Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Last September, I had the privilege of attending Pope Francis’ address to Congress during his visit to the United States. During his talk, he spoke about the challenges facing immigrants and refugees — including those coming to the United States — and what our response needs to be.
He pointed to the Golden Rule: Jesus’ command to, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). “This Rule points us in a clear direction,” the Holy Father said. “Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”
I was thinking about these words in the days after the attack at the Crossroads Center mall last Saturday. Like everyone else, I was shocked and saddened when I heard the news. My prayers this week have been for the victims of this violence and their families. I’m very thankful for the brave work of the first responders who risked their own lives to save others.
At the same time, I have been praying for peace and healing in our community in the aftermath of this attack. I am especially concerned that our Somali-Muslim brothers and sisters face harassment because of the actions committed by an individual from their community — actions that Somali leaders have publicly condemned as against their faith. We need to stand with them at this time. This is why I have been reflecting on the Golden Rule and Jesus’ teachings about mercy, loving our neighbor and everyone’s sacred human dignity as children of God.
As a priest and bishop, an important part of my ministry is to bring unity between people and God as well as strive to unite people in the community. Since arriving in the diocese three years ago, I have worked to foster peace and unity among our faith communities. A year and a half ago, a number of religious leaders in the St. Cloud area — Christian, Muslim and others — began meeting regularly to explore ways we could learn from one another and support each other. In addition to regular meetings, our Greater St. Cloud Area Faith Leaders group has organized an annual picnic where we continue to build relationships through conversation and sharing a meal. I have visited at other times as well with our local Somali-Muslim leaders.
What I have learned from these experiences is that, in many ways, we and our Muslim brothers and sisters have many things in common: hopes and dreams for a good life, a desire to raise healthy families, and a commitment to teach and practice faith in a nation built on constitutional principles of religious freedom and tolerance.
Building a strong community amid such diversity certainly has its challenges. It is difficult to love our neighbor when we may be afraid of our neighbor. But Christ and his Gospel command us to be his hands and heart in the world, fostering unity and reaching out to our neighbor by being merciful, like the prodigal son’s father was merciful; by helping our neighbor in distress, as the Good Samaritan did; and, as Jesus said, doing unto others as we would have them do to us.
This is what I’m asking you to do: Don’t be afraid. Get to know better some of our Somali-Muslim brothers and sisters. Search for opportunities to share a conversation or a meal. Attend an interfaith dialogue session, such as those periodically sponsored by local faith groups. If you are already doing these things, thank you. If you have questions or concerns, make sure to speak to others with respect, civility and Christian charity.
The more we all participate in these experiences together, the more we will learn, the more we will love as Jesus loves, and the more we will be empowered to build strong, peaceful and unified communities.
As Pope Francis said: “If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life.” I would add that if we want peace and healing, let us be instruments of peace and healing in our parishes, neighborhoods and cities.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Bishop Donald J. Kettler