Interfaith Dialogue at the Grass Roots

Upon purchasing the book “Interfaith Dialogue at the Grass Roots”, edited by Rebecca Kratz Mays and published by Ecumenical Press of Philadelphia, PA, I learned of Sister Maria Hornung’s outstanding work in greater Philadelphia, PA.  Sister Maria is Coordinator for Interfaith Education at the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia.  She entered the Medical Mission Sisters in 1954, upon her graduation from Ursuline High School in New Orleans, L.A. Following education as a pharmacist, she spent twenty-five years living in Africa in the countries of Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana.  In her professional work, she served as a pharmacist, hospital administrator, educator, and community leader and collaborated with people of many different faith traditions. During her last years in the African continent, she served as a member of its international governing council.  From 1987 to 2003, she worked with new MMS members in North America and served as Sector Coordinator in North America. She received her M. Ed. (1970) and her M.A. (1995) in Interreligious Studies from Temple University.  She has also authored “Encountering Other Faiths” published by Paulist Press in 2007 and has produced a companion workbook that is available for anyone interested in further exloring the subject of Interreligious Dialogue.

In Chapter 8 of “Interfaith Dialogue at the Grass Roots“, Sister Maria urges readers to take up the meaningful task of moving interreligious dialogue “from the halls of academia to grass roots…”, which means out into the community at the local level.  Her rallying cry, prompted me to find out more about how to approach interreligious engagement through the conceiving of ends and by acting purposely to get them.  Sister Maria describes the four key modalities of dialogue as follows:

  1. the dialogue of life or neighborliness,
  2. the dialogue of making common cause,
  3. the dialogue of shared spiritual and aesthetic moments, and
  4. the dialogue of religious doctrine and values and their integration into the world of today.

Encountering Other Faiths

Sister Maria Horung’s book “Encountering Other Faiths” published in 2007 by Paulist Press draws on the contributions of thinkers in the fields of intercultural competence, faith development, and interreligious dialogue.  The book develops a model for introducing interested persons to the art of interreligious dialogue.  Drawn from the book, she has also designed a seminar workbook outlining the nine-focus sessions and offering accompanying resource texts for the use of the facilitators and participants at any level of interreligious-dialogue work.

To achieve effectiveness in any of these, Sister Maria makes clear the need to win support from local religious leaders and religious educators.  I wrote to her in early 2010 and asked if I could meet with her at the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia.  She agreed to do so, and when we were together, she spoke with me at length about the programs that they are currently providing throughout the city.  One program that was of particular interest to me is the ‘Walking the Walk’ Youth Initiative which targets adolescent youth.


“Walking the Walk is the most sophisticated youth program I have seen across the country.”

-Dr. Eboo Patel, Founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, NPR Interview 2/12/08

Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia Website

Interfaith Center of Philadelphia Walking the walk

10 Year Anniversary Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia from Philadelphia Interfaith Center on Vimeo.