Prayers for Japan Reflect City Diversity

Text from original post at:   http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/28/prayers-for-japan-reflect-citys-diversity/?emc=eta1

 

First came the Muslim imam, singing an Arabic prayer in an undulating melody. Next came the rabbi, chanting in Hebrew, followed by the Hindu leader praying in Sanskrit, the Christian in English, the Sikh in Punjabi and the Buddhist in Japanese.

One by one, they stood in the chancel of Riverside Church on the Upper West Side on Sunday evening and beseeched the heavens for support of the victims and survivors of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami.

For all the city’s ethnic diversity, there are surprisingly few occasions, outside of subway cars and rush-hour sidewalks, when the population truly blends in a common pursuit. The service on Sunday — called Interfaith Time of Reflection for Japan — was one of those moments.

ParticipantsRobert Caplin for The New York Times Participants in the service.

Officials at the Interfaith Center of New York, which helped organize the service, say the event flowed from their mission to help the city’s different faiths find common ground and purpose.

“Our goal is to get those religious groups to work together and understand each other better and build a more tolerant city,” said Matthew Weiner, the center’s program director. “Coming together in response in times of crisis is a natural outcome of convincing grassroots religious community groups to work together.”

Mr. Weiner said that many of the organizations and religious leaders involved in Sunday’s service began working together after the Sept. 11 attacks and have collaborated on similar interfaith events after other major disasters, both man-made and natural, including the tsunami in Southeast Asia in 2004 and the attacks in Mumbai in 2008.

The event’s spiritual goal went hand in hand with a material one: fund-raising for disaster relief.

“This is both a memorial and benefit event for Japan,” explained the Rev. T Kenjitsu Nakagaki, a Jodo Shinhsu Buddhist priest who led the service. The donations were collected on behalf of the New York Japanese-American Lions Club, Humane Society International, the Religious NGO Network on Humanitarian Support, the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Churches.

The two-hour service was attended by about 200 people, who together reflected the ethnic and religious diversity of the city. It included ceremonial offerings of incense, flowers and fruit; the recitation0 of haikus; silent meditation; musical interludes by the pianist Taka Kigawa and the koto player Masayo Ishigure; and reflections and monetary appeals by representatives of the three Japanese prefectures most acutely affected by the natural disasters.

“In prayer, in music, in silence, in simple shared presence, may solidarity, compassion and reverence bathe this sacred space, these sacred moments,” said the Rev. Robert B. Coleman, the church’s chief program minister.

“This,” added Gary Moriwaki, president of the Japanese American Association of New York, as collection plates were passed through the pews, “is really America at its best.”

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