One World Religion!
Buddhist, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh leaders to join pope at National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
It is called a multireligious service, but for those who have been asked to offer prayers alongside Pope Francis this month, a humble moment is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
About a dozen religious leaders, including representatives from Buddhist, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faiths, will join the pope on Sept. 25 at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Part of Pope Francis’ two-day visit to New York City, the service will include prayers from all of them honoring those who died on 9/11.
According to Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue, it will be “a holy and wholly unique event in the religious life of New York.”
“The pope understands the power of faith or religion as an instrument of peace, as opposed to division or strife,” said Rabbi Cosgrove. “To participate in an interreligious gathering which affirms that, whatever our differences may be, we are children of the same God, is an extraordinary statement.”
Multireligious gatherings between the pope and other faith leaders are essentially a modern practice, experts say, formalized in 1965 with Pope Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council’s declaration for “sincere reverence” of other religions.
That declaration opened the door for meetings between the pope and other religious leaders, said the Rev. Jean-Pierre Ruiz, associate professor of theology and religious studies at St. John’s University in Queens.
Another watershed moment for interfaith meetings came in 1986 when Pope John Paul IIgathered dozens of religious leaders at a World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, Italy. The image of all of them together “sent an important message to the world,” said Rev. Ruiz.
Pope Benedict continued the tradition of interfaith meetings during his 2008 trip to the U.S. He visited Park East Synagogue in New York and participated in several events in Washington, D.C., including an interreligious meeting. In 2011, he marked the 25th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace with another event in Assisi.
But what separates Pope Francis from his predecessors is his deliberate inclusion of other religions, especially members of the Jewish and Muslim faiths, Rev. Ruiz said. Some of those leaders are to play an active role in the Sept. 25 event.
It will begin with an invocation by Rabbi Cosgrove and Imam Khalid Latif, executive director of the Islamic Center at New York University. During the brief program, Pope Francis will offer a prayer and speak. Other religious leaders will then offer prayers, with translators, before an audience of hundreds. Sarah Sayeed, an adviser to Mayor Bill de Blasio, will read a translation from Arabic for the event, according to a spokeswoman for the mayor
One of the participants, Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, said she was honored to be included and excited for her faith, and others, to be recognized on the world stage.
“This pope has been so vocal and so broad-minded,” said Dr. Mysorekar. “We’re all able to chant prayers to that same divinity in our own different ways. It ultimately means that all of us collectively stand there and pray in whatever way we want to, but ultimately asking for peace in this world.”
Yasuko Niwano, a leader of the Rissho Kosei-kai Buddhist Center of New York, said she felt a mixture of honor, nerves and excitement about sharing the stage with Pope Francis. She saw the moment as a way to connect with the pontiff on the subject of openness and inclusiveness, she said.
“He doesn’t have any boundaries,” she said. “In Buddhism, we don’t have any boundary, we welcome anybody.”
The Rev. A.R. Bernard of Brooklyn’s Christian Cultural Center said he would be reflecting on the Beatitudes, eight blessings at the core of Jesus’ teachings, for his segment of the interreligious service.
Though the city’s religious leaders often get together around common issues of concern, the service with the pope is “a very, very special time, because it’s consistent with the climate in our city with regard to religious tolerance, and interfaith communication and working together,” he said.
“This is not a platform we experience every day,” Rev. Bernard said.
Satpal Singh, a leader of the Sikh community who is based in Buffalo, is hoping to use the moment on Sept. 25 as a way to educate the wider public about the Sikh faith. His prayer would reflect the point that “our actions speak,” he said.
“God expects all of us to love each other irrespective of what our outward beliefs and what our affiliations are,” Dr. Singh said. “That’s the important message that has to come through this forum.”