During a Jan. 11 interreligious prayer service, leaders of eight different faith communities gathered together at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Washington to pray for migrants, during this year’s National Migration Week. The theme for the week is “Creating a Culture of Encounter.”
“We gather this evening to pray, to meditate, to learn, but above all to encounter each other,” said Javier Bustamante, the director of the Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach for the Archdiocese of Washington.
During the prayer service, reflections from each of the faith leaders were interspersed with music from the Intercultural Choir from St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring.
“Prayer is not just a recitation to ask for divine intervention…it is an action that transforms those who are engaged in the exercise,” said Bustamante, who added that the hope was for everyone there to “be transformed, so we can transform the world.”
Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville spoke first, reflecting upon his own experience as an immigrant from Colombia.
“It was a very difficult experience as I came to this city,” he remembered. “…Little by little I came to love it, to love the culture, and love the people in it.”
Bishop Dorsonville said hope is the most important part of an immigrant’s life, and that in the midst of many questions about what is going to happen in the future, “we can see unity in the lives of faith” that were gathered.
Next, Rabbi Gerald Serotta – the executive director of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington – spoke, saying it is very easy to describe what the Hebrew Bible says about immigration, because 36 times “It asks us to remember what it was like to be an oppressed immigrant in a land that’s not our land.”
Just as we are asked to love our neighbor, he said, we must also love the stranger, because they are also “a reflection of the image of God.” Doing so is not completed upon safe arrival in the country, he added, but is connected to helping them rebuild their lives, by providing them with things like food and clothing.
Chaplain Asma Inge-Hanif, the executive director and founder of Inge Benevolent Ministries dba Muslimat Al Nisaa Shelter, also discussed the need to act with compassion toward migrants, saying, “These are our brothers and sisters, fleeing unimaginable violence, persecution, and circumstances…to do any less would be to dishonor our values as people of faith and as Americans.”
Nadim van de Fliert, from the Bahá’í community of Washington, D.C., asked those present to “be kind to the stranger, help them feel at home,” and, “go out of your way to be kind to them.” He emphasized the importance of acting to help newcomers, because “unless these thoughts are translated into the world of actions, they are useless.”
Greg Allen, the first counselor to the bishop from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said, “It is truly inspiring to hear eternal truths echoing through the comments of my fellow speakers.” He encouraged everyone to think about migrants and consider, “What if their story were my story?”
Dr. Rajwant Singh, the chairman of the Sikh council on religion and education, added, “We have to live our lives as a shining light…our light has to reflect God’s light” which “can only happen if we practice kindness to the known and unknown.”
Jayne Sutton, a Buddhist leader from the Shambhala Meditation Center, spoke about the importance of cultivating compassion by generating the wish that all beings are healthy, happy, safe and at peace, and read from a reflection called “Friendliness.”
Finally, Kersi Shroff recalled how the Zoroastrian people were once refugees, after fleeing from Persia and arriving in India to freely practice their religion. He said Zoroastrians embrace a fundamental principle of self-sacrifice in the service of mankind.
“Life is incomplete if only lived for oneself, without regard for others,” he said.
In his concluding remarks, Bishop Dorsonville acknowledged that through all the different reflections, there was a consistent message of the need to be kind, and to “be the image of God who loves and embraces all.”
In the midst of what many consider to be a difficult time, Bishop Dorsonville said, “we have the opportunity to shine, the opportunity to speak, the opportunity to act, and the opportunity to serve.”
Among those who attended the service was a group of students from Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, who are juniors taking a social justice class. Their teacher, Charlene Howard, heard about the service and decided that it would be a good thing for them to go to.
“They need the opportunity to broaden their perspectives,” she said. After the service was over, she encouraged them all to go meet someone new, as a part of the theme of encounter.
Howard said she enjoyed “hearing the same message resounding over and over again,” since she believes in universal truth.
“If you get around and meet enough people different than you, you will find something we have in common,” she said.