ORLANDO – Nearly 15 years ago, in response to the attacks on September 11, 2001, Imam Tariq Rasheed of the Islamic Center of Orlando began a regional interfaith coalition to engage in informal dialogue to promote peace. Oct. 30, almost 50 leaders of faith from various religions gathered to nurture that fellowship. It was the first time in 18 months the coalition met in person, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Since this group started, we’ve seen more fellowship as well as churches and places of worship doing lots of interfaith events,” Imam Rasheed said. “We’re able to discuss grassroots issues of each faith community and how we can all help.”
In a room of around 50 attendees of various faith and non-faith backgrounds, Imam Rasheed shared how the groups in Orlando helped feed people in need during the height of the pandemic and continue to do so.
Father Anthony Aarons, the papal Missionary of Mercy in the Diocese of Orlando, attended the event on behalf of the Catholic community. He shared how the Catholic Church responded to the physical, mental health and spiritual needs in the community that arose out of pandemic.
“We primarily worked through Catholic Charities to respond to these needs and we continue to do so as the pandemic has not gone away,” Father Aarons said.
Father Aarons noted all parish communities across the diocese participate in various interfaith activities. As just one example, St. Margaret Mary Parish in Winter Park collaborates with All Saints Episcopal Church to provide food at Thanksgiving and Christmas for individuals in need.
The Indian American Muslim Council of Florida provided a guest presentation at the coalition event, providing graphic details of the persecution of Christians and Muslims occurring in India presently. The organization encouraged attendees to speak with leaders about the atrocities, and to encourage action from the United Nations.
“When we think of mercy, God’s mercy is for all persons. It is not just for Christians,” Father Aarons said. “If someone is excluded, it’s not true mercy. When we collaborate in peace, then true mercy is achieved.”
Father Aarons went on to explain the Catholic Church has a representative of the Holy See in every region called a nuncio. In collaboration of the bishops of India, the nuncio would make the Catholic Church aware of persecution and appropriate responses. He also said the Church has a representative from the Holy See as part of the United Nations, with one of the missionaries of mercy being part of that unit.
“When I think of the call of Christians to collaborate with others to make peace, I am reminded of St. Francis of Assisi and his prayer, ‘Lord, make me a channel of your peace,’” Father Aarons said. “In the 13th Century, St. Francis met with the Sultan in Egypt and greeted him with the traditional Muslim greeting, ‘Peace be upon you.’ It is important to make others aware of our need for collaboration across faiths to transform our world and bring peace.”
By Dana Szigeti of the Florida Catholic, November 03, 2021