People take part in 9/11 Unity Walk sponsored by community groups in the Washington area

Catholic Standard Photo/Rafael Crisostomo

Catholic Standard

A Muslim call to prayer in a synagogue and a Catholic gospel choir singing at an Islamic mosque were some of the many signs of religious unity on display during the annual 9/11 Unity Walk, which took place in Northwest Washington on the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11.

This annual walk included open houses at every house of worship on Embassy Row and brought together people of diverse faiths. Annunciation Parish and the Apostolic Nunciature of the Vatican were the Catholic stops on the walk, joined by Jewish, Christian, Orthodox, Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist houses of worship.

The 9/11 Unity Walk began at Washington Hebrew Congregation, where participants filled most of the 2,400-seat synagogue as they listened to Hare Krishna music, watched a video message by former British prime minister Tony Blair, and heard the Muslim Call to Prayer and opening remarks by several religious leaders.

Washington Hebrew’s Rabbi Bruce Lustig said that it was important for all religions to come together 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks to continue to combat the “Islamophobia” and religious intolerance that stemmed from 9/11.

“We can chose love over hate, faith over fear, light over darkness,” he said.

Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout spoke about spending four years of his childhood in Turkey, growing up in a diplomatic area with children from around the world and learning about other religions. He said the Sept. 11 anniversary was a time for dialogue and prayer.

Using the Mass readings which focused on forgiveness, Bishop Knestout said, “The events of Sept. 11 are a challenge to that sense of forgiveness.”

“May this be a time to … strive for peace,” he said.

After the opening program, the diverse crowd headed down Massachusetts Avenue and dispersed into the various houses of worship that were offering food, tours, music and faith demonstrations such as meditation and turban-tying.

One of the walkers, Anne-Louise Oliphant, was checking in on Facebook as she walked to the National Gudwara. Her goal was to help her Facebook friends feel like they were a part of the walk, too.

She remembers being shocked and frightened after the attacks 10 years ago and that the first place she thought to go to was her church, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church.

“[The walk] is a way to show how my spirituality has become such an essential part of my life since and because of 9/11,” Oliphant said.

She said that seeing many religions come together at the walk gave her “a great sense of pride that we’re all together as a community of faith.”

Annunciation Parish has participated in the walk every year since it began according to pastoral council chair Donald Kursch, who was among the parishioners greeting visitors and giving tours of the Catholic church during the unity walk.

Kursch said he believes that the event is important for promoting interfaith dialogue and avoiding stereotypes. “We need to reach out and actively engaged with other faiths,” he said. “We want to keep an open door.”

Waiting for her friends on the steps of St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church was Nassiba Mohammed, a Muslim from New York, who drove down to D.C. to participate in the unity walk. She said that while Sept. 11 is a sad day to think about, the walk gives her hope.

“It’s wonderful … bringing all these faiths together, having the different sites we’re visiting and with each faith opening its location to other faiths.”

At the Apostolic Nunciature, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyrs of St. George who work there passed out juice and homemade snickerdoodle, butterscotch oatmeal, and other cookies to visitors while Msgr. Jean-Francois Lantheaume, the nunciature’s charge d’affaires, greeted people. The building was also open for first floor tours. The late apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who died in July, was a big supporter of the unity walk.

The walk program resumed at the Islamic Center of Washington where, among other activities, the St. Augustine Gospel Choir led people in singing “Amazing Grace.” The choir then led a procession to the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial where Arun Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, greeted participants as they concluded the walk.