Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Haverford student to greet pope

Senior Aditya Vora will be one of five young adults representing five faiths to meet Benedict XVI.

A Haverford College student who follows the Jain religion has been picked to greet Pope Benedict XVI during the pontiff's first trip to the United States.
Aditya Vora, 21, a senior from Kings Park, N.Y., is among five young adults chosen from around the world for the honor. Others will represent the Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, and Islamic traditions. The pope will be in the States from April 15 to 20.
When Vora learned of his role, he said he was "filled with nervousness and excitement."
"I felt honored, but I felt like I didn't deserve it," said Vora, a science major who hopes to become a physician.
The meeting, set for April 17 in Washington, is meant to embody the pope's belief that religions must unite to achieve peace.
"The cry for peace in our world calls for religious bodies to come together," said Bishop William Sklba, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, which is hosting the visit.
The meeting "exemplifies what must happen all over the world," Sklba said.
On April 15, the pontiff will arrive in Washington. The following day, his 81st birthday, Benedict will meet with President Bush and the Catholic bishops.
On April 17, he will say Mass at Nationals Park, new home of the Washington Nationals. At 6:30 p.m., the pontiff will receive Vora and the other young adults.
Afterward, he will welcome 10 prominent religious figures, including Vora's father, Arvind, a member of the Federation of Jain Associations in North America.
On April 18, the pope will go to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly. The next day, the third anniversary of his election to the papacy, Benedict will meet with seminarians and disabled children.
On the last day of his visit, April 20, he will visit site of the attack on the World Trade Center and celebrate Mass at Yankee Stadium.
At the April 17 meeting, Vora will shake the pope's hand and give him a small metal cube, according to the Rev. James Massa, who helped organize the event.
The cube represents the Jain principles of nonviolence, truthfulness, tolerance of others' views, and never stealing or being swayed by materialism, Vora said. The ceremony is expected to last 10 to 15 minutes.
"That 10 to 15 minutes will probably seem like an hour to me," Vora said. "My adrenaline will be pumping. I can't believe this is actually happening."
Massa said Vora might get to speak to the pope.
"He'll probably ask, 'Where are you from and what do you do?' " Massa said.
Earlier this year, Massa was seeking young people who could represent their sects at the meeting. They had to be involved in interfaith work and be advocates for peace.
Vora's name came up because Massa had visited a Jain peace center on Long Island and knew Vora's father. Massa and Aditya Vora met at a restaurant on the N.J. Turnpike early one morning, and Massa was impressed with him.
"He has a remarkable social conscience, one informed by his religion," Massa said.
Vora, a slim, quiet man, didn't expect to receive such an honor. Called A.D. by friends, Vora was singled out because of work he did on Long Island.
The work since his high school days involved talking with Holocaust survivors in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and antibias and multicultural programs he fostered.
Jains believe that their religion, centered in India, had no beginning, Vora said. Instead, 24 teachers, or tirthankars, guided its formation by achieving, then teaching, the path to salvation.
Jains believe the principle of nonviolence must be reflected in their every thought, word and deed, Vora said. Most are vegetarians.
"If there's a spider in your house, you have to get a dust pan and sweep it out," he said. "We don't kill anything."
Vora's small step for interfaith unity comes as Benedict makes his first appearance in America as pope. He had visited before as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany and is familiar with U.S. culture.
"To come as pope is a whole different experience," Massa said. "He comes because he's our pastor, but also in the role of peacemaker and advocate for justice."
Massa said the interfaith meeting grew out of discussions with five religious groups with which the Catholic bishops conference has a relationship.
"I think it appeals to the heart when there are religions meeting together and a person who has great symbolic significance, such as the pope, is present," Massa said.
That provides a platform for "working through our differences," he said.

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