St. Barnabas gathering promotes interfaith friendships

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
March 12, 2017

St. Barnabas gathering promotes interfaith friendships

Jasmine Jones and Christina Hodges, students at Mother McCauley Liberal Arts High School, sang "Let There Be Peace on Earth" along with participants at St. Barnabas Parish, 10134 S. Longwood Drive, as Barnabus hosted the interfaith event “You Are My Neighbor” on March 2. The event featured speakers from the Catholic, Jewish and Muslim traditions and was an effort to show support for refugees and immigrants following recent executive orders banning refugees entering the U.S. from certain countries like Syria. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Augustine Mahonege lead prayers at the start of the event. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Imam Jafar Ahmad Hawa lead prayers at the start of the event. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
From left, Sawsan Homsi, Gusson Najjar and Munar Jamal sang during "You Are My Neighbor" at St. Barnabas Parish, 10134 S. Longwood Drive, on March 2. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Lana Aldos, a high school student and Syrian refugee, addressed the congregation. St. Barnabas Parish, 10134 S. Longwood Dr., hosts the interfaith event “You Are My Neighbor” on March 2. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
From left, Mercy Sisters Pat Murphy and Jo Ann Persch sang with Syrian refugee Marwan Saffa during the service. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The parish distributed buttons with "You are my neighbor" printed on them. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Christianity, Judaism and Islam all share the same core values that implore believers to care for the vulnerable and the stranger among us.

That was the overall message conveyed through “You Are My Neighbor,” an interfaith event held at St. Barnabas Parish, 10134 S. Longwood Drive, on March 2. The parish organized the event in partnership with 30 faith and community organizations following recent anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment spreading through the country.

Maureen Gainer Reilly from St. Barnabas’ peace and justice commission, emceed the event and spoke about Cardinal Cupich’s Jan. 29 statement responding to President Trump’s executive order banning refugees from several Muslim countries.

“These executive orders happened in part because we are so disconnected from each other,” Gainer Reilly said.

The evening event featured numerous speakers and performances culminating with remarks from members of the three faith traditions.

Lana Aldos, a high school student and Syrian refugee, shared with the hundreds gathered in the church the story of how her family fled the bombing and violence in their home country and arrived in Chicago four years ago. She was 12 at the time.

“I am very proud to be a Syrian refugee. It takes courage to be a refugee,” Aldos said.

Aldos said she arrived in the United States not knowing English but was determined to learn the language quickly. She now speaks it fluently.

“I was motivated and determined to spend hours and hours to achieve the impossible,” she said of learning English.

She thought that would be her biggest hurdle. She never thought she would face discrimination. Aldos is Muslim and wears a headscarf. The discrimination, “only made me hold on to my scarf even harder,” she said.

It also made her determined to work for social justice and human rights in the interfaith community.

“Just like I tore down my language barrier I will tear down the discrimination barrier,” she told the gathering. “I have proven to the world that I’m not just a refugee. I’m a dreamer. I’m a fighter.”

Father Larry Dowling, pastor of St. Agatha Parish, 3147 W. Douglas Blvd., and moderator of the local Priests for Justice for Immigrants group, spoke of Christianity’s belief in helping our neighbors.

“To love our neighbor as ourselves is to love God. To not love our neighbor as ourselves is to not love God,” he said.

Dowling’s parish has been talking about becoming a sanctuary church for undocumented immigrants facing deportation.

Cardinal Cupich sent a letter to priests Feb. 28 saying the archdiocese hasn’t said it would make its churches sanctuary churches because “it would be irresponsible to create false hope that we can protect people from law-enforcement actions, however unjust or inhumane we may view them to be.”

In response, Dowling told the gathering, “Just because Cardinal Cupich said it’s not the best idea doesn’t mean we won’t go ahead and do it.”

Dowling said he believed the cardinal would support the decision if it needed to happen.

Because Christians believe every person is made in the “image and likeness of God” everyone has the potential to show the face of God to others by how they treat others and live their lives, he said.

Representing Judaism, Rabbi Amanda Greene of Sinai, the first Jewish Reform temple in Chicago, told the gathering that standing with the “stranger” is part of her tradition.

“Thirty-six times in the Torah we read that you shall not oppress the stranger because you know what it was to be a stranger,” she said. “We stand with our brothers and sisters and say, ‘No, this is not OK. We will not oppress the other.’”

Jews have an obligation to protect refugees and the vulnerable, Greene said.

“People may try to deny us but when you attack one of us you attack all of us,” she said. “What we need now more than ever is not walls but bridges. Not strangers but neighbors.”

Like Christianity and Judaism, Muslims also believe in giving sanctuary to those seeking asylum, said Rami Nashashibi, executive director of the Inner- City Muslim Action Network. That doesn’t mean people follow these truths, he said.

“I see two very different expressions of faith. On some level there is at times, in all of our faith communities, the holier than thou syndrome.”

The Quran warns Muslims about this and cautions against becoming arrogant when helping those in need.

“We don’t feed the stranger because we’re better than them. No, we feed them as if they are saints,” Nashashibi said.

Being servants to the poor is a theme common to all three faith traditions, he said.

In the history of America, there has been a tension between the belief that the country is almighty and the belief that it is a refuge for those seeking a better life. The latter is a value inherent to the country’s founding.

“From the beginning it has been faith communities that have challenged America to live up to its values,” he said.


  • refugees
  • immigration
  • islam
  • ecumenism
  • st.barnabas parish
  • judaism

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