In these holy days, a search for shared values ​​| Religion


Over the centuries, religious differences have caused evils such as war, slavery and genocide.

But here in this little corner of the world, a group of New Hampshire women believe that faith can bridge those differences and forge understanding and friendship.

“Everyone believes in the same God,” says Munise Ulker of Bedford, a Muslim woman who has been with Interfaith Women of New Hampshire for about five years.

She calls the group a “melting pot”.

“We try to find commonalities, because we know we’re different, but we try to find the commonalities in that difference,” Ulker said.

Since 2006, Interfaith Women has organized public programs to foster understanding and dialogue. Some explored religious traditions around marriage and death, holidays and religious symbols. Others tackled social issues. One of its most attended events was on human trafficking.

The group has no officers. Instead, an interfaith council meets to propose and plan public programs.

Marilyn Cavanaugh of Auburn, a member of the Adath Yeshurun ​​Temple in Manchester, sits on the Interfaith Women’s Board of Directors. What appeals to her, she says, is the inclusiveness of the group and the opportunity to learn about other faith traditions.

“Part of what this organization does is bring out the joys of different religions,” Cavanaugh said.

“I am with a group of intelligent and warm women who share the importance of sharing religious beliefs, religious culture, traditions and who believe in friendship between people of different faiths.”

This year, important religious holidays for the Abrahamic denominations coincide. Sunday is Easter for Western Christians and the start of Holy Week for Orthodox churches. For the Jewish faith, this weekend is the start of Passover. Muslims, on the other hand, are in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan.

Connections sparkle through the ages.

Fasting, almsgiving and prayer are at the heart of the three religious traditions. Religious holidays are celebrated with family gatherings and shared meals.

In this holy season, these women are committed to breaking down mistrust and division among those who seek God.

“As different as our religions are and as different as some traditions are, the core values ​​are the same,” Cavanaugh said. “There are many more things that connect these religions than separate them.”

The importance of family is central to all religions, Cavanaugh said. “When I think of Passover, I think of family,” she said. “Many of our religions share this.”

Ulker said fasting is also common to religious observances. “During Ramadan, we fast all day,” she said. “Around Easter, our Christian friends also fast. It’s about purifying your body and trying to find God.

Middle ground

Barbara Lantiegne was one of the first members of Interfaith Women. “It was at a time when wars were going on and Muslims were suspicious, and I really wanted to know more,” she said. “I wanted to understand the faith of others.”

At the group’s first event in May 2006, “Breaking Bread Together,” each presenter spoke about a woman who was significant in her faith, recalled Lantiegne, who is a Roman Catholic.

“The Muslim woman spoke of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and I was amazed,” she said. “She spoke with tears streaming down her face.”

Liz Verity, a member of Manchester’s First Congregational Church, grew up in the Anglican Church of her native England.

“I really had no idea of ​​any other religion, other than there were Catholics, there were Jews,” she said. “We didn’t talk about it in our home. We belonged strictly to the Church of England.

When she joined Interfaith Women of NH, she was amazed to hear the stories of other women. “The majority of the women, their parents had exposed them to other religions, and I thought that was wonderful,” Verity said.

The group hopes to dispel some of the prejudices and misconceptions many people have about those of other faiths, Verity said. “It’s just ingrained in people to be scared,” she said.

“You hear the word Muslim, and for a lot of people it must be a terrorist,” Verity said. “That’s so far from the truth.”

Ulker, who is a realtor in Bedford, was born in Turkey and came to the United States when she was 21. After her marriage to her husband, they moved to New Hampshire. They have two children, a 17 year old son and a 21 year old daughter.

Interfaith Women is about finding common ground through dialogue and friendship, Ulker said.

“We just don’t know each other enough,” she said. “Once you get to know the other person, that person is no longer an enemy, and now they become a friend.”

Ulker said she appreciates how the interfaith group uplifts women as faith and opinion leaders. While men are traditionally in charge, she points out that it is women who raise the children, raising them in religion.

“We don’t like to follow,” Ulker said. “We want to be the leaders.

The group has received a lot of support over the years. Local churches allow them to use their spaces, and guest speakers, with rare exceptions, do not charge for their appearances.

Each event ends with social time, discussions and food, of course, provided by the women in the group. They talk, ask questions and laugh a lot.

During the pandemic, the band’s programs went online, but when they met in person, the band raised a voluntary offering, donating the proceeds to local charities that help women and families.

“Cogs in the Wheel”

On Maundy Thursday last week, Verity hosted a rally at her Manchester home with band members Olga Haveles, a member of St. George’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral, and Barbara Lantiegne. It was a kind of meeting; Lantiegne now lives in upstate New York, but was back home to visit.

For much of history, men have traditionally been the religious leaders, the leaders. It is a reflection of society at large, the women said.

“I always said if I believed in reincarnation, I would come back as a man,” Haveles said. “It’s a man’s world.”

“But it’s the women who make things happen,” Lantiegne said. “Even in the church today, it’s the women who do the work.”

“These are the worker bees,” Haveles said.

“But is it the religion or is it the culture?” Verity wondered aloud.

In the Congregational church, she noted, women can now serve as pastors.

“We can’t do that yet” in the Catholic Church, Lantiegne said.

But she said, “It will come to pass eventually. It must, or the church will surely die.

These women believe churches can evolve with changing times while remaining true to the faith.

“I think the church needs to change, and maybe women can be that change,” Verity said.

Haveles from the Greek Orthodox Church said she does not believe churches can exist without the contribution of women.

“We’re not the people up there, but the cogs in the wheel make it work,” she said. “And we are cogs in the wheel.”

On Wednesday, May 11, the group will host “An Evening of Joyful Celebration: Online, beginning at 6:45 p.m., featuring poetry and music from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions. For information and registration, go to


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