The International Day of Peace, a celebration of interfaith relations and the common good, attracted about 400 people, including those of less familiar religions such as Islam, Sufi and Seventh Day Adventist, who shared celebrations of peace from their traditions.
An information tent was set up outside the church, inviting attendees to browse the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon, among other scriptures. A total of 14 interfaith groups participated in the event.
Fr. Tom Bonacci, founder of the Interfaith Peace Project, said that Organizer Walter Ruehlig said that next year, even more could be included.
“I’ve felt greater fellowship with all these different faiths and traditions through their music,” said Phil Mastrolia, a member of the Antioch second ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. “All of us are people of faith and we all want peace. We may understand the universe a little differently, but we all want peace and harmony. It was nice to get to know each other a little better.”
Ruehlig said he was impressed by how the event went, noting that it exceeded his expectations. An interfaith candle lighting ceremony was held Saturday night, as well as a collective meditation and prayer session that started at 8:30 p.m. The various names of God were recited for the first 15 minutes of every hour.
Ruehlig, in his first year of organizing the Day of Peace, said that when he was getting ready to leave, around 12:30 a.m., there were still about 100 people deep in meditation and prayer: “I’m really thrilled. It was a lot of hard work, but it was worth every moment of it.”
While Antioch’s fourth International Day of Peace, organized by Contra Costa Interfaith Council and the Interfaith Peace Project, was held over the weekend, the official United Nations Peace Day is celebrated on Sept. 21. Bonacci, said that Antioch’s celebration was also a way to raise awareness of that day, which was set in place in 2002.
“The first year, there was a small committed group of about five of us that took the initiative to set up some displays in the church,” Bonacci said. “We’ve gone from maybe two or three participants to making it an interfaith event in East County.”
On Sunday, a 12-foot-tall peace pole representing the diversity of the event was planted outside the church. The pole bore the inscription, written in several languages, “May peace prevail on Earth.” Attendees gathered around the pole in a circle as guitarist Bill Wentz and singer Sierra Lynne led the group in song.
The peace pole was blessed by members of the DiMaggio and Villicana families, who performed a Pomo Native American ritual, asking the holy spirit to reside within the pole. Ruehlig said it was great for Antioch to erect a peace pole, one of the few of its kind in Contra Costa County.
“It means a good change,” Noreen DiMaggio said of the event’s meaning. “It’s like a mandala. It represents different colors of life, all coming together in one place.”
Click here to view The Press’ video of Antioch’s International Day of Peace.