For the past twelve years I have traveled the world as a cruise clergy and I have had the opportunity to observe people at prayer from St. Petersburg, Florida to St. Petersburg, Russia, and from Santiago, Chile to Sidney, Australia. I learned one important lesson: all prayer is the same, and all people pray with one voice. I learned that we are one human race and that prayer is the unifying language of the human soul.
Prayer comes in endless varieties, and unless it is the kind of prayer we are familiar with and used to, it sounds strange to us. I can see why we look with suspicion on the prayer of others, and we tend to feel that ours is the right way to pray, while others pray the wrong way. Sadly, instead of informing us of our common humanity, prayer tends to separate us and create barriers among us which result in prejudice and conflict.
A few years ago I saw a documentary at a movie theater titled Three Stories of Galicia. Galicia is a region where Poland meets Ukraine. The documentary focused on three heroic personalities during and after World War II who overcame endemic prejudice among Poles, Ukrainians and Jews and acted with dignity and humanity. One of the three was a Polish priest who, at the end of the war, worked on restoring sites holy to the three groups. One scene has remained engraved in my mind. At the end of the war, when the Germans were on the run, Ukrainian partisans who were Catholics walked into a Polish Catholic church and took pot shots at the statue of the Madonna inside the church. One of them said: “This is not a real Madonna. It’s a Polish Madonna.” Never before have I witnessed prejudice reaching such an extreme.
Unfortunately, we are going through a time here in the United States of widespread xenophobia, Islamophobia, antisemitism, and racism. I would let the reader decide what has caused all of this. Clearly, those sentiments have always been with us, but were considered un-American and kept in check. All Americans of good will must do everything within their power to combat this evil, and restore America to what it was meant to be. As a clergyperson, I call on clergy of all faiths to lead the way in bringing all of us together and finding ways to pray together without compromising the integrity of our respective faiths, but in ways that make every American, even non-believers, feel comfortable. This is a critical moment in the life of our republic, and unless we act now we may find out that tomorrow may be too late.