ROCHESTER — Last fall, several Catholics and Muslims collected winter clothes and took them to St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality, a Catholic Worker home that offers several programs for people in poverty.
It was only a small clothing collection, according to Sister of St. Joseph Judy Greene, but it may pave the path for more extensive interfaith community projects in the future.
“It was a beginning, and it was a way for us to reach out to those in need,” said Sister Greene, who is chairwoman of the Muslim-Catholic Alliance.
The positive relationship between Rochester’s Catholics and Muslims was again celebrated May 2 during an event at Sacred Heart Cathedral to mark the sixth anniversary of Rochester’s Muslim-Catholic Agreement of Understanding and Cooperation. Muslim and Catholic leaders, including Bishop Matthew H. Clark, signed the agreement on May 5, 2003.
The agreement pledged that the Diocese of Rochester and the Greater Rochester Council of Masajid (mosques) would uphold freedom of speech, thought, religion and conscience; challenge religious and ethnic intolerance; foster mutual respect and cooperation; and collaborate on community-outreach efforts.
“The agreement of understanding and cooperation is believed to be the first of its kind to be signed by a Roman Catholic bishop and the Muslim community,” Sister Greene said.
Deacon John Brasley, coordinator of ecumenical and interreligious affairs for the Diocese of Rochester, said the agreement shows that people of two different faith traditions can come together and find some common ground.
“It also shows some things that we are ready to stand up for and uphold,” Deacon Brasley said.
During the sixth-anniversary celebration, Dr. Louay Safi, executive director of the leadership and training program of the Islamic Society of North America, and Father Francis X. Mazur, the ecumenical and interreligious officer for the Diocese of Buffalo, spoke about justice and peace. The event also featured a Christian hymn and a reading from the Quran.
Justice is necessary to promote peace, and it comes about through the respect of human dignity, Safi said. After pointing out that justice also is at the heart of faith, he noted that the faithful must spread the message that justice should be available for both friends and enemies.
“We have a duty as people of faith to really try to translate what we have here into our insight and experience,” Safi said.
He encouraged the group to consider the religious peace of the U.S. to be a model for other religiously diverse societies around the globe. Ultimately, the United States’ interfaith community has the opportunity to show the rest of the world how the system of justice can be based upon respect for the rights of others, he said.
Father Mazur noted that the concepts of peace and justice are constantly developing and changing.
He outlined for the group the principles of Catholic social teaching, noting that they are based on Jesus’ outreach to the poor and oppressed and on a theological understanding of human rights, including the right to life, food, clothing, shelter, education and work.
He also pointed out several ways in which the Catholic Church has tried to build a just and peaceful society in New York state, including through Catholic Charities, its network of Catholic hospitals, its schools and its health plan for the poor.
Father Mazur called on the group to live out its faith day to day, rather than to simply engage in academic discussions about it.
“Dialogue isn’t always talking and acting,” he said. “It’s relationships. It’s openness.”
Dr. Muhammad Shafiq, imam of the Islamic Center of Rochester and executive director of the Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue at Nazareth College, noted that dialogue among Catholics and Muslims is important because half of the world’s people belong to those groups.
“If we do not deliver justice with peace, we will be responsible in the eyes of God,” he said.
In his remarks, Bishop Clark suggested that all seek God’s guidance as the Muslim-Catholic dialogue continues into the future.
“In our fight for justice, we need to be mindful of our own frailty and our need for God’s spirit,” Bishop Clark said.