Cardinal Donald Wuerl joined Washington-area religious leaders Dec. 18 in leading an interfaith walk that organizers said was designed “to express our solidarity and our commitment to unity, understanding, and inclusion.”
The interfaith pilgrimage walk, dubbed “Faith Over Fear: Choosing Unity Over Extremism,” began at Washington Hebrew Congregation in Northwest Washington, and included stops at the National Cathedral and the Islamic Center. At each site, there was a call to prayer, a scripture reading, and a brief reflection.
“We leaders are united in our concern at the rise in hate speech, the increase in violence against racial, ethnic and religious minorities, and the ugly consequences that ensue when people’s actions are informed by inflammatory rhetoric, misinformation and careless slander,” Cardinal Wuerl said, reading from a statement at the beginning of the walk.
Also participating in the walk were the Right Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington; Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig, senior rabbi of Washington Hebrew Congregation; Imam Johari Abdul Malik of Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center; and about 200 others who came to pray and show solidarity with people of other faiths.
“We share the Abrahamic faith,” Bishop Curry said, “and the challenge before us is – out of our great diversity – to make a real tapestry.”
Cardinal Wuerl also lead the participants in reciting the prayer of St. Francis. Prior to leading the prayer, he told the gathering that during Pope Francis’s Sept. 22-24, 2015 visit to Washington, the pope “walked our streets and reminded us we have the power to make a better world – but we have to reach out to one another.”
Bishop Budde, also noting that “we belong to different branches of the Abrahamic family,” urged the participants to “come together to create a climate in which we practice hospitality, protect those who are vulnerable, defend religious freedom, engage in respectful dialogue about our disagreements, and love one another regardless of our differences.”
She added that “all have a welcome place in our land.”
Rabbi Lustig echoed that sentiment and said participants must strive to keep “America a place where people of all faiths are welcome.”
“It is beautiful to see people of every faith coming together in the name of peace and unity,” said Rosalie Alexander, who brought two of her children with her to the event. “When we come together like this, we see each other as real people, and not just what our preconceived notions would have us believe.”
Despite rapidly dropping temperatures and an off-and-on-drizzle, participants marched from the Washington Hebrew Congregation to the nearby National Cathedral. There, a Muslim children’s choir sang and Rabbi Michael Namath recited from Exodus 22:21: “You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger. For you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
David Fraser, who paused during the walk to soothe his arthritic knee, said, “this damp weather hurts my joints, but this (interfaith gathering) is too important to miss.”
The walk concluded at the Islamic Center, where there was a blowing of the shofar – an instrument made of a ram’s horn and used in Jewish religious services – and this prayer for peace: “God of forgiveness, help us to forgive … Compassionate God, free us to love.”