By: Eileen O’Farrell Smith, MPH, MA, Interfaith Union
December 24, 2015
I was raised in an Irish Catholic ‘ghetto,’ decades ago. I saw life through an unquestioning Catholic lens, with a child’s view of Jesus and his teachings. This was pre-Vatican II, before the council spoke of unity, community and fellowship among God’s people through its groundbreaking document, Nostre Aetate (‘In Our Time’). I was favored to have married a Jewish man almost thirty years ago. We were blessed with three children in quick succession and I was forced out of my comfort zone; into a world where my husband experienced anti-semitism and exclusion, and where we as a family were doubted as authentic, and challenged in our way of living, and being. It was a wakeup call, and I responded in large measure by learning everything I could about ‘the other.’ Soon, learning became ‘doing,’ where we had the experience of shared ritual, community and service, to manifest that love, in fact, is a verb. My marriage and family life matured my faith in a most profound way.
Now, thirty years after my husband and I were labeled as “the other” by those who did not understand our interfaith family, I am sickened to find that now it is not Catholics or Jews or Jewish/Catholic families labeled as “other,” but our Muslim brothers and sisters who some politicians are identifying as dangerous — whose faith, community and worship are not worthy of our trust and acceptance.
Earlier this week I was privileged to host a holiday gathering in the Jack Wall Center for couples who are interfaith; Catholic/Jewish and Christian/Muslim, together, breaking bread and sharing stories. What was elemental to the gathering was that we were in relationship with one another – the common denominator being love and the agenda to know – and celebrate – one another better. It was a testament to trust, and the desire to want what is best for our neighbor.
Old St. Pat’s has been a constant on this journey, welcoming us as a family to worship, pray and serve together for the past twenty-four years. Whether it has been in support of interfaith educational programming, hosting a seder meal, or engaging modern prophetic voices in celebration of our differences, the clergy and community together have recognized that the other is truly beloved. As a community, Old St. Pat’s denounces in horror the hatred, bigotry and ignorance that is current in today’s rhetoric. As persons baptized into Christ, we know better; there is no place for fear, ignorance or power in our thoughts or our actions. Our task is simple: we are commanded to love God and love one another. It is our responsibility to learn about this new “other,” to learn from them and to form bridges of understanding together.
Let us as a community continue to be the light; be the peace; be the hope. Insha’Allah, May it be God’s will.