By Daniel Holmes, Rhode Island Catholic Correspondent
SMITHFIELD — One of the most significant moments of Pope Francis’s recent journey to the United Arab Emirates was his joining with Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Egyptian Grand Imam of al-Azhar, to sign the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.” Though short, the document is adamant in its call for peaceful cooperation and understanding between members of different faith traditions, saying that “dialogue among believers means coming together in the vast space of spiritual, human, and shared social values and, from here, transmitting the highest moral virtues that religions aim for.”
On nearly the opposite side of the world, this very same spirit of fraternity between faiths was in full display in Smithfield on Tuesday, Feb. 12, where Bryant University celebrated its 23rd annual Interfaith Prayer Breakfast. The event attracted 188 attendees from more than 30 different congregations and organizations across the state, including representatives from Rhode Island’s Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu communities, as well as students, educators and civil servants from several local fire and police departments.
Since 1996, Bryant has hosted local faith leaders in an event styled after the National Prayer Breakfast held annually in Washington, D.C. This year’s theme was “Honesty, Healing and Wholeness,” and featured readings related to the topic drawn from various holy texts, ranging from the Letters of St. Paul to the Bhagavad Gita. In his blessing before the meal, Rabbi Steven Jablow (the director of Bryant University Hillel, the Jewish student group on campus) quoted from the Psalms: “How good it is for us to sit in fellowship!” As a member of the event’s planning committee, Rabbi Jablow also helped decide on the theme for this year’s breakfast.
“We all really just reflected on the state of the world right now, and tried to think about what we needed for us to elevate the status quo,” Rabbi Jablow said.
Kati Machtley, the chairperson of the Annual Prayer Breakfast Committee, expressed similar thoughts. “We started discussing this back in October, and the theme that kept coming up was how our nation needs healing,” Machtley said. “So many things have happened, from shootings to disasters, and in order for us to return to wholeness, we need to approach one another from a place of honesty. So ‘Honesty, Healing, and Wholeness’ just gradually emerged as our theme.”
The keynote speaker for the event was Father Robert Marciano, KHS, a member of Bryant’s Catholic Campus Ministry. In addition to his position at the university, Father Marciano also serves as the pastor of St. Kevin Church and the administrator of St. Benedict Parish in Warwick, and was recently named the president of Bishop Hendricken High School. A delegation of students and teachers from Hendricken were also present at the breakfast.
“It’s really great to be here,” said Hendricken Senior Josh Tucker, quickly adding “And not just because we get to miss class.”
In his address, Father Marciano offered his own reflections on the theme of honesty.
“In Catholicism, our most difficult sacrament to celebrate is penance,” he said, “because it requires us to really be honest with ourselves and honest with God.”
Father Marciano brought this into ecumenical focus by stressing that, however difficult it may be, in order to create lasting peace and understanding between different faiths, we must strive for honesty and charity in our interactions with one another.
Music for the breakfast was provided by the Bryant University Singers, a student group including members of several different faith traditions. For their final song, the Singers invited all attendees to join with them in singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth” — creating a truly special moment when the nearly 200 attendees were no longer merely a disparate assortment of individuals wearing crosses, collars, yarmulkes and hijabs, but were rather one unified voice proclaiming a desire “to take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.”
Although the unfortunate realities of hatred, bigotry, terrorism and intolerance still plague communities of faith throughout the world, this month has already provided the faithful with compelling examples of believers coming together in harmony — not just in Dubai, but here in our own little Ocean State as well.