The first Festival of Faiths commenced 25 years ago this month! To honor this milestone, we are revisiting key moments in Festival history. As we reminisce, we invite you to consider donating $25 for 25 to support our continued mission of fostering unity by celebrating diverse faith traditions.

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Moments in Festival History

The inaugural Festival of Faiths in Louisville Gardens.

On November 16, 1996, the Festival of Faiths was born! It all began with the “Night of a Thousand Stars,” a gala honoring those who have made lasting contributions in the realm of interfaith work.This historic evening was the inaugural event of the Festival of Faiths — a celebratory gathering conceived by the Cathedral Heritage Foundation, which eventually would become the Center for Interfaith Relations.

“I don’t know of any place else where they’re doing this.” —The Rev. Kenneth Smith of the Chicago Theological Seminary said upon attending the first Festival of Faiths, which he hailed as a model for bringing people together.

On Nov. 17, 1996, a sea of white canopies spanned the floor of Louisville Gardens, which had been transformed to resemble a 19th-century tent revival. This first-ever Festival of Faiths sought to tell the unique story of Louisville’s spiritual heritage — a rich history that began as settlers crossed over the Appalachian Mountains and landed here, bringing with them diverse traditions. Dozens of local congregations and religiously affiliated institutions participated in this unprecedented event.

“Our differences make us unique. Our differences are what unite us as American. We are many threads woven into the fabric of this great country,” former Kentucky First Lady Judi Patton said during a peace walk that kicked off the 2001 Festival of Faiths. This sixth annual Festival convened two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and our Pilgrimage for Peace symbolized reconciliation, hope and healing.

“Today, efforts like the Festival of Faiths have a different tenor… there is a focus on what faiths can achieve in common witness to the surrounding world,” renowned theologian Martin E. Marty said in advance of speaking at the 2005 Festival. His statement reflected the evolution of the Festival to encompass not only interfaith celebration, but also meaningful dialogue and common action. With this broadened purpose came a name change for the Cathedral Heritage Foundation, which founded the Festival — and in 2006, the Center for Interfaith Relations was born!

In 2015, HuffingtonPost named the Festival of Faiths one of “eight spiritual sites that welcome seekers of all faiths.” It’s a characterization that speaks to the heart of the Festival, which since its inception has sought to celebrate and shed light on the world’s vast spiritual traditions — from Buddhism to Baha’i, from Judaism to Christianity, from Hinduism to Islam, from Sikhism to Native American traditions, and many more.

“Let’s deal with the idea of the compassionate city being a city that feels profound discomfort at the pain in the world. Let it disturb our dreams. Let us try and find a way to make people within our cities aware of the sacredness of every single human being,” Karen Armstrong, author of the Charter for Compassion, said during the 2017 Festival of Faiths. Her words illustrate how the Festival examines relevant, often difficult issues through the lens of faith—and with an eye toward compassion. In recent years, this commitment has played out on our stage during sessions such as Black Lives Matter, Face to Face With Islamophobia, The Climate Crisis, The Culture of Addiction and more.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote these words in a greeting to the 2016 Festival of Faiths: “Today, because the capacity for human destruction is so immense, because the threat to the environment is so great, people are developing a greater understanding of the importance of adopting nonviolence and compassion… I offer my prayers and good wishes for the success of the festival and my hopes that your discussions of the pathways to nonviolence will be fruitful. I look forward to hearing what practical steps you recommend for putting your conclusions into effect.” We were humbled by this message from the Dalai Lama, whose historic meeting with Thomas Merton has long inspired our programming. We’re also grateful for the Dalai Lama’s enduring engagement with the Festival, which in 2013 we held in conjunction with his visit to Louisville.
For the harvest of the spirit, thanks be to God.
For the good we all inherit, thanks be to God.
For the wonders that astound us, for the truths that will confound us, most of all that love has found us, thanks be to God.
These lyrics rang out inside the Cathedral of the Assumption during the inaugural Festival’s Interfaith Thanksgiving Prayer Service. Over the years, the Cathedral has hosted many moving Festival services—a fitting venue given the sacred structure’s restoration paved the way for the Festival of Faiths. A quarter-century later, Festival attendees continue to gather in the Cathedral each year to celebrate and give thanks for our many faiths.

A Look Back: In Pictures

Take a visual stroll down memory lane! These images represent just a fraction of the meaningful moments, sacred spaces and many people who have played a part in the history of the Festival. Check out our Festival of Faiths Flickr page to see more iconic photos.