New York, N.Y.– The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) was among a handful of religious organizations officially sponsoring the 9/11 Unity Walk, a gathering to commemorate the victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks and promote interfaith solidarity and peace-building. The event, now in its fourth year, takes place simultaneously in Washington D.C. and New York. More than five hundred participants representing a wide array of faith traditions took part in the ceremonial walks, interfaith prayer services, and community feast, held on Sunday, September 15 this year.
The New York City program began at 4:30pm with a kirtan group from ISKCON setting a meditative mood as participants gathered together at Battery Park’s 9/11 Memorial. Krishna devotees chanted mantras, accompanied by harmonium, cymbals, and traditional Bengali drum beats.
The kirtan was followed by an opening interfaith ceremony, and then participants were led on a somber hour-long walk from Battery Park to the World Trade Center site – now infamously known as Ground Zero. Carrying a banner bearing a message of religious unity, the interfaith delegation stopped briefly where the Twin Towers had once stood and offered silent prayers while laying down flowers. The walk continued on to nearby St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church where participants gathered to share reflections.
The interfaith ceremony began with the recitation of Sikh hymns by Raminder Kaur, and featured speakers from Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions.
ISKCON spokesperson Venkata Bhatta Dasa (Vineet Chander) offered prayers and reflections from the Vaishnava tradition. Reciting a well-known verse from the Sri Isopanisad, Venkata spoke of the need for people of faith to recognize one another as brothers and sisters under a common parent, while still acknowledging or even celebrating differences.
“Our unity lies not in ignoring our differences, or in merging into some impersonal shallow sense of oneness,” he said. “Our unity lies in celebrating our differences, engaging those differences, and coming together to serve the Divine at a common table.”
Prominent members of the Hindu community also participated in the events. Arun Gandhi delivered a reflection from the Hindu faith in Washington, D.C. In New York, Preeta D. Bansal, Commissioner and Past Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and former Solicitor General of the State of New York,
The New York event concluded with the Muslim participants who had been fasting for Ramadan breaking fast, and the entire group feasting together. The shared meal, which was entirely vegetarian to respect for all participants’ dietary observances, was provided by ISKCON, the Islamic Circle of North America, and United Sikhs. Two ISKCON temples in New York City, well known for their mouth-watering culinary creations, offered saffron-scented halavah, basmati rice, and a hearty vegan chili.
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