In the month of March, the world saw two horrific attacks on mosques – one in Christchurch, New Zealand, which claimed the lives of fifty innocent people, and the other in Escondido, California, where no life, gratefully, was lost, but where a mosque was torched. Also on March 2, a Strasbourg, France, Jewish memorial was vandalized. One month earlier, a Brooklyn, New York Chabad Synagogue was vandalized in an anti-Semitic attack. And at least 10 Catholic churches in France were vandalized and desecrated in one week in February.
While the loss of life in New Zealand is certainly the most horrific of the crimes mentioned above, all are reprehensible, and must be condemned by all people of good will. And people of good will – locally, nationally and internationally – far outnumber those who promote the hatred and even killing of people whose religious beliefs are different than their own.
As is often the case, various communities have come together to decry acts of hatred and violence. While this is commendable, what can we, as people of various faiths or no faith, do to prevent such hatred? The only place to start is to begin by being more peaceful in our hearts, our families, our communities and then beyond.
The next step is to share that peace with others through getting to know those who are different than ourselves. It’s amazing how, when one meets someone from a background toward which he or she may have an aversion (for example, when he or she does not see the person, but the group as a whole). Then one person meets someone from that “group.” Friendships can foster, and the fear of “the other,” which is often the cause of prejudice and hatred, begins to naturally shrink.
The Abington Ecumenical Ministerium is just one example of people of different faith traditions that gathers monthly and encourages our community to minister to the needs of one another – friend and stranger alike.
Also, we need to educate our children that being “different” is fine and healthy, and that all people must be seen as having the worth and dignity bestowed upon them by their Creator. Perhaps we won’t see the fruits of our efforts, but who knows if the next great peacemaker is in our own family. By inviting children and young people to events where people of different traditions gather, we are exposing them to accepting others as peers, not adversaries.
This month Jews will celebrate Passover, the evening of April 19 to the evening of April 27. Non-Orthodox Christians will celebrate Easter on April 21. And Orthodox Christians will celebrate Pascha (Easter) on April 28. In light of this, let us seek peace and love for all, even when holding our own traditions near and dear.
Marianne C. Sailus, BCC is a member of the Abington Ecumenical Ministerium and is the chaplain/bereavement counselor for Allied Services Hospice.