This year’s Festival of Faiths, an annual event which “honors the union between thinking globally and acting locally” will bring together spiritual leaders and practitioners from around the world for four days of music, poetry, film, art, and dialogue.

The festival, organized and supported by the Center for Interfaith Relations, kicks off on Wednesday, April 19 this year with a morning spiritual practice led by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, a major voice in American Judiasm followed by a panel discussion, “Getting Real About Compassionate Cities,” which includes renowned religion author Karen Armstrong, Reverend Joan Brown Campbell co-founder of the Charter for Compassion, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Fort Worth Texas Mayor Betsy Price and Gary Indiana Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.

To find out more about the speakers and participants in this year’s Festival of Faiths, you can click here.

Compassionate City

In November 2011, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer designated Louisville as an international compassionate city when he signed a Compassionate Louisville campaign resolution. At the time, Mayor Fischer said, “Being a compassionate city is both the right thing and the necessary thing to do to ensure that we take care of all of our citizens. There’s a role for all of us in making sure no one is left behind or goes wanting.” These roles are explored in depth throughout this year’s festival theme: Compassion: Shining like the Sun.

Wednesday’s second panel discussion is “Compassion and Economics: The Real Bottom Line.” Panelist David Muhammad, a leader in violence prevention and youth development, says, “We are at a time in our country where we must assess our priorities.” To do this, he notes, “A compassionate economy provides opportunities for families and individuals who are suffering from poverty, violence, dysfunction in educational systems, mass incarceration and poor health.” In addition, Muhammad adds that a compassionate economy “creates innovative approaches to pull people out of despair and into hope and success.”

Co-panelist Aruni Bhatnagar, a professor in the University of Louisville’s Institute of Molecular Cardiology, agrees. Shares Bhatnagar, “Although wealth disparity may be an inevitable consequence of a free market economy, the widening gulf between the rich and the poor has become an ethical issue. The consequences of this divide are most directly relevant to our current environmental problems.” He continues, “It is essential that we have a deep sense of compassion for the diversity of life that is fast disappearing from this planet, an abiding reverence for nature that supports us all and empathy for those who live on the outskirts of hope.”

Muhammad and Bhatnagar will be joined by Congressman John Yarmuth, Anthony Smith, CEO of Cities United, Sadiqa Reynolds and others. Reynolds, president and CEO of Louisville’s Urban League, asks, “What sense does it make to grow your business in a community without equity? Without hope?” She explains, “We should be clear that injustice is a threat to the world’s economy. Oppressed people are connecting in new and innovative ways and the power of deconstruction is unlimited. Compassion without action is not justice.”

Wednesday’s events will close with an interfaith musical celebration, Compassion Shining, curated by Ambassador Shabazz, the eldest daughter of Malcolm X held at Cathedral of the Assumption. This event is free and open to the public. With a keynote by former NBC “Today Show” host Ann Curry, and performances by nationally acclaimed singing group Linkin’ Bridge, and Country Music sensation, Imaj. The event promises to be a soulful and beautiful gathering, with an impressive lineup of performers which also includes the Humanity Passport Project Greater Community Choir and Wayside Christian Mission’s “Down By The Wayside” choir.

Ann Curry, Linkin’ Bridge and Imaj

On Thursday, April 20, Dr. Ingrid Mattson will start with the day’s spiritual practice, the spiritual meaning and movements of the Islamic daily prayer. Next, short talks and a moderated discussion among Karen Armstrong, Matthew Barzun, recent Ambassador to the United Kingdom and Noah Feldman, a Harvard law professor who studies the intersection of religion and politics and is an expert on the Middle East. Moderated by Dr. William Vendley, secretary general of Religions for Peace International, the session is titled: “We Are Already One ­- Religion and Compassion in World Affairs.”

This will be followed by “Living Compassion,” personal testimonies from Arab-American Islam professor Rami Nashashibi, anti-apartheid activist Naomi Tutu (and daughter of Bishop Desmond Tutu), Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, co-author of the Charter for Compassion and Rev. Kevin Cosby, lead pastor of St. Stephens Church. On Thursday evening, artistic performances of poetry, music, and dance will be curated by provocative poet Hannah Drake, theatre director Charles Nasby and Rebecca Katz at “Compassion Rising,” which will take place at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. Notes Drake, “Art breaks down barriers and allows people to see beyond the exterior and search deep within themselves for answers to difficult questions. With Compassion Rising, we’re challenging the audience to deal with tough issues like race, gender, sexuality and self-esteem…. [If] we’re going to say we’re a city of compassionate citizens, we must start with ourselves. We hope Compassion Rising is simply an artistic mirror challenging the audience to analyze their own reflection.”

On Friday, April 21, the panel, “The Science of Compassion” will follow the morning’s spiritual practice, ‘Centering Christian prayer’ with Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault. The panel, curated by Dr. Susan Bauer-Wu of Virginia’s Mind & Life Institute, will explore the intersections of science and wisdom. Says Dr. Bauer-Wu, “Understanding the science of compassion can help from a public policy perspective, but the real impact of our work comes from the moments of epiphany – and connection – and the ripples that emanate from there.”

This event will be followed by the spiritual “heart” of the festival, short talks and a moderated discussion with Thupten Jinpa, teacher and principal translator of the Dalai Lama’s books, Cynthia Bourgeault and Ingrid Mattson, a leading Muslim theologian on “The Heart of Compassion.”  The evening ends with the “Compassion Jam,” music improv and comedy at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. This promises to be a soulful and unique genre bending happening with Teddy Abrams, composer Rachel Grimes and rapper Jecorey “1200” Arthur, along with a special comedy set by “America’s funniest comedian” (CNN) Azhar Usman. “One of the most important, relevant and hysterically funny guys out there!” – Margaret Cho.

On the final day of the event, Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, “Compassionate Earth – Visions of Health & Harmony,” there will be a panel featuring Congressman James Comer, Patrick Holden, Bishop Marc Andrus and Green Faith activist Nana Firman. They will be joined by Thupten Jinpa and Mayor Greg Fischer.

An Earth Day Community Lunch, held at Spalding University and catered by Louisville’s Farm to Fork, will follow.

The festival’s final event, “The Nature of Interdependence,” is a conversation between eastern and western faith traditions on the significance of understanding the nature of interdependence in a time defined by feelings of fracture and isolation. Speakers for this session include Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel and Bishop Marc Andrus.

Tickets can be purchased for single events or as a festival week pass here. The festival’s program can be viewed in full here.  Visit the Center for Interfaith Relations’ YouTube channel for more info.