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Faith leaders urge communities to show care for their neighbor

new 11 2.9.17_wuerl.faithWashington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl speaks at a gathering of local faith leaders from the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington Jan. 31 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

February 9, 2017 Kelly Seegers Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON – A coalition of interfaith leaders from the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington gathered at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington on Jan. 31 to announce a vision statement for religious communities in the local area.

The statement, released a day before the start of the United Nations’ annual World Harmony Faith Week, “arises from (the communities’) trust in God and belief that good government is exercised ‘under God.’” It also called upon their belief in “our responsibility to serve humanity,” which calls them into community.

The news conference opened with prayers given by Episcopal Bishop Mariann Budde of Washington and Imam Talib Shareef from the Masjid Muhammad, the Nation’s Mosque, who also is the conference’s president. Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington and other faith leaders also were present.

Bishop Budde opened by saying, “We gather in the spirit of great friendship. … In a moment of special need for some of our members, especially in the Muslim communities, with whom we stand with great compassion.”

“This picture we have up here is a beautiful picture of our city” and of our nation, said Imam Sahreef, referring to the different religious leaders standing side by side.

In his remarks, Rabbi Gerald Serotta, executive director of the conference, noted the interfaith group was founded in 1978 and since then has “advocated for the rights of each religious community to freely practice its faith without fear or intimidation.” The conference includes leaders from several Christian denominations, as well as representatives of the Sikh, Zoroastrian, Mormon, Jewish, Hindu, Jain, Muslim and Baha’i faith communities.

The group’s statement was inspired by a charge led by Cardinal Wuerl last May, when he spoke to the faith leaders, encouraging them to “amplify the voice of the interfaith community speaking to the spiritual welfare of our Washington-area community,” said Rabbi Serotta.

Cardinal Wuerl pointed out that the group had been crafting the statement for several months, and it was not merely a reaction to current events. Nevertheless, the faith leaders did comment on how the values outlined in their statement relate to President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive memorandum keeping refugees hailing from seven majority-Muslim countries – Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia – from coming in to the United States for 90 days. His action suspended the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days.

“While the statement we present today does not speak to any specific public policy, we firmly insist that the values that we emphasize today must play an important part in our community’s life,” said Rabbi Serotta.

Policies being put in place by the new administration affect local faith communities, and “if any of those communities feels threatened, we will continue to stand up for one another,” said Rabbi Serotta. “The dignity and rights of each of our faith communities are as important to us as our own.”

Cardinal Wuerl, who recently released a statement commenting on Trump’s executive action, said: “While we are very aware of the need for security, we also very much recognize that cannot be at the cost of a failure to recognize the needs of people being persecuted. We very strongly invite people who are suffering persecution to come and be welcomed by all of us.”

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