Interreligious Thanksgiving Dinner Cultivates Spiritual Connections

Students and faculty dish themselves food from various serving trays
Medical students and members of the School of Medicine faculty and Georgetown clergy gathered for an interreligious Thanksgiving dinner on November 11.

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(November 17, 2023) — Against the backdrop of deeply troubling conflicts in the world, medical students from several faith communities gathered for an interreligious Thanksgiving dinner at the medical center to celebrate their commonalities and strengthen their cultural competency as future physicians.

Father Shea speaks with a female student
Fr. James M. Shea, SJ, (pictured left) said the dinner captured what makes Georgetown special — community in diversity.

The first-of-its-kind dinner attended by about 90 School of Medicine faculty, staff and friends was held November 11 at the medical center. Members of Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim student groups convened to share the intersections between their faith traditions and the call to become physicians.

Planning for the dinner began in the summer with help from Georgetown’s Office of Campus Ministries. Fr. James M. Shea, SJ, the medical center’s Catholic chaplain, was joined by other Georgetown clergy members including an imam, rabbi and Protestant leaders. Shea said the dinner captured what makes Georgetown special — community in diversity.

“This was a real experience of being together and enjoying being together,” Shea reflected. “There’s so much need for community in our country, but also in our school and in medical education. I found the dinner very hopeful. People just had a great time.”

Faith as Healers

The gathering opened with a statement by the student leaders stating the dinner’s intent.

“Today’s focus is on the opportunity to be together in prayer and gratitude,” read MAGIS member Anna Stephan (M’25), “that in learning from one another, across our diversity, we might draw closer to the Divine and understand how our faith calls us deeper into the vocation of both physician and healer.” MAGIS was formed to promote Jesuit, Catholic culture on campus.

A student stand behind a podium and leads a prayer
Fadi Masoud (M’25) read a Muslim prayer.

John DiBello, MS (M’26), a MAGIS member and event organizer, said the event carried a strong sense of togetherness. “Our hope in this event was to call the medical center and its medical students deeper into our mission and identity as a Jesuit, Catholic school that values interfaith dialogue, and developing our spiritual, in addition to intellectual, sensibilities as future physician healers.”

Before dinner, a student representing each faith tradition read a prayer.

Fadi Masoud (M’25), a member of the Muslim Student Association, shared a reading from the Qur’an. For him, an appreciation for different faith traditions is central to developing healers.    

“In the diversity of our faiths, we discover wisdom that reconnects us with our humanity, fueling our passion for medicine and guiding us to bring healing and goodness to the world,” he said.

Abby Escobar (M’27), a member of MAGIS, read Psalm 23. She said the energy she felt at the dinner was really loving and compassionate.

“They’re all sharing the same tables, and even within the faculty and the different faith leaders, just having really extensive conversations with each other, being gregarious, being joyful,” she said.

A table of faith leaders converses during the meal
Faculty and faith leaders shared a table.

Leah Beight (M’25), recited the Hamotzi blessing, a prayer in Hebrew that is typically said at the beginning of meals. She said coming together for interfaith discussions cultivates cross cultural collaboration and awareness of different faiths and practices.

“I love sharing what Judaism means to me and hearing from peers about what their faith and traditions means to them because it allows us to learn about different perspectives,” said Beight, a member of the Maimonides Society, which represents Jewish students on campus. “I also believe as future physicians, fostering interfaith discussions will help us to become more inclusive providers and practice with cultural humility.”

For Rohan Meda (M’27), a member of the South Asian Medical Student Association, the special dinner came the weekend of Diwali — the Festival of Lights — a significant Hindu holiday that brings family and friends together.

Two medical students stand together during the event
John DiBello, MS (M’26), (pictured right) helped organize the dinner, while Umayr Shaikh (M’26), served as emcee for the evening.

“As a person who values spirituality, I felt privileged to participate in the Interfaith Thanksgiving Dinner,” Meda said. “Witnessing students and faculty harmoniously gather and celebrate our diverse beliefs was truly a heartwarming and inspiring experience. The night was a humble reminder of unity, and I will take that mindset with me as an aspiring physician.”

For DiBello, the dinner also demonstrated the value of in-person gatherings, especially with faculty in spaces outside of the teacher-student role. “These people just become human beings to you and you realize they’re on the same path that we’re on at a slightly different point,” he said. “You get to learn from their wisdom.”

Lee Jones, MD, dean for medical education, described the dinner as a “wonderful success.”

“To see these young people bravely come together during this tumultuous time gives me deeper understanding of their capacity for humanity and renewed hope for our future.”