By Rev. Mpho Tutu
priest, Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Washington, DC
The events of September 11, 2001, shocked the world. For a moment the world seemed poised on the edge of a question, should we fly apart in fear or can we come together as a witness for peace. The creators and participants of the first 9/11 Unity Walk chose to answer the despair of those days with hope and humility. They came together as people of different faiths and no faith at all to show the world that with respect for each of our diverse beliefs we can build peace.
Each year since then, all the churches, temples, mosques and synagogues on Embassy Row in Washington, DC, and near Ground Zero in New York City, open their doors to continue this faithful witness. This Sunday, Oct. 18, a multi-faith throng will make the march again. We walk in memory those who died on that day, and on the days after. We walk to express our belief that religion can be and is a force for good. We walk side by side with people who believe differently than we do. We walk trusting that the people we walk with have something to teach us, as we have something to teach them. We walk because we refuse to be chained by ignorance and imprisoned by fear.
Along the way, through mutual respect, we sow the seeds of true and lasting peace.
In addition to our traditional stops at the Washington Hebrew Congregation, the Islamic Center and the Gandhi Memorial, this year participants will have the opportunity to tour other houses of worship they may never have entered before. They will be able to experience some of the riches of religious expression that Washington has to offer. Participants will chant with the Soka Gakkai Buddhist Congregation; they can try turban tying at the Sikh Gudwara; they can explore the Russian Orthodox cultural festival; and they can join Baha’i musicians at the Khalil Gibran Memorial. Children are also welcome to make artistic expressions of unity at the Children’s Unity Wall.
Beyond this day on which we celebrate our faiths we will continue to unite in interfaith service to our community.
In January, the Youth Service Initiative of the 9/11 Unity Walk partnered with the Earth Conservation Corps to draw an inter-religious group of 175 young people together for a clean up of the banks of the Anacostia River and inter-faith dialogue. In April, young people of many faiths from around the region gathered for a weekend of environmental service projects for poverty alleviation. In September, the Unity Walk hosted “Fast 2 Feed”: over two hundred people participated in an interfaith food drive and Iftar – a dinner that marks the end of the Muslim fasting day in the Holy month of Ramadan – at the Historic Synagogue at 6th and I. That effort collected hundreds of canned goods for the Salvation Army.
It is only by celebrating our faiths and uniting to serve that we can turn our world from the bloody violence that marked 9/11 to a hope-filled place of peace for all people. We can begin by taking a first step this Sunday at the Unity Walk.
Rev. Mpho Tutu is an Episcopal priest at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Washington, DC., and the founder and executive director of the Tutu Institute for Prayer and Pilgrimage. Go here to learn more about Sunday’s Unity Walk.