For one stirring week, Tompkins County residents of all ages and faiths demonstrated how to respect differences rather than be torn by them.
That spirit was reflected through several local peace-related initiatives — many sponsored by Catholic faith communities — to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
"It was a wonderful group effort," said Laurie Konwinski, justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga.
Unity was the rule on Sept. 11 when a Sunday-afternoon interfaith service took place at Ithaca College. Speakers that day represented Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim communities, and the "Peace Pole" on the island of the Muller Chapel pond was rededicated.
"It was just a wonderful feeling of a common cause in the middle of a very sad day," Konwinski said, adding that she was particularly inspired by the strong representation of college students at the Sept. 11 event.
The following evening, a program titled "Peacemaking/Peacekeeping in Hearts, Homes, Communities and the World" was held at Holy Cross Church in Dryden/Freeville. The conversation was led by Father Carsten P. Martensen, SJ, director of campus ministry at Ithaca College. One day later, on Sept. 13, "War and Peace: Fresh Thinking for New Times" took place at Ithaca College with Father Drew Christiansen, SJ, editor-in-chief of the national Catholic magazine America, presenting.
Konwinski noted that Father Christiansen’s talk sparked lively dialogue about Catholic social teaching on war and peace. She said participants wrangled over how church leaders can assume the role of ombudsmen between warring factions: "Just like in any kind of situation you mediate, you can’t come out on one side or the other, you have to be neutral. But can you really be neutral when someone’s a human-rights abuser?" she remarked. Konwinski said Father Christiansen also reminded his audience that Catholics believe foremost in the nonviolence of Jesus and settling disputes without force, and that nonviolent revolutions of recent years have proven to be far more successful than violent ones.
The slate of Tompkins County events included another noted Jesuit priest, Father G. Simon Harak, SJ, director of the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking. Father Harak made a presentation on Sept. 15 at the First Baptist Church in Ithaca; celebrated a Mass for Peace on Sept. 16 at Ithaca College; and led a retreat at Ithaca’s Immaculate Conception Church on Sept. 17. Several area priests concelebrated with Father Harak at the Mass for Peace, and a choir representing different parishes from around Tompkins County performed. The peace Mass is an annual event organized by all Tompkins Catholic faith communities to acknowledge International Day of Peace, rotating to a different site each year.
On the weekend of Sept. 17-18, Ithaca’s St. Catherine of Siena Church hosted a two-day International Festival for Peace. Highlights included live music and performances; arts-and-craft vendors; international food; and children’s activities. Father Joseph Marcoux, pastor of St. Catherine, led Mass to start both days of the festival. In addition, a peace walk preceded the Saturday goings-on. Proceeds from the festival will support local and worldwide justice-and-peace initiatives. Konwinski reported a "steady stream" of visitors to St. Catherine, including many families with little children.
Bishop Matthew H. Clark was part of the local activities as well, presiding and preaching at both the 1 p.m. and 9 p.m. Masses at Ithaca College’s Muller Chapel on Sept. 18. "What an honor — we felt really blessed he was able to come here and be with us," Konwinski said.
Following the busy series of events, all community members were encouraged to observe International Day of Peace on Sept. 21 through fasting and prayer.
Konwinski said she served as a point person to help coordinate the week’s overall schedule since so many parish-based activities tied into her ongoing justice-and-peace responsibilities with Catholic Charities. She emphasized that the programs were highly successful thanks to the support of countless volunteers.
"It really was a lot of work, to be sure. But what good work to do together — and what better cause could there be than to build, in our little corner of the world, something we’re trying to build for the rest of the world?" she said.