Who is our neighbor? Faith leaders say it’s refugees

Washington D.C., Feb 3, 2017 / 12:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As leaders of many faiths gathered for prayer in Washington, D.C. this week, they pledged solidarity with refugees looking to enter the U.S.

“While we recognize and while we are very, very aware of the need for security, we also very much recognize that that cannot be at the cost of any type of failure to recognize the needs of people who are being persecuted,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. insisted at a Tuesday interfaith gathering, speaking for himself and other Catholic bishops.

“We very, very strongly invite, as we have done,” he continued, “people who are suffering persecution around the world to come and be welcome by all of us.”

Cardinal Wuerl and 15 other religious leaders met Tuesday to announce the “Interfaith Vision for Our Community” at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Northwest Washington, D.C.

The vision was a joint statement by the faith leaders that has been developing for months as a result of their common prayer and reflection, the cardinal said.

“The idea of a joint statement rose out of the conviction of all of us involved that religious faith and religious values continue to be an integral part of our culture, of our society,” Cardinal Wuerl said Tuesday.

He was joined by Rabbi Gerald Serotta, executive director of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, leaders of Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations, and Muslim, Mormon, Hundu, Sikh, Zoroastrian, and other faith leaders.

The InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington was founded in 1978 and has been “providing opportunities for interfaith dialogue, for building community through education, through service to those most vulnerable and needy in our midst,” Rabbi Serotta explained at the Tuesday gathering.

“We’ve advocated for the rights of each religious community to freely practice its faith without fear or intimidation,” he said.

The statement of the faith leaders promoted common values that it said can be practiced by all citizens and civic leaders.

These values included caring for one’s neighbor, “quality education for all,” “meaningful vocations for all adults and a living wage for reasonable labor serving the common good,” and “responsible environmental stewardship of the earth and its resources.”

Additionally, the leaders united in opposition to “slavery, human trafficking, economic or sexual exploitation, torture, racism, sexism, and any other practice that harms life.”

“First and always, we are neighbors,” they stated, and “we don’t get to choose who is our neighbor. The neighbor is a gift.” Everyone must be “good neighbors with and for each other.”

Although the statement has been in the works for months, it was released on Jan. 31 with the first week of February being World Interfaith Harmony Week, according to the United Nations General Assembly.

It also came days after U.S. President Donald Trump issued executive orders to halt the refugee admissions program for 120 days, and to stop entry for 90 of those coming from seven countries deemed to be compromised by terrorism – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, and Libya. Syrian refugees were barred indefinitely from entering the country.

According to the Hebrew Scriptures, Rabbi Serotta said, “one must not oppress the non-citizen.”

“This statement does insist that our religious communities be free to speak and act on the concerns of our consciences,” he said. “Many of the communities in front of you today, for example, have already spoken out from their faith’s perspectives concerning the closing of our country’s borders to refugees fleeing persecution.”

“The statement makes clear our neighbors are people we care about deeply, no matter where they’re from.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops “issued a very strong statement” in support of refugees looking to resettle, Cardinal Wuerl noted. The cardinal spoke about it on his own as well.

“We want to always be there for people who are persecuted,” he said.

“It was some of the minority communities, including Christian communities, that were designated as the object of genocide, and we want to be welcoming everybody who is fleeing persecution here to our country,” he said, referring to last year’s designation for Yazidis, Christians, and Shi’a Muslims as victims of genocide by ISIS.

Cardinal Wuerl also said he hoped for dialogue between the new Trump administration and the faith leaders.

“We are waiting ourselves to see what lines of communication will be open,” he said. “We will be announcing our solidarity and our openness to be of service to the community as the transition is taking place.”

“We’re ready for that conversation,” he said.

 

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