BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CNS) — Members of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths gathered at a Brooklyn church Oct. 6 to pray for peace in the Middle East and for the success of the Synod of Bishops working toward that goal.
Local representatives from the Jewish, Christian Orthodox, Druze, Catholic, Sunni and Shiite Muslim traditions came to St. James Cathedral Basilica for an interfaith evening of prayer, co-sponsored by the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn.
The Synod of Bishops for the Middle East was to open Oct. 10 at the Vatican on the theme, “The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness.” The assembly will end Oct. 24.
The more than 50 people at the Brooklyn service took part in a modified form of “ramsho,” the Maronite Catholic Church’s evening prayer, and shared individual reflections on peace. Maronite Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Brooklyn eparchy, who was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as a synod delegate, led the service.
“The desire of the Holy Father is to gather all Catholics connected to the Middle East to deepen our communion, our heartfelt love and witness to Christ, and increase our ability to reach out to non-Catholics,” Bishop Mansour told The Tablet, Brooklyn diocesan newspaper.
“It’s a beautiful and noble intention and I’m proud to be part of it,” he added.
The 54-year-old bishop is Michigan-born, but traces his lineage to Lebanon, Nazareth in Palestine (now Israel) and Syria.
At the synod he was to join with Christian clergy, religious and laypeople as well as representatives from other faith traditions for two weeks of meetings and discussions. He expected the proceedings would involve “a lot of work … but that’s what it takes.”
“The time is right for the church to look at how we care for Christians of the Middle East,” he said.
Among the current challenges facing Christians in that region, he said, are that their numbers are shrinking due to emigration, they face more resistance from non-Christian neighbors and they tend to be disconnected from the universal church.
“These people are the salt of the earth,” he said, noting in particular how the church in the Middle East offers an “amazing service with schools and nursing homes and rehabilitation centers for the people. But they don’t always have support they need.”
Bishop Mansour said he expected the assembly to discuss “how we, as Catholics, can care, know and support one another and how we can support our Orthodox and non-Christian ecumenical partners.”
He said they must deliberate over regional political situations, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and ways to improve dialogue and relations with area Arabs and Jews.
In Lebanon, where much of his congregation has ancestral roots, he said “Christians politically are more marginalized because they’re between the Sunnis and Shiites.”
Noting the “beauty of their witness” to the faith, he said, “I’d like to see more engagement in the political decisions of Lebanon not from the West or East but from the Lebanese themselves, not Iran for instance.”
“The most important goal of the synod is to better know one another and deepen our appreciation for each other,” Bishop Mansour added. “We can all change ourselves for the better and become better at what we do.”
At the prayer service, Bishop DiMarzio echoed that sentiment. “If we here in New York are able to understand the message of being (a) neighbor to one another, we can model that respect, care and support so that others may see how we take the tenets of our various religions seriously. … We are neighbors and God assures us that when we act with respect for one another, we will support our common faiths and bring about peace among us.”
Zanzibar native Muhsin Alidina, a member of the Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center in Jamaica, said the service was “a good way of bringing people of all faiths together to pray for peace and a way of knowing each other.”
Alidina spoke with Barbara Kuesell, a Quaker, and the two noted how many of the virtues expressed in the Maronite prayers — such as love, mercy, respect and understanding — are also prevalent in other faith traditions.
“There are so many similarities,” he said. “I don’t understand why we fight.”