” he said. He and two other monks will co-lead the presentation on Buddhism.

Youths from The Religious Society of Friends of Pittsburgh, located in the city's Shadyside neighborhood, will show a video they created about Quaker ways of worship and about living a life of leadership, said Jim Morgan, 70, of the city's Squirrel Hill neighborhood and a member of the Pittsburgh Friends Meeting.

He described a typical Quaker worship experience.

“There is no general hymn singing or sermon,” he said. “People sit in silence for the first 15 to 20 minutes.”

They wait expectantly for the Holy Spirit to inspire.

“This period of personal reflection can lead to people wanting to stand up and speak about an issue from the Bible or something happening in the world right now. Their words may spark inspiration in others, who then may speak. We rely a great deal on coming together in a group and letting the spirit strike anyone,” he said.

Orlando and others in the North Hills Anti-Racism Coalition relish such differences and similarities in religion, tradition and culture and are eager to share them with others.

“We want to be unified. We want to dispel fear and misunderstanding. We want tolerance and acceptance. We want to recognize the goodness among us. We want oneness,” she said.

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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