Map of Ukraine lit by candles Map of Ukraine lit by candles  (ANSA)

Ukraine interfaith pilgrimage: A mission of teaching and inspiration

The Founder and Director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute, Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein reflects on an interreligious pilgrimage of solidarity for Ukraine organized by his institute.

By Lydia O’Kane

An interfaith pilgrimage that saw an international delegation of religious leaders travel to Poland, Romania, and Ukraine to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people concluded on Tuesday with a message from Pope Francis.

The week-long pilgrimage was organized by the Jerusalem-based Elijah Interfaith Institute in partnership with the Non-Profit Organisation, The Peace Department.

“It took some time to fall into place," said the Institute’s founder and director Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, explaining how the initiative came about.

He recalled he was about to send a joint letter to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow about the role of religion being used for peace when his partner organization for the pilgrimage said to him, “What is the big deal sitting in Jerusalem issuing a letter, you go to Ukraine, be with the people.”

Mission of teaching and inspiration

From that point on, the director embarked on the road, as he put it, “of practicing friendship across religions as an expression of solidarity to the people of humanity,” and bringing religious leaders collectively to affirm friendship to a people in distress.

He went on to say that while he was talking with the Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Canterbury Rowan Williams, he was inspired to have the interfaith delegation go to Ukraine on a “mission of teaching and inspiration.”

Listen to the interview

Supporting the spirit

This pilgrimage saw religious leaders of different faiths promoting the themes of care, of comforting, hope and friendship. “So many aid organisations are supporting on the ground, we tried to support the spirit," said Rabbi Goshen-Gottstein.

A voice to humanity

Noting that this was the first time ever that an interfaith delegation has embarked on a mission of friendship, fraternity and solidarity, entering a country at war, he explained that there was a two-dimensional significance to this.

Firstly, Dr Goshen-Gottstein said, one dimension was to affirm fraternity across divides. Secondly, he added, in bringing religious leaders together, what you’re saying is that religion and all religions are sources of wisdom, solace, direction, “and when we get them all together we can say something to humanity.”

“So if religion, until now, is seen as the problem or something neutral, we come together and say no, we as religious leaders of different religions have something to give to the world.”

Pope's message

In a message to the pilgrimage delegation, Pope Francis said that the conflict in Ukraine “troubles our consciences and obliges us not to keep silent, not to remain indifferent before the violence of Cain and the cry of Abel, but instead to speak out forcefully in order to demand, in the name of God, the end of these abominable actions.”

Reflecting on the Pope’s words, the Elijah Interfaith Institute director said the line that struck him the most was the reference to Cain and Abel, saying that what the Pope did was to contextualize the present conflict “in a much more fundamental, theological, and existential framework.”

13 April 2022, 15:35