By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 1 Peter 2:16
The complexity of the origin and development of our beloved country, the United States of America, has now evolved, 240 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, into such a diverse citizenry in this year of the Lord, 2016, that, without doubt, the Founding Fathers and Mothers of this remarkable nation would be astounded.
You would not be surprised to know that most of the people I hang around with are Catholic, yet the nearly 80 million Catholics scattered around the United States, about 25 percent of the population, mirror the nation’s diversity. Some are first generation immigrants; some can trace their roots well back into the middle of the 19th century. This is no less true here in Mississippi. Although we are a marginal percentage of the Catholic population nationwide, and a small percentage of the State’s population, we are a rich tapestry of racial, ethnic and geographical disciples.
Although most of my time and energy is directed toward our Catholic world, there are significant opportunities that take me into the ecumenical, interfaith and secular world.
Here I encounter and accompany people of diverse faiths, or no outward religious faith, who collaborate together for the common good of society. One noteworthy project has been the statement entitled, “Voices against Extremism.” Find the full text of this document on page 4 of this edition of Mississippi Catholic.
At the forefront of this undertaking are the members of the Dialogue Institute which grew out of the need to address the question, “How can citizens of the world live in peace and harmony?” The Institute was established in 2002 as a 501-c3 non-profit educational organization by Turkish-Americans and their friends within one year of the terroristic attacks of 9-11. Allow me to briefly introduce them.
Many participants of the Institute’s activities are inspired by the discourse and pioneering dialogue initiatives of the Turkish Muslim scholar, writer and educator Fethullah Gulen. Headquartered in Houston, Tex., the Institute has branch offices in five states and representatives throughout the South-Central United States. Its mission is to promote mutual understanding, respect and cooperation among people of diverse faiths and cultures by creating opportunities for direct communication and meaningful shared experiences.
Its vision is a society where every person views and treats each other with dignity, where people come around shared values to promote the common good of their communities as well as the world as a whole. Each year during the month of Ramadan, the Turkish Muslim community who live in Jackson invite non Muslim members of the Greater Jackson area to participate in a meal at dusk at the end of the daily fast. These encounters foster their mission and vision for society by building friendships based upon knowledge and respect. These are small points of light that bring hope in the face of the relentless darkness of terrorism and wanton killing.
Consider what has happened in recent weeks. We continue to grieve and reel from the massacre in Orlando. Within hours of our spiritual experience of Ramadan here in Jackson terrorism struck the Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, Turkey. Our Turkish friends here in Jackson and Starkville grieve for their people. What followed has been even worse and, for the most part, direct assaults upon Islam by the terrorists. An attack at a café in Dhaka, Bangladesh, bombings in Baghdad, and a string of suicide strikes against Muslims at the culmination of Ramadan as they gather for prayer. Even Muslim pilgrims who traveled to Medina to the tomb of Mohammed were not spared from these assaults. Two tweets in response to this utter contempt for human life and all things holy express the heart and soul of the devout Muslim.
• What happened in one of our holiest cities, in our holiest month, is not justified by any religion. I am truly devastated.
• A place that any Muslim would never DARE harm has been attacked. Terrorism doesn’t have a religion.
As we bask in the celebrations that surround the 4th of July, and for me on vacation, it involved cookouts with family and friends, and a Triple A baseball game followed by a fireworks display, two pressing realities stir within me.
We are compelled to cherish and protect our way of life as a nation, and to be grateful for all who have sacrificed to defend it, especially with the shedding of their blood. Likewise, we have the opportunity to be a beacon for the nations by cherishing and promoting unity amidst the amazing diversity that characterizes our nation.
We are unique in this regard and we can lead by example within our own shores and by exporting the best of who we are to the world through education, good will, respect and commerce that is mutually beneficial while upholding God’s creation.
“We hold these truths to be self evident” and we pray to foster them at home and throughout our global village. May we thrive as a Catholic people through the freedom that comes through faith in Jesus Christ, and the liberty as citizens of the United States, 240 years young.
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz