text size

To be Religious is to be Inter-Religious

Top comments

{{ annotation.praises_count }} Likes
{{ annotation.creator_alias }}
{{ annotation.creator_score }}

There are no comments yet. Be the first to start comment or request an explanation.

I came to America from the Philippines to marry a Bronx-born Jew who sold teddy bears and trolls for a living. Not the usual track for a girl who studied in Catholic convent schools from kindergarten to college. As an intermarried couple, my husband, Russell Berrie and I, celebrated our faiths in harmony. I joined him at synagogue for the Jewish High Holidays, lit candles on Shabbat with my stepchildren, while he joined me for mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on Christmas Eve. Never could I have guessed just how far my interfaith experience would take me. What started as mutual respect for each other’s religions led us to recognize the need to invest in a new generation of leaders educated in interfaith relations. As I look around the world today, never has interreligious experience, education and commitment been so important. My husband’s dear friend, Rabbi Jack Bemporad, was teaching Jewish Studies at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, known as “the Angelicum” in Rome, the same university where Pope John Paul II had studied. He and the Pope had also worked together on enhancing Catholic-Jewish relations. After the Pope’s death, we established a comprehensive post-graduate Fellowship named for the Pope at the Angelicum. These students are the future leaders of the Catholic Church. Interreligious dialogue is transformative work. Which is why the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue also takes dialogue out of the classroom. Its annual honorary lecture provides an international podium for leaders who model interreligious work. Last year we experienced Archbishop Bernardito Auza, who leads Pope Francis’ interreligious diplomatic work at the UN, in dialogue with Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. Ambassador to both Israel and Egypt. I’m particularly enthusiastic about this year’s lecture -- a most extraordinary woman who embodies the power of interfaith work – she united thousands of Christian and Muslim women and was able to bring to an end a 14-year, bloody civil war when nothing else worked. Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Leymah Gbowee, was just 17-years-old when the Liberian civil war began. Trained as a social worker, she worked with ex-child soldiers and came to believe in women's power to proactively restore peace. She mobilized Christian women and with a Muslim partner, Leymah led thousands of Christian and Muslim women in weeks-long public protests that eventually forced Liberia's government and rebels into formal peace in Accra, Ghana. She then led a large delegation of women to Accra. When the talks seemed at a dead-end, the women formed a human barricade to prevent government representatives and rebel warlords from leaving the meeting hall for any reason, even for food, until they reached a peace agreement. When security forces attempted to arrest Leymah, she displayed tactical brilliance as only a woman could -- she threatened to disrobe which according to traditional beliefs, would have brought a curse and misfortune upon the men. Leymah's threat was the turning point. Within weeks, President Charles Taylor resigned in 2003, and a peace treaty was signed, opening the way for the first female head of state in Africa, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia. This unprecedented alliance gave rise to the interfaith movement known as the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, which has spread to other parts of Africa. I learned from Judaism that even one act has the power to transform the world. It may seem like a radical idea for a Jewish teddy bear salesman from the Bronx to invest in the next generation of non-Jewish spiritual leaders, but we learned from Rabbi Bemporad, the American rabbi who teaches at the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue at the Angelicum, that "to be religious is to be inter-religious”. May 10, 2017 live-stream: Leyman Gbowee in dialogue with American Jewish World Service Global Ambassador, Ruth Messinger, will be live-streamed on May 10, 2017. Information is available at The Jewish Theological Seminary. Learn more about Leymah Gbowee at the Nobel Women’s Initiative and the Leymah Gbowee Foundation. About the Author: Angelica Berrie is President of The Russell Berrie Foundation of Teaneck, New Jersey and Chairman of the Center for Inter-Religious Understanding.