Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 - Religious Tolerance: My September Fraternity Newsletter Column

“Secular Franciscans are called to make their own contribution, inspired by the person and message of Saint Francis of Assisi, towards a civilization in which the dignity of the human person, shared responsibility, and love may be living realities.

They should deepen the true foundations of universal kinship and create a spirit of welcome and an atmosphere of fraternity everywhere. They should firmly commit themselves to oppose every form of exploitation, discrimination, and exclusion and against every attitude of indifference in relation to others.” (Article 18: 1-3; General Constitutions of the Secular Franciscan Order)

We are gathering as a fraternity on September 11, 2010. 9/11, not since December 7th, 1941, has a date had such an impact on the psyche of our nation. It has been 9 years since that tragic day, and we are now beginning to see more signs of what the media has been calling “Islamophobia.” The desire of some American Muslims to build an Islamic cultural center near what has been called “Ground Zero,” has touched a raw nerve, which has set ablaze a wave of anti-Islamic anger and attacks. Not only in New York City, but in other communities, people have been protesting even the legitimate building of Islamic centers or mosques.

We Catholics should remember that is not that long ago that anti-Catholic sentiment swept the nation. Catholics were restricted on where to build churches. Any Catholic was thought to owe their allegiance to a foreign leader (the Pope); and therefore not a true American. Even during the colonial days of Massachusetts, a Catholic, Baptist, a Quaker could be whipped, even hung for their beliefs. It was to defend religious minorities from the intolerance of the religious majority, expressed through the State, for which the First Amendment was made to the Constitution.

In Francis’s day, for a Christian knight to kill a Muslim was considered an honor, and vice versa. When Francis approached the Sultan’s camp, unarmed, with love in his heart, his goal was to end the killing by converting the Muslim army. He failed, but he earned the respect of the Sultan by his courteous approach. It is this example that we need to emulate, whenever we encounter our Muslim brothers and sisters. It is time that we stop this hate that is gripping our country. It is time for us to be true instruments of peace.

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