by Nicole Shepard
Nearly 2,000 students of varying faiths and devotions stood in unison to recite the Lord’s Prayer at the Orem LDS Institute of Religion on Tuesday, Sept. 18. This was done in honor of The Most Reverend Bishop of Salt Lake City John C. Wester, whose visit was to promote interfaith dialogue. The address was the first of its kind. Never before had a Catholic bishop visited an LDS Institute of Religion. This historic and culturally distinct occasion fell on the Bishop’s fourteenth anniversary of ordination to his episcopal ministry.
Wester, the highest-ranking Catholic authority in Utah, spoke of the dire need for interfaith conversations, noting that much of the distress of the world is based in spiritual and religious intolerance.
In discussing the goals and hopes of interfaith dialogue, Wester said, “The goal is to foster a culture of respect and acceptance. I don’t see it as a unity of conformity, but as a unity of diversity. Unity is not equated with one religion conquering another or persuading another that ‘I’m right and you’re wrong.’ The dialogue is meant to help us deepen our appreciation and understanding of one another.”
The Bishop began by explaining the doctrinal foundation of the 2,000-year-old Church, focusing primarily on the seven sacraments, which are the “ultimate expression of the presence of God” in the lives of members. He then approached the doctrinal similarities and differences between the Catholic and LDS faiths, noting that differences do not need to lead to divisions.
“People would like nothing more than to pit us against each other, but it is critical of us to never allow that to happen,” Wester said.
The Bishop emphasized the importance of raising a united voice in maintaining our religious freedom.
“We contend that this country is founded on religious freedom, and in this country everyone has the right to speak in the public square. We are not a theocracy and cannot mandate that anyone vote in a certain way, but we can speak our truth in public,” Wester said.
The Bishop spoke on the changing vocabulary around freedom of religion, expressing concern that it is called a “freedom to worship” because it bullies the faithful into their churches and synagogues to keep quiet.
“Many will disagree with our truth, and that is their right, but it is our right to proclaim it in the public square,” Wester said.
Following the Bishop’s remarks, a short luncheon was held for a few students and faculty, including UVU President Matthew Holland. At the luncheon the Bishop answered questions about ethnic diversity in the Catholic faith, the future of the Church and his golf games with various religious authorities in Utah.
“If you can play golf with someone and still be friends there is always hope,” Wester said.
Spencer Bennett, co-chair of the LDSSA’s Interfaith Committee, said, “Listening to him and asking him questions was a great opportunity. He is a very intelligent man, doing his best to make the world a better place, not just for Catholics but for everyone.”