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From the Catholic Standard | Sept. 12, 2023 | William Murray

Unity Walk brings people from different faiths together

Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory greets Rabbi Sue Shankman, a senior rabbi at the Washington Hebrew Congregation, at the Unity Walk on Sept. 10, 2023. The annual event sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington began at the Washington Hebrew Congregation. (Catholic Standard photo by Mihoko  Owada)

Working with people of other faiths, such as at an interfaith walk in Washington, D.C., can help to build a better society, according to Cardinal Wilton Gregory.

“There is much that unites us,” Cardinal Gregory said on Sept. 10 at the Unity Walk, sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington. Speaking at the opening ceremony at the Washington Hebrew Congregation in the McLean Gardens neighborhood, he called the Sunday event an example of the “culture of encounter with other people,” that Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics to experience. 

Regardless of religious belief, many people “dream of a better future,” where safety and security are foundational, which they can work together to achieve, including “taking care of our common home,” the Earth, said Cardinal Gregory, who leads The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. He encouraged participants in the Unity Walk to continue their work together.

The 18th annual event was launched after the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States, designed as an event to bring together people of different faiths in solidarity, in opposition to the discord that the attackers sought to sow in this country. Chartered by an Act of Congress in 1852, the Washington Hebrew Congregation is one of the largest congregations of Reformed Judaism in the United States.

The Sept. 11 attacks were something of a wakeup call for Sikhs, since some Americans thought that they were Muslim, due to the turbans Sikh men wear, according to Harbani Kohli, a sophomore at American University who attends Sikh Gurdwara, DC, the fourth stop along the Unity Walk, located nearly across the street from Church of the Annunciation in Washington. In some cases, in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Sikhs were discriminated against and attacked. 

Having helped serve vegetarian Indian food to Unity Walk participants, Kohli explained that the Sikh religion is the fifth largest religion in the world and started in the Punjab region of northern India in 1469.

Najmah Allem, an adult convert to Islam who attended the Unity Walk and is a member of Masjid Muhammad Mosque in Washington, said that she’s known others who were “exposed to hate,” after 9/11. “We’re not anti-Jesus,” she said, interviewed as she walked up Massachusetts Avenue. “We see him as a prophet.” 

Her mosque, built by African-Americans in the 1930s, is the first of its kind in the United States and was formerly associated with the Nation of Islam but broke away after the death of Elijah Muhammad, the longtime leader of the Nation of Islam, in 1975.

Her experiences as a Muslim, which have included a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, have “helped to (broaden) my horizons and my thoughts about God,” she added. Observant Muslims pray five times a day.

John Merrill, a father of six from Vienna, Virginia, is a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), who attended the Unity Walk for the first time. “The more often you do it, the more you realize that we have a lot in common,” he said of interfaith work. A handful of young Mormon missionaries helped out at the Unity Walk.

The nine stops along the afternoon Unity Walk included Annunciation Catholic Church, in addition to Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral, and the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., which was the final stop on the Unity Walk. 

Msgr. Michael Mellone, pastor of Annunciation, was present for visitors to the church, and volunteers from the parish helped to explain aspects of Catholic faith and practice for visitors, many of whom worked together to create cards to encourage residents of a homeless shelter.

In addition, a group of students from Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney,  Maryland, attended the Unity Walk.

Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory, at center in the back row, poses for a photograph with students from Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, Maryland, at the start of the Unity Walk that began at the Washington Hebrew Congregation on Sept. 10, 2023. The annual event is sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington. (Catholic Standard by Mihoko Owada)