Prayer is empty if it is not accompanied by a conversion of heart and commitment to justice, religious leaders said at tonight’s interfaith prayer service for peace and racial healing held at St. Augustine Cathedral.
Almost 150 men and women turned out the readings and reflections, which delivered a sobering message about the impact of racism on society. “Racism is a sin against our neighbors and against God’s witness and love and the unity he wants for us,” Bishop Frank J. Caggiano said in is introductory remarks. “Racism is alive and it’s time to put an end to it. Our nation is better than this and we need to be better than this.” “Without justice there can be do authentic spirituality,” said Rabbi James Prosnit, leader of Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport. “To cloak ourselves in religion and forget mercy is blasphemous.” “Is it naïve to hope when hatred has gone mainstream?” the Rabbi asked. He said at a time when the nation is divided “Churches and Synagogues can be places were we begin to repair ourselves.”
In a passionate and powerful talk, Pastor Anthony Bennett, lead pastor of Mount Aery Baptist Church in Bridgeport, said the country will not move ahead until people come to terms with “White privilege that permeates every aspect of American life,” and leads to different standards of justice. He said that American society will not “find healing solutions if it does not first acknowledge the hurt” and the reality that “Black and brown lives are not valued the way others are.” Quoting Frederick Douglas, Pastor Bennett said Christians cannot “favor freedom but despise agitation.”
Imam Nasif Muhammad of Al-Aziz Islamic Center in Bridgeport told the gathering that he grew up attending segregated schools in the South for his first nine years and then moved to the Bronx where he experienced a different kind of segregation. He said that race relations in the U.S. represent a history of “getting angry with each other rather than coming together,” and that people should not label one another. The Imam said that most Americans are unaware that more than 38% of the slaves brought to America were Muslims. “Islam didn’t just arrive. It has been here for a long time,” he said, urging people to see each other as human beings who want the same things. Rev. Cass Shaw, leader of the Council of Churches, said that too many Christian have “a complacency in the face of racism,” and that “There is no healing without justice.”
She noted a spike in hate crimes and harassment after the election and said that most of it happened in schools and universities where young people should be protected. “Many of our brothers and sisters are weary to the bone,” Rev. Shaw said, nothing that some immigrant children “are terrified of being deported,” while Black parents fear for the safety of their children. She said that many people of color are stereotyped as inherently criminal or as terrorists when they commit a crime, while white people are often seen as “mentally ill.” “We who are white are un-attentive to racism and until we acknowledge the truth of racial prejudice, we are complicit and we will continue to struggle.”
During the evening, the 50-member Sacred Heart University choir raised the roof with spiritual hymns, and the congregation broke into small groups to discuss the issue. Patrick Turner, Director of Strategic and Pastoral Planning for the diocese, served as host of the program. The service was the beginning of a major interfaith initiative designed to bring together a widely diverse community with and enter into a new level of dialogue and kinship of people of many faiths and ethnicities, said Fr. Reginald Norman, who led planning for the evening.
At the conclusion of the prayer service the bishop said, “If we’re going to speak truth to authority, we must also have the courage to speak words of friendship to one another. Getting to know one another is the best antidote to put an end to the scourge of racism, and that needs to be done one person at a time.” The bishop urged people to attend the upcoming listening sessions to discuss the issues and make recommendations on new ways to foster peace amongst all parties.
Listening sessions set for December:
- Wednesday December 7, 7 pm, Our Lady of Fatima Church, 229 Danbury Road, Wilton
- Thursday December 8, 7 pm, Congregation B’nai Israel, 2710 Park Avenue, Bridgeport
- Monday December 12, 7:30 pm, First Church Congregational, 148 Beach Road, Fairfield
- Tuesday December 13, 7 pm, Mount Aery Baptist Church, 73 Frank Street, Bridgeport