Local religious leaders renew commitment to peace on 9/11 anniversary

BROOKLINE — More than 20 local religious leaders gathered on the 5th anniversary of the violence of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to reaffirm their commitment to justice, unity and lasting peace.

The Convening Committee for the Massachusetts Interreligious Leaders and Representatives Group began meeting regularly after the 2001 attacks. This year they dialogued together at the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston for over two hours after which they met with members of the media.

There, five religious leaders — Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, Imam Abdullah Faaruuq of the Islamic Council of New England, president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis Barbara Penzner, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches Rev. Diane Kessler, and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Methodios of Boston — each lit a candle. The candles formed a circle and represented the “light of peace,” Metropolitan Methodios said.

“I see the lighting of the candles as a sign of our hope and our prayer to share the light of peace with our brothers and sisters throughout the world,” he said. “This morning we have gathered to affirm to one another and to the entire world the shared principles of justice, peace and unity, which are essential teachings of our Scripture traditions.”

Metropolitan Methodios said that, through the grace of God, sharing these values will some day lead to lasting peace and prosperity.

In his remarks, Cardinal O’Malley added that religious leaders must inspire their communities to live their faith and work together for justice. The actions of many people after Sept. 11 have shown their desire for peace, he said.

“It’s very fitting that we come together to mark this anniversary of such a terrible crime against humanity ... an event that brought out not only the worst in people but the best in people — their heroism and generosity, their love of community, their desire for peace and for paternity among peoples,” he said.

Those who attacked the United States wanted to destroy the foundation of this country but did not, and will not, succeed, said Rabbi Penzner.

“It was the goal of those who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks to destroy what makes America unique,” she said.

Instead of allowing that to happen, Americans must work together and pursue what in Jewish tradition is called “tikkun olam” or “repair of the world,” she added.

“We will work together to repair the world and we will bring a message of hope and peace to the people in our own communities and all people throughout the world,” she said.

Imam Faaruuq said that the group convened to share their common concern for all people, especially those less fortunate.

“We have gathered here today to share our concern for humanity and our belief in the one, transcendent God above all things,” he said.

Rev. Kessler said that as people of prayer with shared values, the group’s members came together to exchange dialogue and address the needs of the community together.

In October of 2006 and 2007 the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish High Holy Days and Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, as well as the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi will coincide. St. Francis prayed that he would be an instrument of the Lord’s peace, she said.

The convergence of these religious observances will not recur for another 30 years, Kessler added.

“We want to call attention to a distinct opportunity for dialogue and shared action among people of faith in local communities,” she said. “We are convinced that through sustained dialogue and relationships, barriers are removed and bridges are built.”

Speaking with The Pilot after the press conference, Cardinal O’Malley said that the religious leaders who gathered plan to continue to come together and pray together. They want to address the issues that divide people and help the secular world understand that religions are meant to build community and solidarity, not divide people.

“We certainly react when people try to use religion as an excuse for violence, bigotry or hatred,” he said of Sept. 11. “That is not what our faith is about. We are called to love the Lord and live His commandments.”

“The events on Sept. 11 galvanized this group to reach out in particular to the Muslim community,” he added.

The Archdiocese of Boston has long been involved in interreligious dialogue, participating in meetings and organizing events, and hopes to communicate to the Catholics of Boston the importance of reaching out to those of other faiths, Cardinal O’Malley said.

“We are anxious in our parishes for people to become more aware of the need for interreligious dialogue,” he said.