Four Chaplains Sunday: Practice ‘unity without uniformity’ for immortal chaplains

Blue dark night painting of older ship in back with men on lifeboat in foreground

A depiction of the Escanaba rescuing survivors of the Dorchester, the ship of the Four Immortal Chaplains. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 1: Today, many congregations and veterans groups nationwide recall four chaplains whose courageous example has inspired generations of interfaith activists. This is Four Chaplains Sunday in participating congregations.

On Feb. 3, 1943, the converted luxury liner Dorchester was struck by a torpedo while crossing the North Atlantic; the ship sank within 20 minutes. Hundreds of U.S. troops and civilians were aboard the ship when it was struck, and as passengers were scurrying to lifeboats, four chaplains—the Rev. George Fox (Methodist), Rabbi Alexander Good (Jewish), the Rev. Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed) and Fr. John Washington (Roman Catholic)—spread out and began helping the wounded and panicked. (Wikipedia has details.) Amid the chaos, the four chaplains were calmly offering prayers and encouraging words. When life jackets ran out, the chaplains already had given their own to others fleeing the ship. The four men joined arms and said prayers, singing hymns as they sank with the ship.

Though Feb. 3 is officially Four Chaplains Day, events remembering the men usually take place on the Sunday nearest to that anniversary. Ceremonies emphasize “unity without uniformity,” a primary part of the mission of the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation. The Chapel of the Four Chaplains was dedicated by President Harry S. Truman in 1951. In 1988, an act of Congress officially declared February 3 as an annual Four Chaplains Day.

Scholarship opportunity: Each year, the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundations sponsors a scholarship competition for students in grades 5-12, with the challenge of writing an essay, creating artwork or filming a short video about the importance of unity, cooperation and inclusion. This year, the theme is “Undiscovered Heroes,” and the deadline is Feb. 28. (Learn more here.)

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Categories: ChristianInterfaithJewish

St. Thomas Aquinas: Examine faith and reason with the Doctor of the Church

Neutral color depiction of man sitting on bench with halo around head, reading book, outdoors

St. Thomas Aquinas by Gentile da Fabriano, c.1400 CE. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 28: Today, the Catholic Church honors the 13th century priest, philosopher and theologian who so greatly influenced religious thought that he has been named Doctor of the Church. Thomas Aquinas defended the authenticity of reason, particularly within the works of Aristotle, while examining metaphysics, the human mind and ethics. (America Magazine and this website further examine the philosophies of Thomas Aquinas.)

In what has become known as Thomistic Philosophy, Thomas Aquinas used specific principles and methods to prove the existence of God and explain faith.

An Italian born in 1225 CE, Thomas Aquinas was the son of a nobleman and was educated from an early age. Aquinas’s progress earned great respect, but at age 17, he turned from his expected path and joined the Order of St. Dominic. (Wikipedia has details.)

Aquinas continued his studies at the university level and began publishing works. Kings valued his opinions and popes asked him to hold esteemed positions, yet the philosopher refused such requests. Aquinas wrote extensively on natural law, political theory and metaphysics. (Learn more from En route to the Council of Lyons, his presence there ordered by Gregory X, Aquinas fell ill and died. St. Thomas Aquinas was canonized in 1323 CE.

High regard for human reason, and insight into natural order, has led to a profound reverence for Thomas Aquinas that has continued through the centuries. St. Thomas Aquinas is considered the model teacher for those studying the priesthood and the Church’s greatest theologian.

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Categories: Christian

Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day: Mark 70 years since Auschwitz Birkenau

Circular wall of millions of old photos and written info beneath some

The Hall of Names commemorating the millions of Jews killed during the Holocaust, as part of Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

TUESDAY, JANUARY 27: Seventy years to the day of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, members of the United Nations collectively bow their heads for International Holocaust Remembrance Day. After the horrors of the Holocaust, nations came together in 1945 to form what would become the United Nations—this year, celebrating its 70th anniversary, in October. (Learn more from Ten years ago, the General Assembly adopted a resolution that officially declared January 27 as the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

Did you know? Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest Nazi death camp. Soviet troops liberated the camp in 1945.

Member states of the UN have developed educational programs, conducted memorial ceremonies and instituted remembrances throughout the past decade. Short videos have been produced and released in 2015 in commemoration of the significant anniversaries, and are available in six languages through the UN.


Each year on January 27, the world remembers the Nazi regime’s genocide that led to the death of an estimated 6 million Jews, 1 million Roma, 250,000 physically disabled persons and 9,000 homosexual men. Designated by the United Nations in November 2005, the resolution encourages each member nation to pay homage. (Wikipedia has details.) This year, nations observe the theme “Liberty, Life and the Legacy of the Holocaust Survivors.”

The three goals of United Nations Holocaust programs: Ongoing programs aim for a trifold purpose—to reject any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event; to condemn all manifestations of religious intolerance, violence and incitement against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief; and to prevent future acts of genocide.


This year, Turkey will hold its first ceremony for the International Day of Commemoration in memory of victims of the Holocaust, with representatives from the UN and speakers from the Jewish Turkish community. (Read more from the Times of Israel.) Among Holocaust victims, light is being shone this year on the Roma people—that is, Romani, or the people who often have been called “gypsies”—as an ethnicity still persecuted, especially in eastern Europe. Battling ongoing prejudices and stereotypes, many Roma still experience hardships in society, while their ancestors are vastly underrepresented in Holocaust remembrance memorials. Learn more about modern Roma—and how to help—reported in a recent article at

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Categories: InterfaithInternational ObservancesJewish

Conversion of St. Paul: Christians recall the dramatic revelation of Saul

Perspective looking up at old stone statue of man with beard and robe, hand in front. Statue of Jesus in background

A statue of St. Paul, at the Vatican. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, JANUARY 25: Less than one month after commemoration of the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the Christian Church honors a man who participated in the stoning of the martyr before dramatically changing his life: Saul, celebrated today in the Conversion of Paul the Apostle. Originally named Saul and born in Tarsus, the future apostle at first persecuted Christians. Though he never met the living Jesus, Saul was struck by a blazing light one day on his way to Damascus, and in a few moments, he became a follower of Christ. (Read more from Catholic Culture.) Saul spent the rest of his life preaching as a Christian, for Jesus Christ.

Care to read more about Paul? You’ll enjoy our joint interview with Bible scholar John Dominic Crossan and the late Marcus Borg on their work in The First Paul.

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Categories: Christian

Vasant Panchami: Hindus wear yellow, worship Saraswati & count days to Holi

Girl with medium tone skin wearing gold nose ring, eleaborate gem necklace and headpiece, looking at camera

A young girl is dressed in yellow and fine jewelry for the festival of Vasant Panchami. Photo by Adam Jones, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, JANUARY 24: Wear the color yellow and herald in springtime, joining Hindus and Sikhs in India and beyond in the festival of Vasant Panchami (spellings vary).

Literally the fifth day of spring, Vasant Panchami honors Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of music, art, culture, learning and knowledge. Today, the spring cycle will begin that ends with Holi, the massive spring festival that is now celebrated internationally.

For Sikhs, Vasant Panchami marks the day in Amritsar when musicians begin singing the Basant Raga, a practice that will continue until the first day of Vaisakh. (Wikipedia has details.) In some regions of India, kites fill the sky, and the festival is better known as the Basant Festival of Kites.

Did you know? Saraswati is often depicted seated on a white lotus, with four hands. The four hands symbolize the aspects of learning.

An ancient celebration stretching back thousands of years, Vasant Panchami reveres Kamadeva, the god of love, and his friend Vasant (the personification of spring). In modern times, however, rituals for the goddess Saraswati have taken precedence over Kamadeva. Hindus treat Vasant Panchami as Saraswati’s birthday, worshiping the goddess and filling her temples with food. Figures of Saraswati are often draped in yellow clothing, and as the deity is considered supreme in many types of knowledge, students ask for her blessings. It is traditional that children begin learning the alphabet or their first words on Vasant Panchami, believing it auspicious to do so. While donning yellow clothing, Hindus often make and distribute yellow foods and treats to neighbors, family and friends.

A log with a figure of the demoness Holika is placed in a public area on Vasant Panchami, and for 40 days, devotees will add twigs and sticks to form an enormous pile. The pyre is lit on Holi (this year, March 6).

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHinduSikh

Timkat: Ethiopian Christians reenact baptism of Jesus with vibrant festival

Close-up of three dark-skinned men in elaborate religious robes and carrying ornate cloth umbrellas under sunny skies

Priests celebrate Timkat in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo by Andrew Heavens, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, JANUARY 19: Rich, deep hues and velvet fabrics dot the landscape in Ethiopia during one of the grandest festivals of the year: Timkat, the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian ceremony commemorating the baptism of Jesus. As the countryside’s rolling hills are blooming with yellow spring flowers, pilgrims and priests dress in their finest clothing and form a procession that weaves through the rock-hewn churches and age-old passageways of Ethiopia. Central to the processions are models of the Ark of the Covenant (called tabots), carried by priests with caution and pride. To Ethiopian Christians, the tabot signifies the manifestation of Jesus as the Savior, when he came to the Jordan River to be baptized.

Did you know? Ethiopia is home to more UNESCO sites than any other country in Africa.

Timkat events begin on Timkat eve, when the tabots are ceremoniously wrapped in cloth and carried by priests in a procession. In the earliest morning hours, while the sky is still dark, crowds gather near bodies of water to witness a blessing of the waters—a reenactment of the baptism of Christ. (View photos of last year’s Timkat events, courtesy of the Guardian.) Crowds are sprinkled with water, and baptismal vows are renewed. When all rituals are complete, pilgrims return home for feasts and continued celebrations.

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Categories: Christian

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Americans lend a hand in honor of Dr. King

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Man and dark-skinned boy digging shovels into dirt while others look on

Volunteer to serve others in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo by Rachel Feierman, Courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, JANUARY 19: Serve the community, learn more about civil rights and remember a legendary life on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. An American federal holiday marking the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the third Monday in January annually brings the celebration of the pivotal figure in American history. During his lifetime, King worked ceaselessly for the civil rights movement and nonviolent activism. Following his assassination in 1968, a campaign for a federal holiday in King’s name began circling almost immediately. Fifteen years later, President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law. Today, Americans are urged to honor the “King Day of Service” by spending the day doing something Dr. King viewed as unparalleled: serving others.

AN INSPIRING RESOURCE—Daniel Buttry’s Interfaith Peacemakers project has published this inspiring story about Dr. King’s life. Readers are welcome to republish and share Buttry’s story about King with friends.


Black-and-white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in suit with microphones, speaking outdoors

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

King was born January 15, 1929. He became a Baptist pastor and helped to found the Southern Christian Leadership conference, serving as its first president. In 1963, King helped to organize the March on Washington and, there, delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for combating racial inequality through nonviolence.

When a bill was introduced for a federal holiday in honor of Dr. King, several representatives argued that an additional paid holiday would be too expensive and that Dr. King, having never held public office, was ineligible. Supporters of the bill began rallying the public, and when Stevie Wonder released “Happy Birthday” in 1980 to raise awareness of the campaign, 6 million signatures were collected. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill that established a federal holiday on November 2, 1983.


Federal legislation to transform Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day into a national day of service was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Since that year, millions of Americans have volunteered their time on the third Monday of January, in efforts to help communities across the nation.

Interested in volunteering? Find a Toolkit to plan your Day of Service, or register an event, at Also, find free lesson plans for grades K-8, or share your volunteering experiences at

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Categories: National Observances