Interfaith event in St. Paul promotes unity and peace

| Kathryn Elliott | September 15, 2011 | 0 Comments

While most Minnesotans enjoyed Sunday’s bright weather elsewhere, several hundred — including political leaders, members of diverse religious and cultural groups and service members — gathered at the State Capitol to remember and honor those who died 10 years ago in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Amy Klobuchar delivered messages recognizing the positive contributions of Minnesotans like Tom Burnett Jr., one of the heroes on United Flight 93 that crashed in Shanks­ville, Pa., and Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, in nurturing a sense of unity in the face of hatred.

Ethic of love

Father Erich Rutten, one of the organizers of the interfaith event — “Minnesotans Standing Together” — and director of campus ministry at the Uni­vers­ity of St. Thomas, said it’s important to remember that faith shouldn’t be connected to violence and war — but sometimes it is.

“We have a tendency to distort faith to justify ourselves in various ways,” said Father Rutten, who also chairs the archdiocesan Commission on Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs.

Recalling past events sensationalized by the news media like a Florida pastor’s “burn the Quran” day, Father Rutten said it is important for Catholics to live out an ethic of sincere love, because “we are profoundly brothers and sisters,” he said.

Christine Bedell of St. Michael in St. Michael said she and her husband had been talking a lot with their two sons about the coming of the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks. At the time, the family was living in Pennsylvania, where they would sometimes take the train to New York City, entering the city through World Trade Center tower one.

Instilling gratitude in her sons is important, Bedell said. From a young age, she and her husband taught the children to say, “Thank you for serving our country,” when they saw military service members.

The commemorative service came as a welcome surprise for Bedell and her family, who visited the Capitol Sunday without knowing about the event.

Finding common ground

On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Zafar Siddiqui’s wife picked up their four children from Al-Amal School in Fridley. As they were driving home, a man in a pick-up truck noticed her hijab — the head covering traditionally worn by Muslim women — and began to make offensive gestures. Then he tried to run them off the road, Siddiqui said.

He talked to his kids that night and told them there are good and bad people everywhere. Just as he didn’t want Americans to stereotype all Muslims as extremists, he didn’t want his children to judge all Minnesotans based on one person’s hateful actions.

While the tragedy of 9/11 affected people irrespective of faith, Siddiqui said it was a “double whammy” for Muslim Americans. Muslims grieved for the loss of life that took place, but also had to face the finger of suspicion and accusations, he said.

Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Resource Group, helped plan Minnesotans Standing Together. Several of his children sang and helped with the event’s programming.

The Rev. Peg Chemberlin, president of the National Council of Churches and a driving force behind Sunday’s event, pointed out that at a commemorative gathering held shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, about 35,000 people came to the state Capitol to “stand together.” Then, nobody asked if you were a Christian, Jew, Republican or Democrat, she said. Mutual support transcended people’s differences.

The active involvement of the Minnesota faith community at an event such as Sunday’s supported by civic leaders sends a critically important message to terrorists, she said.

“When the faith community stands together in its diversity, we witness to the power of religious freedom in this country. So democracy wins —the terrorists didn’t win,” said Rev. Chemberlin, former executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches.

As a member of the Moravian church, a Christian denomination, Chemberlin said she believes that democracy is an expression of God’s will.

“In our denomination we say, ‘In essentials — unity; in non-essentials – liberty; and in all things — love.’”

Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said he remembers once looking through a book of newspaper articles about 9/11 and seeing one that quoted the 23rd Psalm: “I will fear no evil for you are with me.”

Since 9/11, there have been 20,000 deployments of Minnesota National Guard members to Afghanistan and Iraq, Hunegs said. In defending our nation abroad, he said, they live out the Scriptures by sublimating their fear — turning it into a sacrificial service.

Sunday’s program, with its uplifting music and the voices of children, first responders, an imam, political leaders, a bishop and many others, was a product of wrestling with the implications of the free exercise clause of the Constitution, Hunegs said.

“We’re all Americans.” he said. “Our country was attacked and I want to honor our country — that rings strongly for me.”

Tags: ,

Category: Local News, Spotlight