Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting at the chancery with faith leaders from the St. Cloud area — Christian, Muslim and Jewish. We shared lunch, including some delicious food brought by our Somali guests. But the main reason for the meeting was to get to know one another better and talk about ways we could work more closely together to build communities of welcome, acceptance and peace.
It was a good start to what we hope will become regular gatherings.
I extended the invitation for this first meeting after I and others met with leaders of the Central Minnesota Islamic Center following the acts of vandalism perpetrated there last December. All of us were saddened by what occurred, and we are aware of the cultural tensions that continue to exist in our community. Much work still needs to be done to build bridges of peace and understanding, and as local religious leaders we are united in this goal.
But this isn’t a job only for those of us who attended the meeting. All of us who believe in religious freedom and the sacred dignity of every person must be united in this goal. Building bridges requires all of us to reach out in solidarity and in a spirit of hospitality to new families in our cities and towns — no matter their creed or cultural background.
We Christians can look to Jesus as our model. Christ welcomed and shared meals with all sorts of people — those on the margins of society or who didn’t share his faith. He commanded his followers to welcome the stranger as if they were welcoming the Lord himself.
In addition, our church has a long history of reaching out to immigrants and refugees escaping poverty and violence. In the 1800s and 1900s, newcomers to central Minnesota arrived largely from Europe. Today, they come from other places, such as Latin America and Somalia. But they are looking for the same thing: the opportunity to start a new life for their families, to be accepted, and to contribute to their new communities.
And they come from a variety of religious backgrounds. Pope Francis has reminded us again and again of the importance of building good relationships with people of all faiths. In fact, as the church prepares to inaugurate a special Holy Year of Mercy later this year, he is asking Catholics to increase opportunities for religious dialogue.
I ask you to please pray for the success of our efforts as faith leaders to work more closely together for the benefit of our communities. And, in this Easter season, as we rejoice in the hope and joy of the Resurrection, I ask you to pray and think about how you, too, can work to help your neighborhood or community to become one of welcome, acceptance and peace for all who call it home.
+Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of St. Cloud