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September 19, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 16   •   Oakland, CA
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Hundreds joined the candlelit march for peace.

Hundreds crowd cathedral for prayer for peace

Many signed a pledge of peace.

Above, people joined hands to pray. Below, Deacon David Young talks to Oakland City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan.

Through prayer, song, dialogue and candlelight procession, more than 600 people of many faiths came together at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in the name of peace.

Mercy, the Heart of Peace, a presentation by the Diocese of Oakland and the Community of Sant'Egidio, brought together local leaders of five faith traditions — Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Christian — who led prayer in their own faith tradition before gathering for a panel of three internationally known speakers.

Attendance exceeded the limits for the cathedral Event Center, with the overflow crowd offered seating in the cathedral, where they could hear the panel discussion.

It ended in the warmth of an early September night on the cathedral plaza, as the necklace of lights glowed across the street at Lake Merritt. After the faith leaders read the appeal, and signed their names to it, the public was invited to do the same. People waited patiently to add their names to the pledge of peace, which would be sent to Assisi for the gathering there.

Prayer was conducted in various rooms around the cathedral complex. Statues were covered with white sheets and sheets were placed on carpets where necessary.

The Christian prayer, the largest group of the evening, began in the cathedral. Rev. H. James Hopkins, of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church, zeroed in on mercy in his homily, which he based on the biblical story of Jesus healing the blind Bartimaeus.

At any given time, Hopkins told listeners, we may be one of the people in the story. "Sometimes we may be Bartimaeus," he said. "We may be the one in need of mercy." Other times, we might be what he called the "holy ushers," those who try to hush the blind man's call to Jesus.

"Then there is Jesus," he said, "who shows us what mercy is all about."

After prayer, the groups heard perspectives on mercy from three internationally renowned faith leaders.

"I'm so glad to see so many people here," said Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, in welcoming the gathering at the panel discussion. "We are all children of God. That makes us all brothers and sisters," he said.

"We're here, as people of faith, to give common witness to society that faith in God does not lead by necessity to violence and war. We're here to affirm that God is the origin and source of peace," he said.

Paola Piscitelli, the New York-based representative of the Community of Sant'Egidio, offered perspective on the roots of the evening. It commemorates 30 years after St. John Paul II, as pope, invited the leaders of the world's religions to Assisi, Italy, to affirm the peaceful nature of religions.

Pope Francis will join dozens of religious leaders — including Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury — and hundreds of their faithful in Assisi on Sept. 20 to pray for peace on the 30th anniversary of that event.

Related Story

Where do we go from here? Continuing the interfaith dialogue

Sant'Egidio taking root in the Diocese of Oakland
"Peace is a gift of God and result of God's mercy," said Bishop Ioan Casian of Vicina, the auxiliary bishop of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in the Americas.

People of all faiths, he said, should "contribute to the transformation of our society," helping come to a place of peace and harmony.

Rabbi Daniel Sperber, of Bar Ilian University's Institute of Advanced Torah Studies in Israel, will be among the speakers at the 30th anniversary event in Assisi this week.

"Peace is not synonymous with equality," he said, "but it does demand respect and esteem. Interreligious dialogue is an exercise to discover the theological justification and mutual respect."

It seeks, he said, to uncover the roots of conflict and hatred. "It strives to uncover the positive in the other, and the negative in oneself."

Islam has the greatest history of interfaith dialogue, said Professor Musdah Mulia, president of the Indonesian Conference on Religions for Peace. Mercy, she said, is one of the most notable of the divine attributes of Islam.

"Peace is a call that lies at the heart of all moral philosophies," she said.

Questions from the audience included how to engage congregations, and others, in dialogue about peace.

After that, the assembly was led by a group of children, as young as 4, in a procession down Harrison Street to the Pilgrims Path on 21st Street, to the cathedral plaza, as the Interfaith Gospel sang "Wade in the Water."

After a greeting from Bishop Barber, Very Rev. James Matthews, rector of the cathedral, asked the gathering for a moment of silence.

"Be mindful of the victims of violence, of war and of terrorism in our nation and within the nations around the world," he said.

Faith leaders signed their names to the petition, and the gathering offered one another a sign of peace.

"How important it is for all of us as the instruments of God's peace not only today but every day of our lives," said Very Rev. Matthews.

(Catholic News Service contributed to this report.)

Where do we go from here? Continuing the interfaith dialogue

After the meeting Mercy, the Heart of Peace, Sept. 6, the question some of the more than 600 participants may be asking themselves is: Where do we go from here?

We find common ground, and go from there, said Rabbi Daniel Sperber, one of the three international speakers at the Sept. 6, Mercy the Heart of Peace event sponsored by the Diocese of Oakland the Community of Sant'Egidio.

Rabbi Sperber, who is from Israel, is a longtime participant in interfaith dialogue. He will participate on two panels at the international "Thirst for Peace: Religions and cultures in dialogue" in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 18-20. Pope Francis will be attending on Sept. 20.

Instead of looking at what divides us, Rabbi Sperber suggests, seek "what is common to us."

"What are the common values?" he said. "What are the basic values of morality, of life, subservience to a supreme entity?"

Then, he said, look to "what is common to us: charity, mercy, and what would all agree to as being a unacceptable."

He said agreement on "common ethical values" would be a "very positive approach."

"That means it would be in theory possible — maybe in practice, too — for joint activities of a certain nature between the faith communities.

He suggested charitable activities "or the poor, the indigent, the homeless, the hungry."

He suggested a church, a synagogue and a mosque might work together. He said the joining together would have positive effects.

"A church will find it more difficult to reach homeless Muslims. They won't know how to talk with them. There will be various suspicions. The food has to be Halal [to meet dietary restrictions]."

"Joint ventures of this nature could broaden significantly the positive effects," he said.

Rabbi Sperber, said, "I can imagine joint shelters," he said. "In a joint shelter of this nature there would be religious services that would satisfy the requirements of the various constituents."

"I think also these types of meetings should constitute a beginning of meetings, where the rabbi, the imam and the local parish priest meet at fairly regular intervals," Rabbi Sperber said. Such a meeting might help them "introduce to their communities what's going on in other communities."

"A Christian community could know the festival of the sacrifice is going to take place shortly in Islam. They should be aware of the fact that during Ramadan, Muslims do not eat during the daytime. Maybe in your shops you have people who are working for you, and you are not aware they have to get up at 4 in the morning and they don't eat until the call at 7:08 in the evening. It's not easy. You have to be sensitive to their needs," he said.

Awareness of a calendar of the holy days in each religion could be developed, he suggested.

"The more one meets one another, the more one discovers new areas of joint activity," he said.

Sant'Egidio taking root in the Diocese of Oakland

Paola Piscitelli talks during the interfaith gathering, Mercy, the Heart of Peace.

Last November, Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, introduced the Community of Sant'Egidio to the Diocese of Oakland. Representatives of the community, founded by young lay people in Rome after Vatican II, combine prayer and service.

In visits to parishes, schools and colleges, Sant'Egidio community members invited people in the Diocese of Oakland to consider forming communities here. Two groups have formed; one meets for prayer at 7 p.m. Mondays at St. Columba Church in Oakland; the other at 7 p.m. Thursdays at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Berkeley.

In the United States, Sant'Egidio communities are active in New York City; Washington, DC; Boston; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Minnesota; and South Bend, Indiana.

The diocese partnered with Sant'Egidio USA, led by Paola Piscitelli, to put on Mercy, the Heart of Peace, featuring international speakers and representatives of faith communities throughout the diocese. More than 600 people attended the event at the cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland on Sept. 7.

Piscitelli spent several days in the East Bay, and visited the new Sant' Egidio communities. What differences did she find, almost a year after her first visit here?

"First of all there is a big change," she said. "Sant'Egidio is more familiar to the area." A year ago, she said, "it was something completely new."

"It reminds me of when we came to the United States," she said. Piscitelli arrived in New York in 1992.

"No one knew Sant'Egidio. Now, it's starting to be something people are familiar with. When you say the name, it rings a bell."

Building communities, Piscitelli said, "takes time."

"It doesn't fit the exact example of what people are used to in the parish," she said. "It really takes a little while for people to have an understanding."

"The community has a spirituality that is really distinct and radical in the hearing and listening of the Gospel and putting it to practice in a daily, committed way, which is sharing part of our life with the poor," she said.

To the Sant'Egido community, the poor are part of the family.

"We do not want to do programs for the poor," Piscitelli said. "We want to have them in our family, in our community."

"The service is not once in a while," she said. "It cannot come in one intervention."

"Each community has to discover the life of the city, the niches of poverty, what is hidden," she said.

For the last five years, Piscitelli has visited a homeless man in New York "every Tuesday."

Not long ago, he allowed her to become his health care proxy when he was hospitalized.

When Piscitelli was visiting Italy, there was a train wreck.

"He called me to see if I was OK," she said. "He was the only one from America.

"It is a beautiful sign of this friendship."

For further information on Sant'Egidio, contact Piscitelli at Santegidiousa@gmail.com or 646-765-3899.

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