Interfaith Assembly: ‘Opening Windows of Understanding’

The Mosque of Jesus, Son of Mary, 501 Park Street in Syracuse, hosted the 6th Annual World Interfaith Harmony Assembly on February 8, 2016. After the call to prayer at 6:46 PM, the program began.

Beth Broadway, president and CEO of InterFaith Works of CNY, and Elizabeth Lamb, president of Women Transcending Boundaries each welcomed the over 500 attendees.

Rev. Jon Werner, Roman Catholic priest currently in Binghamton and host of the 2013 interfaith assembly at St. John the Baptist Church, expressed hope that the gathering would help bridge the divides in the community. He then offered an invocation. Rev. Georgina Hegney, interim priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and host of the previous year’s interfaith assembly, expressed her gratitude for ongoing opportunities to work together.

Ms. Huma Ahmed, from the Mosque of Jesus, Son of Mary, said “We are thrilled to see everyone under one roof and spiritually engaged with each other.” She said that the building is over 100 years old and expressed her commitment as a woman leader at the mosque to continue its vision of helping people in need and offering prayers and spiritual guidance. (This new mosque is in the building that was formerly the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, which had been empty for several years before being purchased in 2014 by a Muslim group, which named it Mosque of Jesus, Son of Mary β€œto build a bridge between the old and the new.”)

Members of the InterFaith Works Round Table of Faith Leaders each lit a candle and voiced their hopes for the assembly. After each of the following presentations, a clear tone sounded allowing all to reflect quietly for 15 seconds before the next religious group took the stage.

An 11-year-old girl from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Anna, said she likes to learn about other cultures and has met lots of great people that way. Four men and one woman from the Chapel of Malek Missionary at St. Paul’s sang a song from their native Sudan.

Two people from the Thekchen Choling USA Vajrayaha Buddhist Temple, dressed in traditional garb of Tibetan Buddhism, read a quote from the Dalai Lama concluding with his statement that his religion is kindness and then chanted a Buddhist sutra, translating it to voice their desire to become enlightened in order to save all people from suffering.

Todd and Jenifer Moss, from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and their eight children then took the stage. After several brief readings by family members, Jenifer described the Mormon tradition of Monday evenings being “family home night” and expressed her conviction that “We are all part of one big family, brothers and sisters of our Heavenly Father who love us; we are spending this time together as one extended family.” They then offered a song entitled β€œFamilies Can Be Together Forever.”

Members of the Rapha interfaith community of Syracuse took the stage, explaining that they are enriched by sharing their spiritual journeys and then sang “God Is Peace.”

Jose Cossa, coordinator of InterFaith Works’ Seeds of Peace program, joined by a student participant, explained that Seeds of Peace is active in five local high schools, bringing together new arrivals in the country to build friendships with other students. He read a poem by Rumi expressing that “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

A member of the Sikh Foundation of Syracuse, dressed in the turban and beard typical of Sikh men, described a recent experience at a grocery store where one young girl said to him, “You look like Jesus” and her friend added, “You look like God.” As he was loading his groceries in his car, one person called him ISIS. “In the space of five minutes,” he reflected, “I encountered both wisdom and ignorance.” He expressed hope that encounters such as those this evening would help narrow the gaps between people of faith.

Members of All Saints Roman Catholic parish brought to the stage a banner depicting the earth being held between two hands and described their understanding that “All human life is bound up with God, our neighbors and the earth.” They voiced hope that people of faith could join together in protecting the earth, our common home.

Members of the Congregation Beth Sholom-Chevra Shas, a Conservative Jewish synagogue, read from Abraham Joshua Heschel’s writings, “To pray is to bring God back into the world, to expand His presence,” voicing the conviction that “the symbol of God is a human being, every human.”

Two Nepali-Bhutanese, representing the large community of Nepali-Bhutanese refugees who have been resettled in Syracuse, chanted from a Hindu scripture “Om Shanti,” concluding with an explanation in English that “God is everywhere. May the knowing of this bring peace to all.”

Tim Saka and his wife Lisa from the Turkish Cultural Center referred to the love that Muslims have for Jesus and stated that many Muslim parents name a son Isa (Jesus) or a daughter Maryam (Mary). They quoted from the Qur’an (49:13): “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you.” 

Three of the ten chaplains from Syracuse University’s Hendricks Chapel, representing Buddhism, Protestant Christianity, and Islam, took the stage and read their mission statement: “Hendricks Chapel is the diverse religious, spiritual, ethical,and cultural heart of Syracuse University that connects people of all faiths and no faith through active engagement, mutual dialogue, reflective spirituality, responsible leadership, and a rigorous commitment to social justice.” They referred to the monthly interfaith dialogue dinners at the chapel and invited members of the larger community to attend.

A Baha’i representative referred to the three fundamental teachings of the Baha’i Faith: the unity of God, the unity of religions, and the unity of all humanity, reading a quote, “We created you all from the same dust, so no one should exalt himself over the other.” The Muslim chaplain at Syracuse University, Ahmed Malik, concluded the interfaith program.

Muris Neimarlija, imam of the Mosque of Jesus, Son of Mary, led the Isha prayer, the final of the five daily Muslim prayers recited in the mosque, and invited those who wished to join in the prostrations that followed the recitations from the Qur’an. 

Refreshments were arrayed on buffet tables and participants were requested to go up to at least one person they did not know and introduce themselves. 

For photos from the Syracuse Post-Standard, click here.