This morning I woke to the alarm, which was cut short by the second power cut in a week. We all had breakfast and headed into Philly for the Third Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace and Reconciliation
. I think people had been expecting it to be a meeting of Muslim, Jewish and Christian people from around the area to talk together and discuss peace, but this year there was a significant Sikh contingent (pic)
too, as well as a smattering of other people from other traditions.
Despite being held up by other people's accidents and roadworks, we got to Al-Aqsa mosque
about on time to meet about five hundred other marchers all wearing white (pic)
(but the baklava had all been eaten). The organisers had planned for a few people to say a few words (pic)
and for us all to move on, but in fact afternoon prayers were just starting and we were all invited in, the women into one side and the men into another. I felt very out of my depth and confused, since it was all in Arabic, but a friendly guy who seemed to work at the mosque was sitting next to me and explained things in an undertone. I never knew when to stand or bow down or anything, so I was careful to watch everyone else. When the service was over, the mosque guy whispered, "Okay, you can relax now."
I think that it must feel pretty similar if you're not used to Episcopalian services to walk in to the middle of one. This is a sobering thought.
After that we walked to St Peter's
Catholic church, where some guitar singers led us in a very campfire-ish chorus, and the priest told us about St John Neumann
and his passion for helping immigrants. He said that we should all learn from Neumann's example and give immigrants all the help we could, and everyone applauded. After that Imam Shehatah read some of the Qur'an
Apparently they have St John Neumann downstairs, lying there all dead but somehow not rotting away. I wanted to go and look at him, but it was time to go.
We then walked to Christ Church
, which was a long way away. I don't remember much about Christ Church except that the vicar and the imam gave a short talk, and they had peanut butter crackers. Then we all stood outside (pic)
in a ring (pic)
and sang a song about sharing peace with one another.
After that we went to Society Hill Synagogue
. I've never visited a synagogue before, but they made me feel very much at home. The rabbi preached a sermon (do you call it a sermon?) midrash about the part in Exodus where we're told to help rescue our enemies' donkey if it falls over. Society Hill also put on some excellent food for us, even though there were several hundred more than were expected, which was much appreciated.
Probably the best moment of the day happened by chance. The imam and the rabbi happened to be walking across the stage at Society Hill in opposite directions. As they passed, they randomly stopped and hugged one another, causing a spontaneous ovation.
One of the most interesting parts of the day, as with most days, was the conversations. Primary among these was a conversation we struck up with an older Sikh man. We asked him whether the colour of a man's turban was significant, and he very courteously told us that no, it wasn't, but that orange was a popular colour because orange represented the idea of strength. Then he went on to tell us how in Sikhism it was important to be as strong as you could be, but you were doing that because you wanted to help protect anyone who was weak, and how there was an idea of being so strong that you were able not
to fight, and how Sikhism was an egalitarian faith and anyone who knew how could lead the services. We talked for a good long while and learned a lot. There was also a woman who told us about her Welsh ancestors and how she had visited Wales, and a man called Steve who told me about a paper he was presenting on the St Scholastica riot
. (Sadly, he got called away before I could find out much more. It was a bit like being in Cambridge, though.)
So, do I think it will do much good? Well, I don't know whether walking around Philadelphia will cause much peace, and I suspect that anyone who wasn't inclined to listen to what people from other traditions had to say wouldn't have come along. But I learned a whole lot, and was inspired to read about a whole lot more. And as Fin said when we were talking to the Sikh gentleman, it's from ignorance that you get fear, and from fear that you get hatred, so it's vital that everyone stops and talks to one another.
(Reflection: the same day through Fin's eyes)
I didn't get any hacking done today, but I did discover that the O'Reilly Goat book
is available online, which is just what I needed to know about autotools. Excellent. So far I have discovered that it's insanely complicated, but I suppose I already knew that.
A blessed Pentecost to those who keep the feast, and to all of you a restful night's sleep and a strong start on Monday morning.