The following is a letter I wrote for this Sunday's parish bulletin.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Last Sunday afternoon I was walking down Victory Boulevard toward Jersey Street. As I passed the mosque, a 5-passenger truck was leaving the parking lot and a man got out to close the gate after the truck. He smiled at me and asked, “Do you want a ride?” “I’m not going very far,” I said. “We’ll take you.” So I said thanks and climbed into the truck. I should mention at this point that I was wearing my habit at the time.
I told him I was heading to the rally being held to protest against the Jersey Street sanitation truck garage in that mostly residential neighborhood. “Yes, that’s where we are going too,” he said, and introduced himself as Ferid Bedrolli, imam of the mosque. I introduced myself and told him that I was planning to stop by the mosque sometime to introduce myself more formally. He said to come any time.Offering me that ride was a small act of kindness, but it meant a lot to me. It was a small act of kindness from someone not originally from my country nor of my religion.
Project Hospitality and the clergy group of Staten Island have picked this Sunday as “Love Thy Neighbor Sunday.” This is in response to the crimes of violence committed against members of minority communities here on Staten Island over the past few months. At this early stage of my time as pastor of OLGC, I am concentrating on getting to know the parish and you, the parishioners and limiting my activity outside the parish to only a few things. But preaching about love of neighbor is part of my job description, can be done right here, and most importantly of all, is Gospel teaching that we need to be aware of every day. No one in this congregation is guilty of violence against members of minority communities, I’m sure. But it is important for us as followers of Jesus Christ to see all people as He sees them, and not to let stereotypes and preconceived notions dictate how we think and feel about them and interact with them.
Let us ask Jesus for the grace to be able to do that.