Leaders of different faiths pray for peace in city, world

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, August 24, 2014

Auxiliary Bishop Francis Kane represented the Archdiocese of Chicago during an interfaith prayer service held by the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago at Daley Plaza on Aug. 18. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Religious leaders from a variety of traditions gathered Aug. 18 on Chicago’s Daley Plaza to pray for peace in a summer that has seen violence and bloodshed bloom from the streets of Chicago to eastern Ukraine to Gaza and other parts of the Middle East.

The noon prayer service, which drew more than 100 people, included prayers for peace led by Auxiliary Bishop Francis Kane and representatives of faith communities including Orthodox, Protestant and evangelical churches. Muslim leaders, rabbis, Baha’is, Jains, Hindus, Sikhs and Zoroastrians also participated, each offering their own prayer for peace and community. It was organized and hosted by the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago.

Coming together was not always easy, said Rabbi Michael Balinsky, president of the council, especially as members might have different views on conflicts that involve their co-religionists in other parts of the world.

“In a world filled with ongoing violence, the time is now to pray for peace,” Balinsky said in his welcoming remarks.

“Let me be clear: none of us as members of the council of religious leaders claim to have the answer or answers to solve deepseated conflicts. There is sometimes even division within the council on issues. But when people — innocents, women and children — are killed, and people must fear for their lives from all kinds of military attacks and senseless shootings, then the time is now. Urgent prayers for peace are needed. Even in moments of disagreement, we must sit at the same table, state our passions and express our criticisms, but we do this face to face, and trust that our commitments to our friendships and to our lives here in Chicago compel us to sit even attimes of disagreement. Today we stand united in the public square, because the time is now.”

Passionist Father Donald Senior, former president of the council and former president of Catholic Theological Union, serves on the executive board and was part of the committee that organized the service.

“We had a couple of really big, serious discussions about what we wanted to say, how specific we could be,” Senior said. “But there was the commitment to work together. We can’t let what’s happening out there affect what’s happening here.”

Most of the prayers focused on areas of broad agreement: sorrow for the pain and loss of life caused by violence, sympathy for the grief of the families of those who have been killed by violence, both near and far; praise for the responders who try to help; affirmation of the worth and dignity of each human life.

While plans for the prayer service started long before the police shooting of an unarmed teenager touched off more than a week of protests and violence in Ferguson, Mo., the situation there was in the thoughts of the participants, Bishop Kane said.

“It’s so frustrating to see this violence everywhere,” the bishop said. “I think it’s important for people to see the leaders of all the religions standing together to pray for peace.”

Many of the people who filled in the seats before the 35-minute service started had been informed of the event by organizations that were part of the council or had some relationship to it.

Vivienne Fields, of the Christian Science Church of Racine, Wis., said she heard about the prayer service through an email from the Kenosha County Clergy Association, and made the trip to show fellowship with the religious leaders of the Chicago area.

“We wanted to join with the others as they prayed for peace,” she said.

Bob Schwendau, who for years was school counselor at the former Quigley Preparatory Seminary, heard about the service in an email from the Sisters of Mercy and made the trip from his home on the South Side.

“I came just as a witness,” he said.

Paul O’Hara, a member of the Focolare community in Chicago, said he came to show support for all of the religious leaders who were gathered together.

“It seemed important to be here,” he said.

While many of the people crossing the plaza during the service stopped for a few moments or more to listen to the prayers, more of them passed by without stopping.

“What’s interesting to me is how many people were oblivious to it,” O’Hara said.


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