Plans to build a new Interfaith Prayer Center on Georgetown’s campus are in the works because of a growing need for an interfaith space sparked over the past few years, according to Vice President for Mission and Ministry Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J.

“At present we are assessing the limited options for the location of the center. We need space which is accessible for students, yet quiet enough for a prayer center,” O’Brien wrote in an email. “We imagine space big enough for several prayer rooms, a common gathering area, and a kitchen. Our hope is that the center will be an inter-faith gathering space for all students, both for prayer, study and conversation.”

A list of locations for potential construction will be available mid-semester after further planning between Campus Ministry and the Office of Planning and Facilities Management.

Director of Jewish Chaplaincy Rabbi Rachel Gartner mentioned plans for the center in Washington Jewish Week last week, saying the Interfaith Center would offer more space and lounging area for students.

Gartner told Washington Jewish Week the Jewish Chaplaincy would have to raise $1.5 million to contribute its share to the center.

According to O’Brien, Campus Ministry has already begun fundraising, but the exact cost of the center is to be determined.

“This is a multi-million dollar project, the exact cost will be determined when the plans are fixed,” O’Brien wrote.

Further student involvement will also follow more exact planning, O’Brien said.

“We are working to develop a permanent Interfaith Prayer Center that will meet the growing needs of our Jewish, Muslim and Hindu students in the future and continue to fulfill our longstanding commitment to respect the faith traditions of all of our students,” O’Brien wrote.

Members of the Interfaith Student Association said that they are supportive of a center, which would increase awareness of the group’s work.

“We have a problem of visibility,” Bassam Sidiki (COL ’16), co-chair of the ISA said. “We really do need a center because, as co-chair of the ISA, what I’ve noticed is people on Georgetown’s campus are so ingrained in their own faith tradition and feel so comfortable in it that they don’t feel the need to explore other traditions.”

Sidiki hopes the center will not only draw religious students, but those questioning their spirituality or faith identities.

“Not everyone, even if you are for example, Muslim or Jewish, actually goes to the services of their particular faith tradition on campus. [There are] some who are still exploring, and I feel like the center should target those people who are exploring this question of seeing their own identity in terms of faith,” Sidiki said.

Niki Khandheria (NHS ’17), interfaith chair for the Hindu Student Association, agreed.

“Interfaith is not just about religion, it’s also about having conversations with people who are not religious. I feel like sometimes those students don’t have a space where they can go and think and reflect on spirituality and religion,” Khandheria said.

Khandheria also said while there is room for progress, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu students are well accepted at Georgetown.

“Even though Georgetown is a Catholic University, I still feel that Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim students have very vibrant communities. As the interfaith chair for the Hindu Students Association, I don’t feel a weaker presence compared to other faith groups on campus,” Khandheria said.

The ISA currently meets in the Jewish prayer space, Makom, in the Leavey Student Center, as does the HSA. Khandheria and Sidiki agree that specified interfaith space would help further the mission of the ISA.

“The goal of the ISA is not only to stress similarities between faith traditions but also the fact that we can live together despite our differences and we can learn to disagree respectfully,” Sidiki said. “I think if a center like that is there, that would be a really good place where students can do that.”

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