Christian, Muslim, Jewish leaders join in prayer for peace in Balkans

January 10, 1993|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Staff Writer

Two thousand years of religious differences -- but shared beliefs in justice and peace -- converged on Baltimore yesterday as Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy prayed together for an end to the ethnic hostilities in the Balkans.

Roman Catholic Archbishop William H. Keeler organized the five-hour series of afternoon services that took place in two cathedrals, a mosque and a synagogue.

The day began in the Greek Orthodox cathedral on Preston Street, continued at a mosque in Catonsville and a synagogue in Pikesville, and concluded in the Catholic basilica on Cathedral Street.

Archbishop Keeler called the unusual effort a "day of prayer, of watching, of pilgrimage and fasting . . . that a sorely suffering people in a far-off land may quickly know the blessings of peace."

TTC It was timed to coincide with an interfaith assembly in Assisi, Italy, led by Pope John Paul II.

At the final event in the international kaleidoscope of faith traditions and worship -- a Mass at the Basilica of the Assumption -- Archbishop Keeler issued a call for new initiatives to end the violence and suffering in the Balkan states.

He spoke not only as spiritual leader of Maryland Catholics but as president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Addressing the Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim clergy and laity who had accompanied him during the afternoon, Archbishop Keeler said:

"We and our counterparts in Europe have made many appeals for peace. We pray constantly for peace.

"Each of us also supports relief efforts in the affected regions. Could we not conspire this night to employ the good work our humanitarian agencies have already undertaken to bring Muslims, Croats and Serbs together in common enterprises of relief and rehabilitation?"

While "utilizing relief to promote reconciliation" would be "only a first step toward an enduring and just peace," he said, "it would bear livingtestimony to the belief that we are children of one God, a God who shows no favoritism, and whose mercy is for all who plead for it."

The faith leaders had demonstrated this belief in one God in a variety of ways, conjuring up a history of world religions and cultures. They included:

* Metropolitan Silas, head of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of New Jersey, vested in black and gold before an ornate throne and under a huge chandelier in the Cathedral of the Annunciation. He presided as his chancellor, the Very Rev. Maximos Moses, also in magnificent vestments, chanted a litany.

"In peace, let us pray to the Lord," they said, joined by Jewish and Muslim representatives as well as other Christians. "Teach us to obey your will."

* Imam M. Bashar Arafat, tall in a simple gray robe and high white headdress, inviting the interfaith clergy group to take off their shoes and join with Muslim worshipers for prayers in Arabic on the carpeted floor of the mosque of the Islamic Society of Baltimore on Johnnycake Road.

Addressing the group around him that included Archbishop Keeler, Lutheran Bishop Herluf Jensen of New Jersey and Kay Miller, president of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, as "most gracious brothers and sisters," Imam Arafat declared that Moses, Jesus and Mohammed would not approve of much that is done in their names. "We fight each other for political ends and disguise this true meaning in religion."

Sitting on the floor in his stocking feet, Archbishop Keeler was vested in black and purple, and wore the simple gold pectoral cross of John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop of Baltimore who was a pioneer of American ecumenism.

* Rabbis Murray Saltzman and David Weiner leading the interfaith group in song as they held hands in the Hoffberger Chapel of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation on Park Heights Avenue.

Rabbi Saltzman, likening today's struggles for peace in the Balkans and elsewhere in the world to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, said, "Peace is not something passively attained in the Jewish tradition."

At the Greek Orthodox cathedral, the clergy were joined by U.S. Representative Helen Delich Bentley, who recalled the more peaceful Yugoslavia she had visited before the strife of the past two years. Her parents had immigrated to Nevada from Serbia.

"Let us hope the Lord will open all our hearts, Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim, all brothers and sisters who call the same God our father," she said. "No side escapes suffering in these sad divisions between men."

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