Author: Jim McGovern
Date: Thursday, May 5, 2016
For 13 years we’ve been having these now. The Interfaith Walk for Peace and Reconciliation. Growing out of the example of an Albuquerque, New Mexico Rabbi and Imam whose congregations’ walked the 6 miles from their mosque to their synagogue in a show of post 9-11 fraternity, we tried something similar. We added a Christian church and in 2004 we were off to our first peace walk. Over the years we’ve been to many Philadelphia neighborhoods...to West and Southwest Philly, from Center City to Kensington, to Germantown and Roxborough, to Overbrook and so on. The beautiful Al Aqsa mosque at Jefferson and Germantown that was stop one on walk one has now become our ‘home’ base.
We have our monthly meetings there, and each walk now begins with the early afternoon Salat prayers being said there. With people from all different faiths (or no faiths) joining in the whole ritual, It is really a wonderful and unifying way to begin our day. This year we were also treated to a little poem about unity by the Al Aqsa kids.
This year, our walk was on May 1 and our mid-afternoon starting time worked out well as the real heavy rain was finished by then. Of course there were delays and we were behind schedule but all in all the day was a rousing success. The parishioners from the three houses of worship up in the West Oak Lane section of town where we were this year, were incredibly warm, helpful and accommodating. We had plenty of music and dancing to go along with the prayers and poetry and talks.
At stop one, St. Athanasius Church, a student rabbi from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College gave a wonderful sermon centered on how, now being 13, our walk has reached the bar mitzvah age. The St A pastor gave warm welcome and an invigorating commentary on certain Bible readings; the choir sang beautifully. The choir was wonderful and most all of the congregation joined in singing the beautiful St Francis Prayer, Make Me a Channel of Your Peace. Proceeding out of St. Athanasius my eyes filled up as they often do when hearing their recessional, Let There Be Peace on Earth.
Stop two on our little pilgrimage was at Grace United Methodist Church. We also heard from an elder from the Sikh community who stressed that tolerance and religious freedom for all is a staple of their religion. Later in the program, at Masjidullah, the Imam from Al Aqsa chanted a selection from the Koran that had the same freedom/tolerance ideal. A young lady from the Art Well young peoples’ artistic program recited a stirring and powerful poem about being proud of being Muslim in a world where islamophobia is rampart. There was beautiful singing by their choir and also a wonderful dance performed by the church children’s dance troupe. Their movement and rhythm was so on-time, it was almost like you could sense loosening of the chains that the choir sang that we needed to free ourselves from. We also had a lovely selection played of a flute by the youngest member of the peace walk committee. She also took us through with some non-strenuous yoga moves.
At stop three, Masjidullah, there was the Muslim Call to Prayer. There was also witnessing about the wonder, power and beauty of diversity by three teenagers from the Walking the Walk young people’s group. A hungry bunch of walkers were fed family style (no waiting in an endless line) and we distributed little discussion questions that went with our feast like a fine wine.
It was quite ironic that the day after the walk was the feast day of St. Athanasius. Seems he was an early Church father who was a verbal and forceful proponent of the Divinity of Christ doctrine. I remember hearing a progressive priest speak of how we should also never lose sight of the humanity of Christ. I think of how much more frequently Jesus called himself the Son of Man than the Son of God. The psalm response on that May 2 mass was:
The Lord takes delight in his people.
As we herded the final stragglers on the buses, looking back to the triumph the day had been, to all the people sharing parts of their lives to total strangers as they walked along, I filled up again as I was thinking essentially the same thing…..delight indeed….