A first in Sikh history – Papal Knighthood recognises commitment and dedication

Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia was created a knight by the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in recognition of his dedicated work for Roman Catholic Sikh relations and for his enthusiastic commitment to working for peace among people of all faiths.

It is the first time in history that a Sikh was honoured with The Pontifical Order of Knighthood of St Gregory. An award granted in recognition of an individual’s pre-eminent service to their faith, community, or the work of the Holy See on a local, national and international level. The Papal Order of Saint Gregory was originally founded by Pope Gregory XVI in 1831 and reformed by Pope Saint Pius in 1905.

A first in Sikh history – Papal Knighthood recognises commitment and dedication

The ceremony was held on Sunday 22nd April at Saint Chad’s Cathedral in Birmingham and led by The Most Reverend Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham. The Order of St Gregory is one of five Pontifical orders of Knighthood in the Catholic Church and is usually bestowed on Catholics. On rare occasions the Order is also conferred on non-Catholics in recognition of meritorious service to the Church and exceptional example set in one’s own community or country. More than 100 Sikhs from Birmingham, London, Leeds, and some who had come from Kenya,Canada and India were present in St Chad’s Cathedral for this unique and ground-breaking event in inter-faith relations involving the Catholic Church and the Sikh faith.

The occasion brought together Roman Catholic and Sikh devotees in hymns of praise from both traditions; something unique in a Cathedral service. Onlookers witnessed a historic event unfold for both Catholics and Sikhs. On completion of the ceremony the Sikh community’s jubilation call “Bole so Nihal” echoed in the vast Cathedral depicting a real victory for interfaith collaboration.

Commenting on the momentous event, the Most Reverend Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham said:“Today I have been very grateful to the Holy See to bestow upon Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh, one of the faith leaders in the City of Birmingham and spiritual leader to many Sikhs across the globe, with the honour of the Papal knighthood and I am grateful it is in recognition for the contribution he has made to Sikh – Catholic relations, not only here in Birmingham but in many other places.

“Today marks a historic occasion, a moment of thanks giving to God for drawing us together, and I am very grateful for it. I am very grateful to the Holy Father for this acknowledgment and recognition and I am also grateful to Bhai Sahib for the encouragement that he gives us all to work much closer together as people of faith for the common good and search for truth.”

He added: “We are called as people of faith to work for the good of others, especially that we have the opportunity to seek peace and be a service to the nation. Today we know our world is so much in need for that international peace, not only for the people to practice their faith and worship their faith in peace but also to live their faith for the good of others and I think it is important that we demonstrate this.”

A first in Sikh history – Papal Knighthood recognises commitment and dedication

The Archbishop continued: “I believe that it is the first time that a Papal Honour has been bestowed in this way on a spiritual leader from within the Sikh community. It represents the Holy Father’s recognition of Bhai Sahib’s deeply held desire for fruitful and lasting relations between Sikhs and Catholics and opportunities to witness together.

“We recall Bhai Sahib’s presence in Assisi For the international meetings of faith leaders at the invitation of Blessed Pope John Paul II and of Pope Benedict – and I am sure that he will long remember being present with Mandla Ji in St Peter’s Square at the funeral of Blessed John Paul II during April 2005”.

Bhai Sahib has been recognised both nationally and internationally for his dedication to faith and service, promoting intra and inter-faith cooperation and peace-building through shared values. He has been distinguished as an ‘Interfaith Visionary’, holding the Juliet Hollister Award from the Temple of Understanding. In February 2012 during World Interfaith Harmony Week, Bhai Sahib was honoured to address The United Nations General Assembly in New York on the theme Common Ground for the Common Good. His message was about religion and that the UN should create permanent structures to facilitate and engage between the world of politics and religion. At the UN he shared a verse by Bhagat Kabir Ji from the Sikh scripture; ‘Where there is knowledge and wisdom, there is religion. Where there is deceit, there is sin. Where there is greed, there is famine death and destruction. Where there is compassion & forgiveness, there is God Himself.’

Bhai Sahib’s engagement with the interfaith arena alongside the Pontifical Council has also included proactive participation with the Elijah Board of World’s Religious Leaders, Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, European Council of Religious Leaders, Religions for Peace (International Trustee), Tony Blair Faith Foundation, West Midlands Faith Forum, Birmingham Faith Leaders Group Birmingham Faiths Roundtable. In recent years he has supported Post-Doctoral Research on Religion, Civil Society and the United Nations and also supported Religions & Peace Building.

A visionary leader, Bhai Sahib was the first to celebrate The Global Interfaith Harmony Week in the UK; the first British Sikh to receive the prestigious title of “Bhai Sahib” from the highest Sikh authority Sri Akal Takhat Sahib in India; first to present a Siri Sahib (3 foot long Kirpan) honouring his significant services to the Catholic Church to His Holiness Blessed Pope John Paul II in May 2000. In October 2011 on the 25th Anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace Bhai Sahib was allowed to meet the Pontiff whilst carrying his Siri Sahib that was presented to him at the Akal Takhat in 2010. This signified a remarkable gesture showing the Church’s understanding of the significance and importance of the Siri Sahib (Kirpan) as one of the five Kakar and Dastar (turban) to a Sikh.

Bhai Sahib in all humility said: “First and foremost I must thank God for making me worthy of such an award. I must also thank the Founders of GNNSJ, Pujya Baba Ji and Bhai Sahib Bhai Norang Singh Ji and the Sikh sangat on whose behalf I received this award. Furthermore, I must express my gratitude to The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI for bestowing this accolade upon me and The Most Reverend Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham for the Investiture Mass.

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“This award is recognition of the great work put in by people from both faiths to make interfaith relations such a success. During the Third Bilateral Dialogue of the Sikhs and the Roman Catholic Church at the Nishkam Centre in April 2008, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, was deeply moved by the presence of the Jathedar of the Akal Takhat Singh Sahib Shri Joginder Singh Vedanti. He said that the presence of Singh Sahib from India endorsed and invigorated bilateral dialogue.”

Bhai Sahib concluded by saying, “This marks a significant milestone recognising the importance of the solidarity of religions, structured dialogue and open cooperation between faiths to combat an age of hostile secularism. The need for peace, strengthening families, preserving the institution of marriage, promoting values-based education, strengthening the bonds of friendship and creating permanent structures for continued dialogue between Sikhs and the Holy See worldwide, must create a template for other faiths to emulate.”

~ Source: www.ncauk.org

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