By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Leaders of faith communities in
Baltimore, seeking healing and unity a year after the death of Freddie Gray,
carried the pain and the hopes of their faithful to the Vatican, asking Pope
Francis to bless their work.
When Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore introduced the
leaders to the pope March 2 at the end of his weekly general audience, he not
only offered his support, but he also asked for their prayers.
“We’re here to help reconcile a badly fragmented
community,” Archbishop Lori told Catholic News Service after the meeting.
Being in Rome together March 1, he said, it was not possible
to ignore the “Super Tuesday” political primaries going on at home.
“One of the themes that kept coming up in our
conversation is how divided our political discourse has become, how uncivil it
has become, how pronounced the tendencies are to erect barriers” while
people of faith are called to build bridges, the archbishop said.
The Rev. Frank Reid III, senior pastor of Bethel African
Methodist Episcopal Church, said the trip to Rome was important because
“this pope is the pope of hope, the pope of mercy and a pope who is
grabbing the attention of the millennials,” the young adults who in
particular are looking for signs of hope after the tension and violence in
Baltimore that followed the death of Gray, 25, in police custody
With a variety of Christian leaders, an imam and a
rabbi traveling together, praying alongside one another and meeting the pope,
Rev. Reid said, the trip is a way “to continue the healing process.”
With the U.S. presidential primaries underway, the A.M.E.
pastor said the tone of the political campaign is “a wake-up call for the
greater work that our communities, our faith communities, have to do.” The
campaign rhetoric shows that “not only are our poor, underserved African-Americans and Latinos having challenges, but the culture of anger and fear also
exists among middle-class white Americans — baby boomers — who are worried
about their future.”
Father Donald Sterling, pastor of New All Saints Catholic
Church, said it was important to travel to Rome with a group of his peers, a
group that shares “the same heartbeat for life and for love of God and neighbor”
and one that recognizes “there is power in prayer.”
Rabbi Steven Fink, the senior rabbi at Temple Oheb Shalom,
gave Pope Francis a bag filled with local Baltimore snacks and baked goods.
“He said, ‘Please pray for me,’ which was a rather
incredible statement coming from one of the most powerful men on earth,”
the rabbi said. “It shows how humble and modest he is.”
Rabbi Fink said Pope Francis’ audience talk, reflecting on a
passage from the Prophet Isaiah, spoke of God’s love for all people. “It’s
a message of acceptance and mercy.”
After working together in Baltimore to promote healing and
unity, the rabbi said he made the pilgrimage because the leaders have become
his friends and not just colleagues. “We have common values and a similar
background and common respect for each other, for faith and for God.”
The mood in Baltimore a year after Gray’s death “is
still very unsettled,” Rabbi Fink said, but city officials, religious and
community leaders realize they have “to work together to make it a
healthier, safer and more prosperous city.”
Imam Earl El-Amin, the resident imam at the Muslim Community
Cultural Center of Baltimore, said the pilgrimage for him was a time of special
“supplication,” of calling upon God’s mercy — which Muslims do every
time they invoke God’s name — and pleading for God’s help in recognizing that
whatever ethnic group or religion one belongs to, all people are members of the
human family first.
The Rev. Alvin C. Hathaway Sr., senior pastor at Union Baptist
Church, said in Baltimore that one still feels “a sense of desperation, there’s
a sense of disillusionment and there’s a sense of fear,” which faith
leaders are called to help address.
Lutheran Bishop Wolfgang D. Herz-Lane of Delaware-Maryland said the pilgrimage was a reminder that many of the concerns of faith
communities in Baltimore are actually universal concerns. “People being
divided, systemic racism, people not respecting one another, violence, a breakdown
of community and family — those are not things that are particular to
Baltimore” and Pope Francis “has spoken very powerfully to these very
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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.
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