By Dilnaz Waraich, Board of Trustees, Catholic Theological Union

IN OCTOBER 2022 the Galileo Foundation, founded by John McCaffrey, invited 145 interfaith philanthropists from five religions to discuss the world’s greatest challenges. This inaugural gathering brought faith-based givers together to discuss initiatives that will uplift voices and promote actions that will have lasting impact throughout the world. I have always believed that faith not only lies at the very center of grantmaking for the nonprofit sector, but that it holds the keys to increased religious pluralism, civic engagement, and reducing polarization in our world.

As a faith-based philanthropist that is focused on impact and legacy, I was honored to be part of this inaugural ‘Faith and Philanthropy Summit’. Being invited to convene with other faith inspired philanthropists from different religious backgrounds provided an opportunity to appreciate the common tenants of our faith traditions and how these commonalities can collectively create a better world. I often reflect on The Prophet Muhammad’s words: “When a man dies, his deeds come to an end except for three things: Sadaqah Jariyah (ceaseless giving); a knowledge which is beneficial, or a virtuous descendant who prays for him (for the deceased).”

As I freely roamed The Vatican City, I realized that this place contains the world headquarters of the Catholic Church. I, along with other Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Christians, and Jains were invited to this City to pray, learn, and possibly meet Pope Francis. This experience brought me back to the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina to see the Kabah (House of God) and many Holy spaces.  

Pope Francis was the first to be selected for this position from the Global South, coming from Argentina, South America. He has worked tirelessly to make institutional changes within the Church from accepting responsibility for the clergies’ sexual-abuse scandals and apologizing for the harm done to the First Nations’ children in Canada while in the care of the Church. In his first homily delivered in the Sistine Chapel, in his first public mass as pope, Pope Francis called for spiritual renewal within the church and greater attention to the plight of the poor. He spoke about three important kinds of movement that appeared in the Scripture readings at the Mass: walking, building, and confessing.  “Our life is a path,” he said. “When we stop, the thing doesn’t go.” He said Catholics must “walk always, in the presence of the Lord, in the light of the Lord, seeking to live with that blamelessness that God asks of Abraham in his promise.” These words resonated with me as a Muslim, and a fellow member of one of the tri-Abrahamic faith traditions.  The idea of having a faith path that I am walking has resonance regardless of whether the faith is Christian, Muslim or Judaism.  There is a commonality to this message. 

The second important kind of movement mentioned in Pope Francis’s homily was building: “Build with living stones, anointed by the Holy Spirit,” the Pope said. “Confess Jesus. If we don’t do that, we will be a pitiful NGO (non-governmental organization).” Pope Francis appeared to sternly condemn the forces that diverted the Church from its ministry and set it at risk of becoming what he described as a “pitiful NGO.”  

The third type of movement was confessing or working without purpose or faith. Pope Francis compared building without faith to sandcastles children construct on the beach, which are washed away by the next tide. They have no real substance or staying power.    

Our three-day convening started with an interfaith prayer, time for reflection at the Sistine Chapel, and breaking of bread to build bridges between the participants across faith tradition. I continue to believe these activities are essential for building interfaith understanding, acceptance, and are the roots for lasting peace. During our sessions at the Vatican, together we focused on how our faith and our values inspire and inform our giving. As we dug into each person’s purpose for giving, we also learned innovative and strategic ways to give with humility. We discussed how more laws and advocacy will not create a better or more just world. However, human centered actions, and the ability to draw upon our faith traditions will make the changes we want to see. 

I accepted the invitation first because I wanted to visit the Vatican to increase my religious pluralism knowledge as a Muslim who is a trustee of Catholic Theological Union. This is one of the most sacred cities in the world. Since Vatican II in 1965, the Catholic Church has taken steps to make changes in areas that were previously unquestioned.  The focus in the post-Vatican II era has not been on the Church as the ‘one true religion’ and has resulted in entering into more ecumenical conversations with other churches with the hope of establishing greater Christian unity. This Summit, attended by individuals such as Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Pope’s Secretary of State, and by Cardinal Peter Turkson, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, are further examples of changes within the Catholic Church today. 

My days at the Vatican were eye opening to great causes globally and continued to support my religious knowledge. As Pope Francis taught in his first homily, faith is what gives substance to our actions, so we are not building castles made of sand.

Dilnaz Waraich is a philanthropist, community organizer, educator and interfaith activist with more than three decades of experience in relationship building, cultural sensitivity facilitation, spiritual engagement activities and civic empowerment.

As a formally trained educator, her moral code and drive to affect change breathe life into her philanthropic, community organizing, and interfaith engagements. Dilnaz is an influencer and holds multiple board appointed and committee positions through the Chicagoland area with WBEZ Chicago Public Media, Northwestern University School of Education, Interfaith Youth Core, Chicago Theological Seminary, Catholic Theological Union, and Muslim Community Center.

Dilnaz has dedicated her family’s philanthropic efforts in engaging with diverse stakeholders, furthering pluralism and helping build bridges. Dilnaz holds a Master in Literacy degree from Northwestern University, and an MS and a BS from Loyola University. She is currently working on a Master in Spiritual Leadership.