Interfaith Prayer Vigil Responds to Recent Tragedies


Moralist: Wikimedia Commons

It’s been a grim stretch of weeks, filled with reports of terror attacks, police shootings, ambushes, attempted coups and on and on and on. The political cartoon in the San Jose Mercury News showed a woman carrying a newspaper filled with grim headlines opening a cupboard labeled “Thoughts & Prayers,” only to find the shelves bare.

However, the more than 200 people who gathered at Santa Teresa Catholic Church in San Jose on Wednesday evening did not find the cupboard empty. Leaders of religious communities including Baha’is, Zen Buddhists and True Land Buddhists, Sunni and Ahmadiyya Muslims, Catholic and Baptist Christians, Jews and Unitarians brought prayers, chants, and meditations for peace and healing. They reminded attendees of the call for peacemaking, compassion, and respect that lies deep at the heart of diverse religious traditions. As we lit candles at the end of the service and circled the sanctuary, one could almost see the web of relationships, light, and prayer that linked the participants together and tied us with others around the world.

These were my comments for the evening:

Over these past few weeks and months, as we sit at our breakfast tables with the morning newspaper, or watch events unfolding on TV, or find ourselves awash in comments on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media that may be informed and thoughtful or opinionated and angry, we may find an echo of our souls in the words of the prophet Jeremiah[1]: Continue reading

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Grace Cathedral Vigil Remarks

San Francisco Interfaith CouncilThese remarks were prepared by Michael G. Pappas, the Executive Director of the San Francisco Interfaith Council, for a community Vigil for Peace held at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco on Monday, July 11, 2016. In addition to addressing recent events in our nation, they offer as well a history of the SF Interfaith Council’s engagement with civil rights in the past, present, and future.

One of the great mysteries of humanity is our inclination to come together in times of crisis. This evening, Bishop Marc Andrus and Dean Malcolm Young have brought us together to reflect upon the horrific violence that has plagued our nation these past days, weeks and months, but more importantly, to challenge us, as people of faith, to rise to the occasion and offer a fitting response rooted in our collective rich spiritual traditions…for this we are thankful.

Two crises, twenty-seven years ago, our City’s homeless crisis and the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake, in a like way brought religious leaders together and enlisted a response, in this case, to feed and shelter the homeless, prepare for disasters and offer up a unified voice of faith on the most pressing issues challenging our City…and thus, the SFIC, as we know it today, was born.

But the question is begged, was there no interfaith cooperation in our City before the formation of the SFIC?  History is punctuated with crises. It is in the DNA of communities of faith to emerge and offer a prophetic voice at those critical moments. The immense crisis in history, then, bringing together religious leaders, was inspired by the tireless and charismatic voice of Civil Rights Martyr the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Continue reading

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The INTRAfaith Conversation: Dr. Susan Strouse

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Parliament set for October in Salt Lake City

parliament2015The Parliament of the World’s Religions, a global interfaith assembly whose roots go back into the late 19th century, will convene once again this coming year in Salt Lake City, Utah from October 15-19. This is the first time since 1993 that the Parliament will be held in the United States.

The overall theme for the 2015 assembly will be “Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity,” with particular attention to issues of climate change, war and violence, and the widening gap between rich and poor. There will be hundreds of workshops, panels, worship experiences, art performances, seminars and training sessions, along with the opportunity to meet religious leaders and activists from around the world.

Keynote speakers this time will include His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who spoke at the last Parliament held in Melbourne, Australia, in 2009, and Karen Armstrong, religious scholar and creator of the Charter for Compassion.

The first Parliament of the World’s Religions took place in 1893, as part of the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition. Religious leaders were invited from around the world to meet and talk about their traditions. Unexpectedly, one of those leaders, Swami Vivekenanda from India, emerged as an inspiring and charismatic speaker. He was invited to speak again, and this event marks the first time that Hindu teaching came to the U.S.

In the 1980’s a group suggested holding a centennial celebration of the gathering, and thus the first contemporary Parliament was held in Chicago in 1993. That revival proved so meaningful that it was followed by additional assemblies in Cape Town, South Africa in 1999, Barcelona, Spain in 2004, and Melbourne, Australia in 2009. (Read about the history of the Parliament.)

Special Early Bird registration rates are available until March 31. For full information and registration, see the Parliament web site.

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ING site promotes series on First Principles

logo.ingDuring this month of Ramadan, which ends around Sunday, July 27,  ING, the nation-wide educational organization with its founding offices in San José, has been publishing a series of reflections on “First Principles of Religion.”

Along with their educational Islamic Speakers Bureau, ING for many years has offered an Interfaith Speakers Bureau, bringing representatives of five religious traditions to speak to congregations, schools, and other groups about the shared values among diverse religions. From those experiences, they have offered five key principles for supporting peace among traditions:

  • Respect for Life
  • Respect for Human Dignity
  • Respect for Freedom of Thought and Expression
  • Respect for Freedom of Religion and Conscience
  • Respect for Others: The Golden Rule

What do you think? How do these principles fit in your own religious tradition? How might they serve as common ground for cooperation with other traditions? What other principles would you add?

You can read the introduction to the series and further development of each of the principles at the ING website.

[The introductory essay also appeared on Patheos on Day One of their special Altmuslim/Patheos Muslim Ramadan #30Days30Writers blog project, in which they showcase the voices of 30 Muslim leaders, activists, scholars, and writers. The article also appears at the Huffington Post blog.]

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Hashtag campaign: #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies



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Vigil recalls the human cost of Gaza conflict


Moralist: Wikimedia Commons

A small but committed group of local people gathered Thursday evening in the plaza in front of San José City Hall for a Vigil for Peace in Gaza. Organizers Cathy Do, Angela Cortese, Veronica Eldredge and Arinee Rahman asked participants to honor their intention for the evening to set aside political debate, religious argument, or taking sides in the conflict in order simply to focus on the human cost of the ongoing warfare in Gaza.

A list of the victims, both Israeli and Palestinian, was handed to each participant. The names, hundreds of them, filling both sides with the small print that spoke of the enormous loss of life, were listed alphabetically, with no effort to identify Palestinian from Israeli. “We want to recall that we are all human beings,” said Angela Cortese to the gathered crowd.

People were then invited to take a candle for the vigil. Each one was shielded from the wind by a paper cup on which the name of one of the victims had been written, along with his or her age. As the candles were lit, the leader invited each person to think of the person whose name was on the cup, and to recognize their shared humanity.

Forming a large circle, people walked around the path, sheltering their candles from the wind that blew across the plaza, and sharing in singing “Peace is flowing like a river.”

The few picket signs that appeared were set aside, no long and impassioned speeches were made. Each one there was free to hold their own thoughts and prayers, to share them quietly with others around, or simply remain silent. In a time when public debate is all too often carried on in the form of shouting, and understanding gives way to passion, it was an opportunity for quiet reflection and hope for peace.

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