Friendship and service highlighted the 12th annual Unity Walk on Sept. 10 as people of all ages and faith backgrounds stopped at 11 houses of worship lining Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. Participants toured the buildings, helped bag apples for the poor outside of Annunciation Parish, and sipped iced tea and lemonade at the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See to the United States.

Around 800 people joined this year’s neighborhood walk, sponsored by the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington. The event began after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and is held each year near the anniversary.

“This year, given factors in our country and around the world which are magnifying the counter-message to interfaith unity, the Unity Walk is a powerful public affirmation and a visual demonstration of U.S. values,” said Rabbi Gerry Serotta, executive director of the IFC. “The walk conveys a strong message that folks should get out and visit their neighbors who may look different and worship differently. This is one way we respond to attempts to divide us.”

Event organizer Symi Rom-Rymer said the Unity Walk exemplifies all the goals of the Interfaith Conference, which she said  “is about finding different ways to bring faith communities together.” The afternoon event takes about six months to plan and involves more than 80 volunteers and a permit from the District police who help control traffic crossings along the route. Rom-Rymer said several board members of the organization help plan the event including: Anne Golightly, a representative from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons); Imam Johari Abdul Malik, Imam Talib Shareef, and Rizwan Jaka from the Muslim community; Mythili "Lee" Bachu from the Hindu-Jain faith; and Farzad Aidun a member of the Zoroastrian religion.

“The walk is a wonderful entry point for anyone interested in learning about different faith traditions that surround us,” Rom-Rymer added.

Earlier during the opening ceremony at Washington Hebrew Congregation, Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville urged participants “to recognize the pain of others, get to know better our neighbors and to love one another” as they walk from each open house. In a world with discrimination, injustice and war, Bishop Dorsonville said, “let us be a real sign of bringing God’s love, embracing solidarity and embracing each other.” The bishop added, “We are interconnected… and can experience God’s face in each other’s smile.”

Later the prelate told the Catholic Standard he was honored to be representing the Archdiocese of Washington at the Unity Walk.

“Everything is about encounters,” Bishop Dorsonville said. “God wants us to love each other as brothers and sisters.”

Although Rabbi Bruce Lustig said he was “deeply troubled” to see people on American soil dressed in Nazi paraphernalia during protest marches earlier this summer, he paused to remind the Unity Walk’s participants that was “not the America we walk for today.” The rabbi welcomed walkers to the Washington Hebrew Congregation and reminded participants “love can come out of diversity.”

Judy Bond, a volunteer from the Interfaith Conference, agreed. “The Unity Walk is a wonderful way to bring people together to be with one another and to learn with one another,” said Bond, a member of the United Church of Christ. The event continues to provide an opportunity for representatives of all faiths to come together and to make a very public statement “that everybody is accepted regardless of who they are,” she added.

Before leaving the synagogue, District of Columbia Councilmember Elissa Silverman briefly addressed the crowd, welcoming the walkers and stating “Washington D.C. is a city that is in pursuit of justice at all times and welcomes neighbors of all types.”

Bright sunshine and the blue skies of late summer greeted the walkers who shared their faith with one another and with the members of each of the congregations they visited. “It’s really important to live out ecumenicalism,” noted walker Susan Gallucci, “to display that unity, to see friendliness reaching out.”

A parishioner of St. Camillus in Silver Spring, Gallucci invited her friend, Tom Taylor from St. Hugh’s Parish in Greenbelt, to join her at the walk. “Unity is what we need,” Taylor said. For Gallucci, the walk provided safe and welcoming spaces to explore diversity. “We’re all different, we all believe different things, but all of the faiths are about love,” she said.

Brian Riley, a member of an Episcopal parish, said he attended the walk with his family “to learn about other religious traditions and show support for other religious traditions trying to express the love of God we all believe in different ways.”

Parishioners and priests from Annunciation Parish greeted walkers at one of the first stops of the Unity Walk. Father Andrew Wakefield, a parochial vicar there, also enjoyed visiting the open house at the Sikh Gurdwara across the street from the church. The newly ordained priest said he enjoyed a plate of food from the Sikh center and was impressed by the number of people sharing their faith traditions. “There are so many divisions in our world – it is great to see people coming together,” Father Wakefield said, adding, “Jesus brought people together.”