Our nation and our city can be very proud of is its long history as a welcome home for immigrants, respecting religious freedom, beliefs, and practices. Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Patterson, and many other civic and religious leaders have recently eloquently reminded us of this noble heritage.
As New Yorkers today, we also know that we’re still healing from the wounds of 9/11, so poignantly symbolized at Ground Zero, where many of the sons and daughters of these same immigrant families died tragically at the hands of extremists diametrically opposed to every ideal that has made us great.
We want to be careful not to frame our discussion about the proposed Islamic Center in New York as a choice between religious freedom, on the one hand, and completing our own healing, on the other. Both of these duties are good and both are equally necessary.
Sometimes, how we do things is as important as what we do.
Never has this been truer than in our present discussion, where civility and regard for the dignity of others must be our priority.
Presuming the worst in others always puts dialogue at risk; mutual respect is basis of all good listening.
This is a good time for all of New York, in its varied cultural, ethnic, and religious communities, to come together in thoughtful and respectful exchange so our real healing can begin. Although I have no strong sentiment about what should be decided about the eventual where of the Islamic Center, I do have strong convictions about how such a discussion should be reached: civilly and charitably. The hot-heads on either side must not dominate. While I’m hardly an expert in this area, and there are certainly far more competent voices than mine, the Archdiocese of New York would be honored to be part of any such conversations.
Pope John Paul II’s life was an example of how this kind of good will can resolve centuries-old hatreds, building new bridges between Christians, Jews and Muslims. In this same spirit, the Archdiocese of New York hopes to cooperate with other religious leaders in laying the groundwork for a long-term relationship with the City’s diverse Islamic groups, extending the hand of friendship long overdue between both of our communities. Similarly, now is the time for all of us to rededicate ourselves to binding up the unhealed wounds of 9/11, and to consoling the ongoing suffering of its survivors.
As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, our challenge as New Yorkers is clear: to keep our proud heritage of religious freedom and a warm hospitality to newcomers alive, so that the twin goods of both welcoming and healing are never left unbalanced.