Just recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brahmachari Vrajvihari Sharan for "Interfaith Voices," the public radio show that I host. He is a Hindu priest and monk who has become the first Hindu chaplain at Georgetown University (which just happens to be my alma mater). In fact, he is the first Hindu priest and monk to be named a chaplain at any U.S. university.
He joins chaplains from a multitude of faith traditions at Georgetown: Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim.
He is young -- in his 30's, in fact – and a well-educated and absolutely delightful human being. Born in Britain, he trained as a priest in the ashrams of India and earned a Ph.D. in Sanskrit at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
Surprisingly, he lives in a freshman dorm -- yes, you read that correctly: he lives in a dorm! And it's not a penitential act! Turns out, he wants to show that he's not some kind of weirdo, and he is interested in learning how the students think.
I was surprised to learn that Georgetown -- which is, of course, a Catholic university run by the Jesuit order -- has about 300 Hindu students. Brahmachari offers them counseling and celebrates a "puja" [a religious ceremony with many symbols] weekly. He also does interfaith work since non-Hindu students want to learn more about this Eastern tradition. He is not yet teaching a class in Hinduism but hopes that is on the horizon.
Visit EarthBeat, NCR's new reporting project that explores the ways Catholics and other faith groups are taking action on the climate crisis.
I have long been interested in Hinduism as one of the oldest faith traditions on our planet. I have visited Satchidananda Ashram in southern Virginia several times and have had great discussions with Hindu nuns. I have visited Hindu temples and marveled at the range of gods and goddesses (in multi-colored splendor) who are depicted in statues and other artwork.
So I applaud Georgetown for taking a new and important step into the interfaith world with this appointment. As students from other faith traditions (Buddhism comes to mind) grow in number, perhaps we will see still more interfaith chaplains.
But this appointment is not just for Hindu students. Brahmachari will spread knowledge of Hinduism and the Eastern traditions generally -- from which everyone can learn a great deal.