This week, due to the plans of a fringe Christian pastor, the nation’s eyes have been upon a small town in Florida. Pastor Terry Jones, head of a small congregation, plans to commemorate the 9/11 anniversary by burning copies of the Quran. He supposedly plans this as an act of protest again `Islamic extremists,’ and his conviction that we need to stand up against them. It is not clear to me if this is an ego-centered, cultural/political act or religious one on his part. It is also not clear to me how burning the sacred text of Islam will eradicate `Islamic extremists.’ Regardless, it is an act of intolerance and disrespect to Islamic believers, and to members of other religious traditions, including his fellow Christians.
When terrorist attacked the World Trade Towers, the event initially united the common moral fiber of people and nations around the world, including those of the Islamic faith. Unfortunately, since then the action has been used as a rationale for war, and the division of peoples and cultures. The 9/11 anniversary has been used to resurrect the old divisive rhetoric of “us versus them,” and Pastor Jones clearly demonstrates this divisive mindset.
In contrast, for Catholics leaders in the Los Angeles area, this year’s commemoration of 9/11 is seen as an opportunity for us to recognize our differences, and not see them as elements which may divide us, but as occasions for celebrating the cultural richness of our one human family. (See release below) Though the celebration is not primarily an ecumenical one, all members of the Los Angeles area are invited to attend.
Due to the fact that Pastor Jones’ actions have for many individuals linked both political and religious elements, for Catholics it may be good to recall the teachings of the Second Vatican II on our relationship to other religious traditions:
“The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in [non-Christian] religions...The Church, therefore, exhorts her children, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these people.”
—Declaration of the Second Vatican Council: Nostra Aetate
Though the teachings of the Council are primarily aimed toward Catholics, I think its admonition is one that should be considered by all peoples, including Pastor Jones.
Archdiocesan Mass Celebrating Our Cultures (Released: August 26, 2010)
The Archdiocese celebrates the Holy Mass of Cultures Saturday, September 11, 2010. All are invited to celebrate the vibrant and diverse Ethnic Communities of Los Angeles at the annual Celebration of Cultures Mass on Saturday, September 11, 2010. The next Archbishop of Los Angeles, the Most Reverend José H. Gomez, will celebrate the Mass at 10 AM, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple Street, in downtown Los Angeles.
This year, in commemoration of the anniversary of 9/11, two local officers, Detective Rene Lopez of the San Gabriel Police Department representing the Kateri Community and Deputy Sherriff Ben Cariaga representing the Guam Community will place a flag and a candle next to the altar in memory of the victims of 9/11.
The Mass is a unique and colorful celebration, incorporating native songs and dances performed by various ethnic communities in their traditional attire. The Polish folk group Krakusy will open this year’s celebration with a special dance to Frederic Chopin’s “Polonaise.” The Mass will also include a Call to Worship by dancers and drummers from the African American Community and a Penitential Rite including Indonesian dancers and musicians.
The Catholic Church recognizes our cultural diversity as an important constitutive part of our society. The Faithful from throughout the Archdiocese gather each year to celebrate the rich cultural diversity of Los Angeles and to recognize the unique gifts each of our communities brings to our Local Church.