It all started for me when I joined hospital-based Chaplaincy services as a pastoral volunteer. I felt apprehensive about being a misfit in the program as I am from a different faith of which there is very little awareness. I am a Sikh, and we are to date misidentified as Muslims. But to my surprise the chaplain welcomed me with warmth to the program. Fellow pastoral volunteers and our chaplains guiding us were incredibly open to learning and embracing the teaching of each other’s faith. This helped all the pastoral volunteers to be more sensitive to visiting patients with openness and the concept of oneness.

Coming from a Sikh faith background which teaches tolerance, acceptance, humility and the concept of oneness, I resonated with the Pastoral volunteer program. Like other volunteer programs ended in the Covid pandemic so did our Pastoral volunteering program.

I was missing the connection I have built over the years while volunteering at the hospital—the best I got out of that was we are all pearls on the same string. I continued to volunteer for interfaith activities in different spheres online during Covid pandemic and in person when socialization started.

I got a chance to attend the Parliament of World Religions (POWR), first in 2018 and then in 2023. I enjoyed the energy the attendees brought with them. I found all the attendees were incredibly receptive to both receive and give love and warmth. 

The higher concept of Universal Brotherhood was enhanced at the meeting. There was more than one incident during POWR where I interacted with complete strangers from all over the world sharing amazing stories where attendees have experienced the superpower/energy working and through them for a noble cause. Again, making my belief stronger than we are all interconnected (pearls on the same string). If we all can learn to be more tolerant and accept diversity among us, we can make this world a better place to live.

During POWR in Chicago 2023 as an attendee in the conference, I became a speaker. This was an amazing experience. I was with my friend standing in the registration line which was unusually long. We observed attendees dressed in white and we both were curious to learn about them. I told my friend to sit on a chair while I was in line. While in the seating area she came across the attendee dressed in white (representing faith Caodaism) who happened to offer water to my friend as she was thirsty. We had a brief conversation about faiths and then both came back to the registration line. 

Next day I was visiting the exhibit hall in the POWR with my friend and came across the Caodaism booth. I was exploring the exhibition booth as I was keen to learn more about it. The exhibitor on the booth asked if I could volunteer to be a speaker as the scheduled speaker was sick. My friend spontaneously consented for me. In a fraction of a second, my role was transcended from an attendee to a speaker as if I was destined to share my thoughts in that great gathering. Being involved in interfaith activities at various levels made it easier for me to accept the challenge.

The beauty of this experience is that I envisioned how pearls came on the same string –from complete stranger’s I became friends with followers of Caodaism. To me this is a superpower/energy which connected us.

A prayer for all to connect with love, be tolerant, accept diversity –as we are all pearls on the same string.

Hema Sidhu, IFC Board Member