Hindu temple welcomes public with open arms

By: Sydney Jorgensen & Kristen Kerr

The sound of booming drums, fireworks and crowds of people are not uncommon for festivals occurring more than 250 days out of 365 days a year at the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple.

Members of the River Ridge 2nd Ward Relief Society located in South Jordan, Utah, have lived in homes surrounding the temple for several years. For the first time, they decided it was time to visit the temple and learn more about Hindu beliefs and practices.

The women entered through the front doors of the temple and removed their shoes before viewing the shrines. Incense filled the air as they took their seats on carpets in the middle of the room decorated with shrines.

Part of the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple structure, located outside the main building, is currently under construction. (Sydney Jorgensen)

Satish Kumar Nenmali Seshadri, a 36-year-old Hindu priest, welcomed the women and began explaining various beliefs.

“Hinduism not necessarily a religion but an eternal way of living,” Seshadri told the group.

Sri Ganesha Hindu leaders often hold question and answer sessions for the community, and Mara Urie and Cheryl Fillmore commented on the inclusive atmosphere. Nestled right in their community, the women enjoyed learning more about the temple.

Urie lives four houses away from the temple and bought her home from a Hindu family. While house hunting in the neighborhood, Urie and her husband discovered their current home and dropped in to see it. The Hindu family invited them in and left lasting impressions.

Twenty-three years ago, Hindu practices were held in the basement of Indra Neelameggham, who now serves as the treasurer of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable. At that time, women served as priests because they didn’t have any male Indian priests.

Seshadri said the main Ganesha idol, the temple’s namesake, came over from India. It was left untouched in California for six months before an American Priest from Hawaii offered the idol to Utah.

In 2003, the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple of Utah was constructed.

As Seshadri explained, Hindus do not require membership as part of their faith. It’s a very personal and internal way of life and there is no conversion process. Seshadri encourages people to not leave their individual religious paths, but rather, come and worship. Hindus believe in one main entity, God. As people forget God and stray away from worship, they become evil.

Boys often start studying Hinduism at age 7. Teachings are passed from mind to mind, rather than through books or written text. Hindus have four main books, but as Seshadri said, writings are not completely accurate. Individuals participate in 16 different ceremonies as they grow up.

Each Hindu temple operates independently of other temples. The Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple relies on a board of trustees who pay priests and give donations.

Listen to Seshadri explain more about Hindu services and rituals.

To learn more about the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple, click here.

Life as a Jewish Utahn

By: Madison Butcher

Sam Winkler and his wife Amy with their daughter Perry (Madison Butcher)

Sam Winkler could be described as a husband, father, police officer, neighbor and friend. But living as a minority in a predominantly Latter-day Saint community separates him from most: Sam Winkler is a Jew.

Winkler grew up in a Jewish family in Utah. His father, in particular, was very strict. For example, everything in the kitchen had to be kosher. The Winklers used specific dishes for different foods and some dishes could not be cleaned in the dishwasher. Winkler said his dad was more of a conservative Jew, while his mom leaned more towards a reformed Jew. All of his siblings still practice Judaism in some form as well.

Winkler described his childhood as fairly normal but with a few bumps in the road due to his religious beliefs.

“I wanted to be on the football team in high school, but the biggest of [Jewish] holidays were there so I couldn’t do the football team,” Winkler said.

Winkler said his parents always expected their kids to be educated in the religion, but then it was up to them on how they were going to live it. Judaism continues plays a role in Winkler’s life despite not being as active as some of his siblings. Winkler claims to be a reformed Jew, but he likes to pray in the conservative way, in Hebrew.

The freedom to individually choose beliefs and practices within the religion has always been a plus for Winkler.

There’s not one set way that you practice, you practice what you feel which is why there are all these different sects,” Winkler said.

As a Jew in the heart of Utah, Winkler has many opportunities to explain his beliefs to others. People are usually friendly and he has spoken with missionaries of other churches, but Winkler sometimes feels like an outsider.

Upon moving into his home, LDS neighbors reached out and asked for the Winklers’ contact information for a phone directory and offered to bring by a copy.

“Of course I come to find out that it wasn’t a phone directory,” Winkler said. “It was a ward directory. I never received a copy.”

Although Winkler is not LDS, he married a former Mormon, Amy Winkler. They have two young girls, Penny (3) and Kate (10). Sam and Amy agreed to have Penny formally converted to the Jewish religion. Because of their different religious backgrounds, Amy explained they celebrate Christian and Jewish holidays.

“It’s funny because when Kate was younger, she would say that she was Jewish and (celebrated) Christmas,” Amy Winkler said.

Day-to-day living for the family typically doesn’t include religious conflict. But unfortunately, Winkler has experienced feelings of anti-Semitism.

When Winkler was a young boy, he and his brother took a UTA bus to the Lagoon amusement park. A man looked at them and asked, “Are you two Jewish? I can tell by your noses.”

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Years later, as a police officer, he handled a bike accident where a girl hadn’t yielded to oncoming traffic and crashed her bike. Winkler explained to her that although it was her fault, she would just receive a warning.

While they spoke, Winkler noticed a Star of David on her necklace. The girl became upset and claimed he must be anti-Jewish, without knowing his religious background.

Winkler said he doesn’t react in these situations, especially at work.

“When I am at work, I don’t go into that. I am police. I am not Jewish. I am not man. I am not woman. I am not democratic. I am not republican. I am police,” Winkler said.

According to Winkler, anti-Semitism still exists in today’s world but doesn’t let it bother him.  He said he believes many Jews have become paranoid.

“People feel like they have a target on them,” Winkler said. “In law enforcement, you have a target on you just because you’re a cop. They don’t know if you’re a good cop, bad cop, or whatever. And a lot of Jewish people feel like they have a target on them.”

Even though Winkler doesn’t feel a direct threat, he wants to see a change in society. More than anything, he wants everyone to treat each other like actual people instead of a label.

“I don’t want to sit on a UTA bus and have some guy identify me as a Jew because of my nose. … What I hope is that we quit looking at what makes a person, and look at what they really are. Why do I have to be Jewish? Why do I have to be white? Why do I have to be identified as something? Why can’t society get past all that and just say ‘Hey, that Sam Winkler is a great guy!’”

From Mexico City to Salt Lake City: Conquering language and cultural barriers

By: Taylor Jaussi

Rising from the confessional after listening to nearly an hour of confessions — all in English — Rev. Jorge Roldán felt as if his head would never stop spinning.

Roldán had only been living in Park City, Utah, a few days after being assigned to serve as a pastor in the city’s parish when the parish priest asked him to listen to confessions. It was his first Saturday in the area, and although he still did not feel comfortable with the language, Roldán agreed to fill in for the priest who was attending to business in Salt Lake City.

“I will always remember [that first Saturday in Park City] for the rest of my life,” Roldán remarked. “I arrived to the church and see a long line full of all English speakers. I don’t know what sins they confessed, what things they had done wrong, but the priest forgives the sins that are confessed. And I forgave everyone!”

Leaving the confessional, Roldán was shocked to see what his superior had just texted him: He would not be able to make it back from Salt Lake City in time for mass and asked Roldán if he could celebrate mass that evening.

Overwhelmed, but willing to accept this assignment, Roldán rounded the corner from behind the confessional and was alarmed to see that the church was completely full.

Thinking back on that stressful day when his English skills went through somewhat of a refiner’s fire, Roldán said, “That was the first experience I had where I had to say, ‘I have to do it; I can do it.’ And you know what? I did it!”

Decision to dedicate life to the church

“Sometimes people think that as priests we are born that way,” Roldán said. “But no, I grew up with a normal family and I also got into trouble at times. All in all, I had a normal life.”

Born and raised in Mexico City, Roldán is the second of four children. Although his parents and siblings weren’t extremely devout Catholics, Roldán attributed the beginning of his spiritual devotion to his grandmother. He remembers her walking to mass every day as soon as the church bells began to ring out in the late afternoon.

While growing up, Roldán often attended mass with his grandmother, and it was there that he began to seriously consider becoming a priest.

“At first, the Father used to scare me. I saw the vestments he wore, the large robes, and as a child I thought, ‘He is Batman!’” Roldán remembered. “But as I observed his life, how he treated the people around him and how they looked up to him, I begin to think, ‘This is something I might like to do.’”

In the end, the possibility of being a leader and positive influence for those around him is what made Roldán want to become a priest. The impact Father Daniel, the priest of the parish where he grew up in Mexico City, had on Roldán as a young teenager made this way of living seem so rewarding.

For Roldán, it was not uncommon to hear people in his native Mexico commenting, “the Father said this” or “the Father asked us to do this.” The image of the local priest as a leader and local guide to all around him is ultimately what Roldán has sought to achieve in his service in the church.

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Difficulties along the way

When Roldán told his mom he wanted to become a priest, she told him no. He persisted, and finally she told him that he could do whatever he wanted, but he first had to graduate from high school.

Upon graduating from high school, Roldán began his religious studies at the Cuautitlan Seminary in Mexico City. These studies are not easy as they require students to study philosophy for three years, go on a mission for one to two years and then finish three more years of theology studies.

When he returned from his two-year mission in Campeche, a state in Mexico, Roldán began studying theology. After one year, he was sent to the prestigious Universidad Pontificia de México (Mexico Pontifical University).

Roldán told of a particular night that had a significant impact on the rest of his life path.

“It was there at the university during my last year of studies when a friend of mine said to me, ‘Hey Jorge, my bishop is going to be visiting and he invited us to dinner,’” Roldán recalled.

This visiting bishop was then-Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City who participating in a pilgrimage in Mexico. At dinner, Bishop Wester invited Roldán and his six companions to his diocese in Utah.

“We said to ourselves, ‘OK, let’s do it!’” Roldán remembered. “I was very excited in that moment, although I had no idea where Salt Lake City even was, and I had also realized … English was going to be a huge obstacle for me to overcome.”

After accepting the invitation from Bishop Wester to serve in the United States and waiting nearly a year for immigration papers to be accepted, Roldán began the long, difficult journey of learning English. This journey began at the Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas. Roldán honestly admitted this may have been the worst place for him to learn English.

“When I arrived to the United States and everyone was speaking English, I always had the biggest headache! [In San Antonio,] everyone speaks Spanish. I didn’t have a headache anymore!” Roldán laughed, thinking back on his language studies. “All the teachers were Mexican, the students were Mexican; this was definitely the worst place to try and learn English.”

Even without the immersion necessary to truly master the language, after a year and a half in San Antonio, Bishop Wester told Roldán he was ready to be ordained a priest. Following his ordination, he was assigned to Park City. It was during his first Saturday there — the day Roldán will never forget —  he began to observe a noticeable improvement in his English simply because he was forced to speak the language.

Celebrating mass in English for two years in Park City and for almost a year in the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City is where Roldán believes he has been able to develop his language skills the most.

Joy in the service

Although Roldán’s journey has not always been easy — thanks in large part to what he calls “a tongue-twister language” — there are moments when he recognizes that what he is doing is worth the struggle.

“For me, the best payment I can receive is when I leave mass and I see that the people leave happily and that they are smiling,” Roldán said. “That is my payment.”

Roldán considers his position as priest to be what truly fills his soul, day in and day out. The opportunity he has to help others and offer advice when they seek it is what Roldán hoped for ever since he made the decision to become a priest.

Regarding his service, he said, “If I was born again, I would again choose to be a priest. If I could choose again, I would again choose to serve in Salt Lake City.”

Quick facts: Buddhism

By: Michael Barrow and Kristen Kerr

Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama, the son of an Indian king. Raised in a palace, he tired of the extravagant lifestyle and ventured outside. After experiencing the suffering that existed outside his palace walls, he resolved to put his worldly possessions aside and become a monk. While meditating under a tree, he discovered the way to escape suffering and achieve salvation. He became the Buddha, or the “Enlightened One” and spent the rest of his days traveling India and sharing his knowledge.

Buddhism is based on the Four Noble Truths, including:

  • The truth of suffering
  • The truth of the cause of suffering
  • The truth of the end of suffering
  • The truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering

Noble Eightfold Path:

  • Right view
  • Right thought
  • Right speech
  • Right conduct
  • Right livelihood
  • Right effort
  • Right mindfulness
  • Right medication

Buddhists also believe in karma and in reincarnation. Karma is based on one’s good and bad actions. Good or positive acts lead to happiness while bad actions result in unhappiness. Reincarnation, or the Buddhist cycle of rebirth, is built on karma. Good karma enables individuals to be reborn into one of three fortunate realms: demigods, gods or men. The realm of man is considered the highest and gives the opportunity to achieve enlightenment, or Nirvana. Bad karma leads to existence is one of three unfortunate realms: animals, ghosts or hell.

The Cathedral of the Madeleine: Pillar of Utah Christianity

By: Anne Wallace

Salt Lake City’s Cathedral of the Madeleine stands as the heart of Utah Catholicism.

Large and beautiful, its gothic architecture stands out in an area otherwise filled with sprawling apartment complexes, houses, businesses, shopping malls and other urban delights. It seems almost as if it beckons each by passer to stop and look, to take a break from temporal concerns and to remember and ponder his or her spiritual heritage.

With its open door policy, everyone is always welcome to walk right in and experience the peaceful quiet it contains.

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How did this pillar of the community come to be? When first dedicated, the cathedral wasn’t as grandiose and richly adorned as it is now; many changes and improvements have been made over the years. Construction originally began in 1899 after the first Utah Bishop, Lawrence Scanline, worked tirelessly to strengthen and grow Roman Catholic membership in Utah. Within 10 years, the original membership of 90 had swelled to over 4,000.

The growth of the Catholic Church in Utah during this time period was so fast, the Catholics had nowhere large enough to hold their first Christmas Mass. But through Bishop Scanline’s unique and friendly relationship with a local member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they held the first Christmas Mass in the St. George LDS Tabernacle. The cathedral was completed and dedicated in August 1909.

Over 100 years later, the Roman Catholic population in Utah has increased to around 350,000, but the cathedral still remains at the heart.

Deacon Lynn Johnson, one of the many faithful and hardworking members of the cathedral’s present day congregation and staff, explained more about the history and significance of the cathedral itself.

“When you go into a cathedral, it’s not so much something you’re looking at as something you are reading,” Johnson explained.

Each element of the architecture and design is crafted thoughtfully and purposefully, and has spiritual significance and symbolism.

“A gothic cathedral is a constant reminder,” Johnson continued. “God is not somebody that’s out there. He is very much a part of our lives. He is present. He is at work in our lives constantly. The cathedral is a symbol of that presence, that God is real, and that we are His children.”

Each architectural element and décor of the cathedral is meant to signify and remind onlookers of eternal doctrines. The spires are meant to represent the need to lift one’s gaze upward and keep in mind this earth is not the end of the journey, that there is something greater to strive towards and something greater awaiting. The candles represent Christ, how he is the light of the world. They are also a reminder of the ancient persecutions Christians faced and the candles and oil lamps they used in the catacombs to avoid that persecution.

The deacon explained the rose window is meant to teach “God is at the center of our life, everything else will flow in your life nicely; but if you push God off to the side somewhere, you’ve got a problem.”

The seating area is referred to as the nave, a metaphor for the church and the congregation being on a ship, heading for their eternal destination. Sometimes it has also been likened unto a womb, where the congregants can receive protection, comfort, and nourishment from their mother, the church.

The side windows have a special purpose in both ancient and modern times. Thousands of years earlier many congregants did not have the opportunity to receive a formal education and didn’t know how to read. They did not have personal access to holy scripture.

“Catholics learned about their faith aside from being at mass and hearing sermons,” Johnson said. “It was in the art that you learned about what you believed as a Christian… The life of Jesus is in the art in the cathedral.”

In this way, the windows are meant to be scripture; they are meant to not only be seen, but also to be read.

Everything in a cathedral has symbolism, and oftentimes, practical applications dating back to the very beginning of Roman Catholicism. According to Johnson, all these complex symbolisms and applications serve to demonstrate one key message: “The cathedral is just saying God’s here.”

Quick facts: Judaism

By: Madison Butcher

Contrary to popular belief, Judaism is not just a black and white religion with a list of do’s and don’ts. The religion has a wide variety of beliefs and different branches. On one end of the spectrum are Orthodox Jews. On the opposite end are Reformed Jews. Both have a similar foundation, but with the progression of society, the branches have veered in different directions. With that said, this is a very general outline of the Jewish religion as a whole, rather than individual sects.

Jews are monotheistic, meaning they believe in only one God. The nature of God is the creator of all things. He is impossible to describe due to the fact that he doesn’t live in this realm of earth life. The Jewish God is a god of mercy and forgiveness. He communicates with his followers through prayer and many other ways. The Jews also believe in a Messiah, a being that will come to earth to establish God’s kingdom on earth.

Jewish believers use the Hebrew Bible as their source of truth and knowledge. The Torah, meaning “law” or “instruction, is a essentially a compilation of the first five books of Moses, which makes up the Hebrew Bible. Jews also use the Talmud as scripture, a text that entails the laws of Jewish religion.

A large part of Jewish culture and religion revolves around food. According to Jewish law, foods must be kosher. Kosher can be defined differently for various people, but generally it forbids eating pork, shellfish, and birds of prey. It is also important to note that being kosher also entails how meals are prepared. Eating kosher is a sign of the interconnection of God and the food that he gives his people.

The Jewish culture is filled with many different holy days including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover and Hanukkah. On top of these holy days, the Jews have strict laws regarding how to worship on the Sabbath. Saturday is considered the Sabbath day and is generally filled with rest, worship and spending time with family and friends. Worshipping at the synagogue is not limited to Saturday’s only. Throughout the week, most synagogues have different services and activities for their members to participate in.

Judaism is not a proselyting church. The process to be converted into the Jewish religion is an extensive process and can take up to several years of studying and learning. The foundational belief is that the Jewish bloodline comes through the mother to her children. Obviously, this belief is dependent on the particular branch of Judaism.

Overall, Judaism is a fairly complicated religion that roots its beliefs to the beginning of religious time. With the rise of anti-Semitism in our society, the media and world has created an image of the religion that may or may not be true. It is important to study the facts and learn more deeply about the Jewish religion and the culture as well.

Source: “Religions” by Philip Wilkinson

Quick facts: Islam

By: Anne Wallace

The word Islam in Arabic translates “to submit” and the word Muslim translates to “one who submits.” This simple translation gives key insights to the purpose and central doctrine of Islam, to submit oneself fully to Allah, which is just the Arabic word for God. There are two main branches of Islam, Sunni and Shiite, but both follow the same central beliefs. The division comes from a dispute over who was the proper successor (or Caliph) after the death of the Prophet Muhammed.

Muhammed was born in 570 A.D. in Mecca, and began receiving his prophetic revelations, which now compose the Islamic book of scripture, the Qur’an, in 610 A.D. when he was visited by the Angel Gabriel. The Qur’an is divided into two parts: the revelations the prophet received in Mecca and the revelations he received after migrating to Medina in 622 A.D. to escape religious persecution.

Islam is based mostly upon five pillars. The first is Shahada, which means testimony. In order to become a Muslim, one must recite in Arabic “There is no god but God, and Muhammed is the messenger of God.” The second pillar is Salat, which means prayer. Muslims will often say ritual prayers five times a day, and men will attend a prayer service on Fridays at the local mosque. The third pillar is Zakat, which means charity. Muslims believe firmly in sharing their wealth and helping the poor. The fourth pillar is Sawm, which is fasting. Muslims participate in Ramadan, which involves fasting from sunrise until sunset in order to experience a heightened sense of spirituality and closeness to God. The last pillar of Islam is Hajj, which means pilgrimage.

Muslims who are financially and physically capable will visit Mecca, the Holy Land, during their lifetime in remembrance and honor of the journey that the Prophet Muhammed made in 622 A.D. They will also visit sacred sites in the Holy Land, such as the Kaaba, and participate in holy rituals such as casting stones at a column that represents Satan.

Many misunderstand “Jihad,” what is sometimes called the sixth pillar of Islam, to mean holy war. Jihad simply means the struggle. It is meant to depict the individual fight against sin and temptation to choose righteously and follow God. It is the internal and sometimes external struggle one has to overcome evil.