From San Bernardino to France to Dallas and back to France; violence has erupted in all corners of the world. In Amherst, a group of church leaders sought to deliver a message of peace.
In reaction to the recent acts of terrorism and racism seen locally and abroad, Msgr. Robert E. Zapfel called for an interfaith prayer service to be held at St. Leo the Great Parish in Amherst. Guests included Imam Syed Khalil from the Islamic Society of Niagara Frontier, Rev. Craig Pridgen of True Bethel Baptist Church in Niagara Falls, and Cantor Penny Myers of Temple Beth Zion in Amherst.
Each church leader read from their sacred texts, preaching messages of peace and offering prayers to God on love. Rev. Pridgen went first in true Baptist style, preaching on the Pentecost message of peace among people from all walks of life. Imam Khalil and Cantor Myers both sang their readings. Msgr. Zapfel concluded by delivering the Sermon on the Mount, reminding all that "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God."
The evening concluded with each faith leader passing a flame from candle to candle symbolizing unity in a desire to extinguish the darkness in the world.
Over 700 people attended the July 28 service.
"Msgr. Zapfel was very moved when news broke out about the Dallas shooting and subsequent acts of violence in the news," explained Dawn Iacono, director of adult faith formation/outreach for the parish. "He came to us and said, 'I'd like to put together this interfaith prayer service for peace.' We prayed and put together a beautiful team of church leadership in the area."
To assist, they sought out their friends and neighbors. Temple Beth Zion is just down the street. Rev. Pridgen's daughter attends St. Leo's Little Learners Academy preschool. Imam Khalil came from a recommendation by Father Francis "Butch" Mazur, ecumenical and interreligious officer for the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.
"Having that wonderful church leadership representing all the different faiths was a beautiful evening as we all came together to pray for peace in our community, peace in the world and peace in the hearts of God's children," said Iacono.
"I am so grateful that religious leaders and people from different faith traditions, Baptist, Islam, Jewish and Roman Catholic came together to pray for peace in our world, our county and our community," said Msgr. Zapfel. "By joining in prayer together we have already made a difference. We have shown that good people of different faith traditions can unite for a noble purpose. We can stand together and witness to the hope and the possibility of a more peaceful world. The Spirit and peace of God's love is in our hearts. This is what we are called to live and share together."
After the service, the church leaders all agreed that they would like to continue to work together to build a community of peace and understanding.