Interfaith leaders in Austin pray for peace, healing

By Enedelia J. Obregón
Senior Correspondent

Clergy from different denominations gathered for an Interfaith Prayer Service for Peace and Healing to recognize the dignity of every human person and to support each other in this time of divisiveness and violence.
The service was held at St. Ignatius Martyr Parish in Austin and hosted by the Diocese of Austin and Austin Interfaith.
Participants included Bishops Joe Vásquez and Daniel Garcia; Rabbi Neil Blumofe, Senior Rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim; Rev. Donald Brewington, chaplain at Huston-Tillotson University; Sheikh Mohamed-Umer Esmail, Iman of Nueces Mosque; Rabbi Alan Freedman, Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom; Rev. Abraham C. Perez, pastor at Iglesia Familiar Ebenezer; Holy Cross Father (and now Bishop-elect) Bill Wack, pastor of St. Ignatius Martyr Parish; and Rev. Catherine L. Wright, Associate Rector of St. David’s Episcopal Church. 
In the introductory page to the program, Bishop Vásquez wrote that through prayer, “we can come to a deeper understanding for the dignity of all human beings. Prayer gives us strength to move forward and to change our society.”
In his remarks at the service, the bishop focused on the parable of the sower in Matthew’s Gospel. He pointed out Jesus was talking about the soil, not the seed.
“The seed is God’s word,” Bishop Vásquez said. “We are the soil. What type of soil are we?
“The parable challenges us to recognize the human dignity in all our brothers and sisters,” he said. “God calls us to go outside ourselves and encounter others. That encounter is a grace-filled moment because God is present.”
Being present in the moment and praying with fervor to end the rhetoric of hate and violence are especially important today, he said, noting the stabbing of University of Texas at Austin student Harrison Brown 15 days prior to the prayer service.
Bishops Vásquez and Garcia celebrated Mass for Brown’s family and friends at the University Catholic Center, where Brown was an active member. He noted the prayerful support of people of different faith traditions, including Imam Esmail of the nearby Nueces Mosque.
In time of grief and sorrow, all faith traditions find it necessary to come together and pray.
“Human dignity comes from God - not ourselves,” Bishop Vásquez said. “We are made in his image and likeness. Because each person is a reflection of God’s presence among us, that dignity is to be treasured and protected.”
That also means that we cannot have the attitude of “this is not my problem” when someone else is hurt through an act of violence.
“We are all connected, so this is our problem,” he said. “We need to ask ourselves this question: ‘Am I willing to go outside my comfort zone to understand others?’” 
Allowing ourselves to leave our comfort zone opens us up to conversion of the heart and that can lead us to speak up and act for those whose voices aren’t heard, he said.
“By entrusting our efforts to God’s care and with God’s blessings our efforts will bear good fruit,” he said.
Bishop Vásquez said people of faith should also talk to each other and come together in dialogue and listen to each other in a respectful manner.
Even when we do not agree, patience, finding common ground and moving past our differences are necessary, he added.
“It’s never about forcing another to accept my position,” Bishop Vásquez said. “It’s where we meet to discuss the common good and form an agreement to work together to defend the dignity of the human person, with charity and justice for all.”