Sunday, February 19, 2017

Compassion & Courage in the Midst of Fear

This is the opening welcome I gave today at the Interfaith Prayer Service described below.

Seventy-five years ago today, President Franklin D Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which moved all persons of Japanese Ancestry living mostly on the west coast into internment camps. The 120,000 people who were forcibly moved were good, upstanding citizens and neighbors, shopkeepers and teachers, mothers and fathers and sons and daughters. From Seattle, many were first moved to Camp Harmony at the Puyallup Fairgrounds, then to Camp Minidoka in Idaho, which had been built by their own hands.

Maryknoll, the Catholic Mission Society was ministering in Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church on the SE edge of First Hill. We welcomed and served Japanese-American and Filipino immigrants. When the Executive Order was issued, Maryknoll helped the whole community, Catholic or not, find places for their belongings, sell what could be sold, and help make the transition as smooth as possible. The Pastor at the church, Fr. Leopold Tibesar, moved first to Puyallup, then into Camp Minidoka itself in order to be with his people, and continue to minister with them. Alongside the people in the Camp, they set up a makeshift chapel, where they not only spent time in prayer, but also could organize and gather in community. Fr. Tibesar worked with them to get jobs out East, so they could leave the camps.
Fr. Tibesar with a First Communion Class at the chapel in Camp Minidoka, ID.

1942 was an intense time of societal and governmental rhetoric and action that built upon suspicion, division, and fear of people who appeared to be “other.” It is not difficult to draw connections with what is happening today.

Throughout the War, people of faith in the internment camps and outside found a deep courage, and consistently chose compassion and love, despite what was happening to them and in the world.

It is exceedingly clear that in this time, we need to build bridges. As humans, and as people of faith, we are more alike than different. And, across all faiths, we are called to compassion and courage at all times, but perhaps even more strongly when we are in the midst of fear and division.

Interfaith Prayer Service: Courage and Compassion in the Midst of Fear, Seattle, WA.

Today, over 130 people gathered in prayer in Seattle to commemorate this anniversary, to say that we will never let this happen again, and to be with each other. Our speakers included a Muslim faith leader, a Jewish Rabbi, and a Catholic Priest who is an immigrant from Japan, and remembers attending mass with Fr. Tibesar as a child. Each of them called us to look inwards to our souls, look outwards to be neighbor, to look upwards to find strength in the Divine, and last, but not least, to stand up against injustice on any of our neighbors. We opened with the welcome above, and this prayer.

O God, you are the source of life and peace.
Praised be your name forever.
We know it is you who turns our minds to thoughts of peace, courage, and compassion.
Hear our prayer in this time of division and fear.
Your power changes hearts.

Strengthen our resolve to give witness to these
truths by the way we live.
Give to us:
Understanding that puts an end to strife;
Mercy that quenches hatred, and
Forgiveness that overcomes vengeance.
Empower all people to live in your law of love.


-Adapted Prayer from Belief Net

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