By Joyce Coronel, The Catholic Sun
A rabbi, a priest and a Muslim walk into a diocesan building on a Sunday morning.
But it isn’t a joke — it’s an interfaith gathering where participants of the world’s three major monotheistic religions came together for a day of fellowship, celebration and discussion.
In a world beset by conflict and division, it was a sign that peace is possible.
The event, Peoples of the Book, held at the Diocese of Phoenix’s Diocesan Pastoral Center Jan. 8 and organized by the Crosier Fathers and Brothers as well as the Sema Foundation, drew 137 participants. Fr. Bob Rossi, OSC, a Crosier Father, was one of the organizers. He noted that the Jan. 8 gathering was preceded by two previous dialogues held between area Muslim and Christian communities. The first dealt with the two religions’ view of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the second examined Islam and Christianity’s view of Jesus Christ.
Peoples of the Book was a first of a kind because it incorporated the Jewish community and sought to create dialogue around the Scriptures of each of the three religions plus their individual views on human dignity.
“I think the whole objective is to gather the people of the three faiths between whom there have been historically some significant tensions and conflicts — not excluding the Scriptures as a source of some of them — and to get people together just to speak with one another about what their Scriptures mean to them, how they guide their lives and eventually what we have in common with the Scriptures,” Fr. Rossi said.
Each of the religions presented a short celebration of their faith and five Scripture verses that highlighted their religion’s view on human dignity.
Rabbi Debbie Stiel of Temple Solel in Phoenix said the Peoples of the Book event drew people who are open to interfaith dialogue and highlighted the commonalities between the three religions.
“In all of the Scriptures, the Koran, the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible, there are quotes about the importance of all of humanity, that we all share a connection to God and that we need to be good to all people,” Rabbi Stiel said. “All people are important and deserving of respect, deserving of dignity. It was important for people to hear that.”
Rabbi Stiel pointed to Genesis 1:27, rendered in the Hebrew Scripture as “God made the human in God’s image, in the image of God the Holy One made the human, male and female, made by God.”
The Crosier Fathers and Brothers held an Enthronement Rite to enthrone the Book of the Gospels.
“We had incense and candles one of us held the book and we processed through the meeting room to the place where all the other Scriptures were on display,” Fr. Rossi said.
Muslim children chanted verses from the Quran and the Jewish participants demonstrated how the Torah scrolls are brought forth at a synagogue.
“You could feel the energy with each of those little celebrations,” Rabbi Stiel said.
One of the Christian verses highlighted at the event was Galatians 3:28, “There is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Gokhan Dorum, CEO of the Sema Foundation, a Muslim organization in Chandler, served on the committee that planned the Peoples of the Book event. A native of Turkey, he said the interfaith meeting brought people together.
“It was something striking for everybody yesterday. Normally in the world at this time there is a tendency to be more polarized, more radicalized, in every sense, not only in the Middle East,” Dorum said.
“There was a totally different atmosphere [at the event]. We were together with Jewish and Catholic or Christian friends and there was a very warm and sincere climate that everybody shared what was in their hearts.”
Participants at Peoples of the Book sat at tables with members of other faith traditions for conversation around their beliefs.
Alan Zeichick, a layman from Temple Chai, also helped plan the event.
“Although we have three different religions, and many of the things that we believe are different, when it comes to the most important thing, which is people, we have a lot in common and we can perhaps find fellowship with each other,” Zeichick said. “It’s a very hopeful message.”
Fr. Rossi said he has more than hope. He has experience with the previous dialogue events held.
“It went beyond our fights, our tensions. It went to what it is that we appreciate and share,” Fr. Rossi said. “And at the end of the dialogue, people were exchanging numbers and addresses and invitations. It was just wonderful.”