The Festival of Faiths is a series of periodic events sponsored by one of America’s most unique religious institutions: the Center for Interfaith Relations. Based at the Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisvule, Kentucky, the Center for Interfaith Relations was the unusual outgrowth of an effort to renovate the cathedral. Since the renovation, the Center has put on the Festival of Faiths every year, usually in May, but with other events periodically throughout the year. As its name implies, the festival brings attendants of many religious backgrounds, promoting dialogue and the improvement of interfaith relations in the United States.
The history of the Center for Interfaith Relations traces its roots to an effort to renovate the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, itself an institution with a tumultuous past. The cathedral, completed in 1852, became an important center of life for the city’s German and Irish immigrants, and was seen as a threat by native-born Protestants. In 1856, Louisville was the sight of one of the worst episodes of interfaith violence in American history, when 22 catholics were killed by Protestants and the cathedral nearly destroyed.
This event, known as Bloody Monday, was a stain on the city’s history, and remained so for many years. Over a century later, in the 1980s, Thomas Kelly, the Archbishop of Louisville, launched an effort to renovate the old cathedral. But it was his desire not only to renovate the building, but to use it as a rallying point to address interfaith issues and improve dialogue. In 1985 he established the Catholic Heritage Foundation to undertake the renovation of the cathedral.
Over the next two decades, the cathedral was restored to its former glory. But at the same time, Kelly worked diligently at his other goals: to expand and use the facilities to foster interfaith understanding, and to promote cooperation among all houses of worship in Louisville. After the completion of the renovations, the church decided to continue with its other works, and in 2006 the Catholic Heritage Foundation was reinvented as the Center for Interfaith Relations.
By this time, the CHF had already been hosting the annual Louisville Festival of Faiths, a work which was formally commended by the United States Senate in 1998. The festival has since become one of America’s most important religious events, attended by people of all faiths: Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Native Americans and others. The CIR has gone on to inspire similar events in other cities, and may go on to become one of the great religious institutions of the modern era.
The Cathedral of the Assumption is one of the iconic churches of Louisville. Built in 1852 and renovated in the last few decades, the Gothic Revival masterpiece has one of the most beautiful sanctuaries in Kentucky. Famous for its outreach, the cathedral’s facilities are extensive and incorporate the offices of the Center for Interfaith Relations.
The Festival of Faiths is an annual event, generally held in May but with other events every so often. The festival usually includes lectures, classes, speaker panels and interfaith prayer services. It features speakers from all faiths, and in 2013 even coordinated with the visit of the Dalai Lama to the United States.
The Cathedral of the Assumption is located in Downtown Louisville just south of the Ohio River. It is open year round. The Festival of Faiths usually takes place in May. See their website for event details and costs. Web: http://festivaloffaiths.org (official website).
After its first few decades, the idea of the Festival of Faiths is slowly making its way throughout the Midwest. Currently the other two major events are the Festival of Faiths of Kansas City, and the Festival of Faiths of Indianapolis. More will undoubtedly be coming in the future.