Faith leaders confront racism
With backgrounds ranging from Protestant and Catholic to Baha'i, Muslim, Unitarian and Jewish, most of the participants had been among the 48 faith leaders who assembled at the First Baptist Church in America last October to sign a "faith leaders initiative" against racism.
At that earlier session, held only a month after Sept. 11, clergy and laity agreed they would attempt to "live by compassion and be consciously inclusive of all individuals," and to "transform" their institutions into "authentically anti-racist and anti-oppressive communities of action."
Yesterday, in a session that began with bagels and pastries in a Conservative Jewish synagogue, Waleed Muhammad recalled how after the September attacks he and other leaders in the Muslim-American Dawah Center of Rhode Island were kept busy opening their doors to non-Muslims and answering invitations to speak.
He had seen such neighborliness once before, he said, 24 years ago in the aftermath of the Blizzard of '78.
"You remember how after awhile [after the blizzard] things went back to normal," he said. "I hope this time we never get back to normal.... I hope that we will continue to have that spirit of feeling for each other. The only way we will do that is by working together and doing the kind of exercises we are doing today."
In terms of specific progress, participants pointed to work being done making tiles for a "Wall of Hope" to be erected next Sept. 11 on the side of The Providence Journal building and in the tunnel near Waterplace Park. The Wall is a project of the National Conference for Community and Justice, which is also behind the faith leaders initiative.
Pat Jaehnig, justice and peace education coordinator for the Diocese of Providence, said there have been other developments as well, such as the display of unity that was shown when Roman Catholic Bishop Robert E. Mulvee invited an array of religious leaders to Beneficent Church in Providence in January to pray for peace.
And more recently, she said, the diocese has decided to create an Office of Ethnic Minorities to advise parishes on how to be more open and welcoming to ethnic minorities.
Judy Kaye, of Temple Emanu-El, said the temple has had a relationship over the last several years with members of the predominantly black Congdon Street Baptist Church and would like to start a similar relationship with the Muslims.
Rob Jones, program director for the National Conference for Community and Justice, said he was happy with yesterday's meeting. He believes the organizers hope now to send questionnaires to all the faith groups to ask them what they've done, so that their ideas and projects can be shared and replicated by other churches, synagogues, and temples in Rhode Island.
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