There is no rule book for responding to crisis on this magnitude, Executive Director of the San Fransisco Interfaith Council (SFIC) Michael Pappas said. As the fires In California rage, he is focused on being a “portal of communication” to other faith leaders who are in a better position to help during this humanitarian crisis.
Although he is not in the heart of the chaos, which is focused in Sonoma County and Napa Valley, Pappas said that The Red Cross and Salvation Army, which are best prepared to deal with this crisis, are headquartered in San Francisco. Working with them and the San Francisco Public Health Department, Pappas’ role right now is to stay in constant communication, sending out advisories to his 4,500 contacts and encouraging them to repost on their social media and share with their congregations.
This was the focus of the celebration on International Day of Peace by Vital Elements Community Welfare Services in Toronto, Canada on Sept. 23.
The celebration started with releasing three “peace doves,” one by a child, one by a woman and the final by a man in representation of the three important links of a family.
President of “A Better Community For All Canada” Yuel Bhatti introduced the theme of the day “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for all.” The theme for International Day of Peace is established by the United Nations every year.
“There is great need to spread the message of (United Religions Initiative) in multicultural regions of Canada to create more peace and harmony,” Bhatti said. He thanked the participants of Canadian, Indian and Pakistani cultures who were there to participate in International Day of Peace.
Together, attendees sang songs of peace, worshiped and lit a peace candle.
“Peace can be found within and without: within ourselves, within our neighborhoods and communities, but most importantly, without discrimination, hate and disrespect,” said Sylvia Ghori, CEO of Vital Elements Community Welfare Services.
President of Vital Elements Jasper Ghori said during his speech that for peace to really happen, people need to seek the “source of peace,” rather than looking to into the source of a conflict.
Tony Zekveld of Hope Centre in Toronto said that sustainable peace will come when we accept “the Kingship of our Creator God.”
Other speakers included Nadia Atif, women Coordinator of “A Better Community For All Canada,” who recited poetry and Jay Banerjei.
During the conference in San Diego on Aug. 7, the session started with a model dialogue about generational diversity and moved into tabletop discussions among participants. Regional Coordinator for the United Religions Initiative in North America, Sari Heidenreich, spent nearly a year formulating questions and planning the discussion with an intergenerational planning team. They were acutely aware that, often times, interfaith work in North America is by people who are retired or in the “second half of life.”
“If the [interfaith] movement is going to grow, we need all of the ideas we can get,” Heidenreich said. “Sometimes as people who have been doing this work a little longer, we can get stuck in our ways, jaded. We have to listen to what everyone has to share and bring to the table.”
Around the world, a minute of silence will fall at 12 p.m. in each time zone on Sept. 21, as people gather together for meditation and prayer for global peace.
International Day of Peace was established in 1981 by a United Nations resolution that devoted a day to “commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples.” United Religions Initiative (URI) has been a partner of International Day of Peace since it was established in 2000. The minute of silence in recognition of this day begins on Sept. 21, when the Secretary General rings the Peace Bell at the UN Headquarters.
On Tuesday mornings, Bentley Stewart prepares to share a meal with several dozen of his friends experiencing homelessness. Before they eat, Stewart passes a feather around the circle and asks people to share whatever is on their heart. Some speak of a profound, heartbreaking prayer request. Others read a weather report. One man stands up and sings.
The off-key song is somewhat awkward, somewhat long, and a little wild, but “we’re all a little wild, and if you’re living with the traumatization of living outdoors, of course you’re a little wild,” Stewart said.
As five panelists of different religious backgrounds discussed their traditions, women around the room at an iftar held in Syracuse, NY, began to latch onto the thread of commonality that brought them together.
The Women’s Iftar was the first of its kind organized by Women Transcending Boundaries, a URI Cooperation Circle and egalitarian community of women from different faith and cultural traditions that seeks to educate and serve their community. The shared iftar, a meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan, was as much of a way to empower women in their community as it was to break fast.
Instead of looking at the closing of Scarboro Mission after over 30 years of service as the end of an era, Director of Interfaith Work Paul McKenna sees it as an opportunity to take their ministry to college campuses.
Although Scarboro Mission as we know it will disband this year, their work will continue, beginning with the opening of an Interfaith Chair of Studies at Regis University (Toronto, Ontario). The transition from Scarboro Mission as a stand-alone organization into the academic world is being funded by large donations given to Regis University in Scarboro Mission’s name. These donations will enable the school to set up a “professorship” that will permanently build a study of interfaith, McKenna said.
Leaders in interfaith communities knew they had to meet protest with peace when the largest anti-Muslim grassroots organization in the U.S. announced demonstrations to take place on June 10.
“It was incredible to see the turnout [of counter-protesters] who were there to show solidarity,” said Kate Chance, interfaith coordinator at the Islamic Networks Group (ING), a nonprofit organization that counters bigotry through conversation and interfaith engagement. “I thought it was really peaceful as a whole,” she said of the Unity Rally she attended in San Jose, Calif.