Archive for July, 2010

Interfaith Center Thanks Mayor Bloomberg

July 30, 2010

The Honorable Michael Bloomberg
Mayor of New York City
City Hall
York, New York 10007

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

On behalf of The Interfaith Center of New York, I am writing to thank you for your strong support of the Cordoba House initiative spearheaded by a member of our Board of Directors, Imam Feisal Rauf and his wife, Daisy Kahn. As a friend of the Interfaith Center of New York since our founding in 1997 and a leader in interfaith work in New York and around the world for decades, the Interfaith Center of New York joins religious leaders from a across the City in working with Imam Feisal and Daisy Kahn to do what we can to help them achieve their goals of a community center and prayer space that will enable Muslim Communities in New York City serve people of all faith traditions and enrich the City.

The Interfaith Center of New York (ICNY) is an educational non-profit organization that works with hundreds grassroots religious leaders from fifteen different faith traditions throughout New York City. For over a decade, ICNY has worked to build relationships between immigrant and disenfranchised religious communities in New York (including Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jews, and Native Americans). ICNY provides forums through which religious leaders educate teachers, city officials, social workers, and judges to help civic leaders better understand the diverse religious constituencies that they serve. In addition to the religious communities themselves, our partners include The New York Unified Court System, UJA Federation, The Harlem Community Justice Center, The Queens Mediation Center, and Catholic Charities.

In 2004, Imam Feisal and Daisy Kahn received the James Parks Morton Interfaith Award–joining Nobel Laureates from Archbishop Desmund Tutu and Shirin Ebadi to artists like Phillipe Petite, and political leaders like President William Jefferson Clinton. He spoke frequently at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and at numerous churches and synagogues around the city as a voice for tolerance, understanding, and cooperation both before and after 9/11. In November of 2001, Imam Feisal joined Karen Armstrong and others at a public event at the Cathedral on “Fundamentalism in Islam Christianity and Judaism” His wife Daisy, put together the first ever Muslim American Artists response to 9/11 that displayed at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine later that year. Due to their work in interfaith work and peacebuilding, Imam Feisal was invited to join the board of directors at the interfaith Center of New York in 2006.

Your continued leadership in this case on behalf of New Yorkers of all faith traditions—both to express their religious traditions and also give back to the wider community as a whole is critical not only for the individuals directly involved in Cordoba house but for any New Yorker who seeks to express his or her faith tradition freely and with a sense of the importance of the public good.


The Rev. Chloe Breyer, Executive Director           


Earthquake rubble used to pave roads in Haiti

Peter Heltzel of NYTS is with ICNY Executive Director Chloe Breyer in Haiti


Day Four

Thursday July 22, 2010

Searching for Sean Penn

Today we went to the Petio-Ville Club Camp. This 9 hole golf course was hub of Haitian’s elite in one of the most affluent neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince. After the earthquake on January 12th, the golf course became a landing pad for U.S. Blackhawk Helicopters who brought in supplies after the earthquake. It was quickly transformed into tent city, but this one was different as it was led by an American, not any American, but Sean Penn.

Sean Penn is one of my favorite actors. From Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High to Harvey Milk in Milk, Penn always acts with immediacy, irony and a twinkle in his eyes. While I enjoy his acting, I am even more inspired by his activism. In September of 2005 Penn went to New Orleans to participate in the rescue and rebuilding of New Orleans after the Hurricane Katrina. Then less than a week after the earthquake in Haiti hit, Penn co-founded J/P Haitian Relief Organization “to save lives and bring relief to the Haitian people quickly and effectively” J/P Haitian Relief Organization now manages the Petio-Ville Club Camp, the largest tent city in the country housing 50,500 Haitians.

Preaching in the Tent Cities

To approach the camp we drove up a stone road through an affluent neighborhood that included the Ambassador from America’s villa . We came to a gate and were let in by a security guard who was carrying a rifle. As we drove up to the old club house surrounded by palm trees and banana trees, we met our host for the day Pastor Jean St. Cyr. Pastor St. Cyr was a big Haitian man, with an even bigger Haitian smile. Around his neck he proudly wore medals that JP HRO has been awarded for their humanitarian efforts, like the Commander’s Award for Service by Lieutenant Colonel Mike Foster of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. Penn gets along well with with US military who like his pragmatic, no-nonsense style of development work.

Pastor St. Cyr grew up in Port-au-Prince, but moved to New Jersey in the 1980s. He returned to Haiti in 2003 and was in the country after the earthquake. His church was just a few minutes away from the country club. After the quake he wanted to minister to earthquake victims, and started a church in this country club camp just down the road from his home and church building.

We turned on the four-wheel drive on our truck and the pastor jumped in the truck with us and drove down into the camp through muddy roads under an overcast sky. We rolled down the windows and saw an endless rows of tents in blue, red and gray from US AID, Oxfam, and even Walmart. With over two million Haitians living in tents, I wonder how long will these temporary towns exist?

Compared to other camps that we have driven by each day, this camp appeared to be well cordinated and running smoothly. It had a playground for the children, an amphitheater that screened films, a chapel, a health center and was well secured with barbed wire around the golf course and a large security staff.

With the sweltering Haitian heat, being cooped up in a tent is often unbearable, covering your entire body in sweat. While there are latrines, there are often no bathing facilities so in this camp and others you often see folks bathing outside in the open air. It is hard to maintain your dignity in such rough circumstances, yet the Haitian people forge ahead amidst this daily struggle for survival.

Pastor St. Cyr led us up a hill to see the church he pastors, holding services every night. His congregation meets underneath a tent with a massive sound system that can projected throughout the camp. He has seen many people’s lives transformed, but he said that it comes with a great cost. He is separated from his family who is in New Jersey, and has had his life threatened several times. Yet, amidst these challenges, he has a clear sense of calling. He said he feels like God is using all of the challenges in his life up till this point to equip him to lead courageously at this moment.

Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

While we talked to St. Cyr, a young Haitian man named Jean who was part of the worship team, quietly played his guitar. Subtle and sonorous, his song was a small glimpse of hope amidst the great struggles of life in a tent city.

In the end we didn’t meet Sean Penn. Pastor St. Cyr said he was meeting with “the General” today, after recently meeting with his friends Spike Lee and Shakura. Yet, we were able to meet with several ordinary people doing extraordinary things. That night Jean would lead the church in worship, while Pastor St. Cyr would preach, both exercising their gifts of ministry to bring healing and hope to the people of Haiti. How are we using the gifts of ministry that God has given us? Do we have the courage to step up and lead in the struggle against injustice? By sowing small seeds of justice, with time we will reap a harvest of shalom.

From Rev. Chloe Breyer’s trip to Haiti with NYTS

Fr. Samuel St Louis, Episcopal Priest standing in front of new school dormitories in Darbonne, Haiti near earthquake epicenter

Rev. Chloe Breyer in Support of Muslim School Holidays

Statement for the Coalition for Muslim School Holidays in NYC Public Schools


Greetings. It is an honor to be here this morning. My name is       the Rev. Chloe Breyer. I am an Episcopal Priest here in the Diocese of New York and Executive Director of the Interfaith Center of New York, an educational organization that works with a thousand grassroots and immigrant religious leaders from sixteen different traditions to address shared social concerns from housing to domestic violence and health.

I am here today to support the coalition for Muslim School Holidays in their effort on behalf of the estimated 100,000 —that is 1 in 8—New York City public school students and their families who are Muslim to recognize both Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha as holidays in the New York City Public School Calendar.

For over a decade we at the Interfaith Center of New York have seen how Muslim New Yorkers have worked with people of other faith traditions to strengthen our cities social fabric and public institutions—from feeding the hungry at Halal soup kitchens in the Bronx, to promoting HIV/AIDS awareness at mosques in Harlem, to working in partnership with Roman Catholics doing outreach for the Census Bureau, to serving on juries, to working as chaplains at public hospitals and with the Red Cross at Ground Zero back in 2001.

Fighting poverty, homelessness and ignorance is a big job and Muslim New Yorkers have for decades worked side-by-side with people of other faith traditions and of no faith in meeting these great challenges.

It is time that one of our great city institutions, our pubic school system—an institution made strong by a long-standing commitment to diversity—recognize in its holiday calendar one of the great world religious traditions—a tradition whose adherents developed algebra and astronomy and preserved Aristotle while Europe was in darkness. It is time that New York public schools acknowledged the contribution of Muslim New Yorkers by honoring their holy days as school holidays.

Immigration Reform Press Items (in Spanish) news

Read about the struggle in NYC to have EID recognized as a public school holiday



CNN Religion Blog OpEd


Photos on Facebook

Preliminary Video –