Page 16 - Delta Living Magazine_April2014

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April – June 2014
By Walter Ruehlig
efining a visionary's constitution, say-
ing "Some men see things as they are
and say,why? I dream things that never were and
ask, why not?" George Bernard Shaw champi-
oned the spirit and persona of Rev. Tom Bo-
nacci. Father Tom, as he is often called, holds a
radical notion: peace treaties and arms control
agreements are like moving furniture around in
a room; there's no true structural transformation.
Father Tom, founder of the Interfaith Peace
Project, unequivocally states that "There can
be no world peace without religious peace."
He bemoans that "people who cling too jeal-
ously with their faith traditions, and take it too
personally when anyone attacks or even fails to
embrace the teachings of their chosen prophet,
often resort to disdain or murderous rage."
Distrust and intolerance, then, is the histori-
cal animus boiling the societal pot and spilling
over into conflict.
Is Tom proposing a new world religion? No,
to the contrary. A Catholic Priest and mem-
ber of the Passionist Order, Father Tom neither
advocates a universal religion nor asks that we
underscore commonality. Instead, he advocates
celebrating our respective traditions and rejoic-
ing in our uniqueness.
"Take the time to learn about each other's
faith. Get to know strangers, read the scriptures
and examine the religious symbols belonging
to others. Doing so will inevitably bring the
walls of ignorance tumbling down,” urges Fa-
ther Tom.
Fromwhence the genesis of this world view?
Tom grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, in a cultur-
ally diverse and ecumenically vigorous commu-
nity.He lived near three Jewish synagogues,Re-
form and Orthodox, a Kingdom Hall, Baptist,
Eastern Rite, Irish, Italian and Polish Catholic
churches. He would often join a rabbi and his
son walking to school.
"I didn't know the world was divided until I
became a teenager and saw a hatred I couldn't
process," he said.
In 1968 Tom changed forever by meeting
Thomas Berry, a fellow Passionist priest and
Professor of World Culture. He was inspired to
walk the walk and joined an interfaith syna-
gogue.His childhood and new adult worldview
merged. He now realized that world peace
would never come from religions talking to
each other, because, by nature they would not
sit down with each other, let alone have a rap-
prochement. Tom saw that peace would only
come from the grassroots experience of indi-
viduals breaking down the barriers of fear and
Tom eventually moved to Carlow Univer-
sity in Pittsburgh, serving as a chaplain and
teacher,when on September 8, 2001, three days
before the Twin Towers tragedy, the University
Board of Directors auspiciously approved his
proposed Interfaith Center. He started a soon-
flourishing sanctuary, experimental theater and
tradition of Peace Poles for five years before re-
ligious politics closed his doors and exiled him.
Father Tom came to California in 2006 and
rebooted the organization, but this time wisely
unencumbered to any other group. Last year,
the organization reached 4,000 people. It pro-
vided cross-religious experiences, learning op-
portunities and interpersonal encounters that
foster appreciation normally restricted to peo-
ple with the time, energy and resources to travel
or to attend formal classes in some institution of
higher learning.
The Interfaith Peace Project is a multi-
pronged outreach; offering an extensive library
and sanctuary for reflection, housing thousands
of faith-based texts and artifacts from Judaica,
Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Sufi and
Sikh traditions.
It offers educational opportunities in peo-
ple's homes or larger institutional settings; Spir-
itual Direction opportunities to deepen inner
awareness and practice; the SacredVisit program
allowing people to experience and meet people
of different traditions in their places of worship;
a Circle of InterfaithWomen; a Peace Pole Proj-
ect; and Community Celebration of the Inter-
national Day of Peace.
The educational outreach extends from
Reno to Santa Cruz. Over 140 bookings are
already scheduled for 2014 and the calls from
around the world keep increasing. Father Tom
has travelled to Jordan, Egypt, Germany, Ireland
and Italy.
Father Tom values his volunteers immensely.
"The volunteers have been a treasure as they
are a microcosm of what our mission is; they're
a richly diverse group that shows the value of
complimentary talents,”he said.“Through thick
and thin, I'm always amazed at their unflappable
tolerance, resolve and humor."
The Reverend’s vision of the future is simple.
"I don't micromanage. I've never had a laun-
dry list of goals.The organization is organic and
has evolved with the community and need of
the time," he added.
In the 1960's a button read "What if they
gave a war and nobody came?"
For the likes of Father Tom, this is a serious
call to a different set of arms and to be that in-
dividual agent of change from whence seismic
social transformation begins.
Father Tom is, in fact, a true Passionist. In
the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi's sentiments, this
gentle warrior zealously lives the charge, 'my
life is my mission.'
Interfaith Peace Project
Photo by
Maria Tavares
There is an unlimited amount of idols, statues and figu-
rines in the Interfaith hub. These are just a few of the
women represented next to a button with the words “I
stand with the Sisters.”
Photo Courtesy of Father Tom
Rev. Tom Bonacci, better known as Father Tom, is a Pas-
sionist who connects believers of different faiths. His
plethora of all religious texts and tales reside with him in
Antioch, but he often travels to homes, events and meet-
ings to share his vast knowledge.
Contact Father Tom