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The God Squad: Our role in battling terrorism

Q: When I was young, I remember saying prayers after Mass each Sunday for the “conversion of Russia.” I don’t think every parish did this, but there must have been enough of us, as the “godless Soviet Union” is now dissolved and religion is once again permitted in Russia.

It occurs to me that we all need to start praying again – this time for an end to all forms of terrorism. Not just Catholics, but all Christians, Jews, Muslims and anybody else who believes that terrorism must be stopped, and not just haphazardly, but in a concerted effort. My vision is that it need not be a long, drawn-out affair, but just a special plea to God at the end of any service.

I thought you could get the word out to those who influence religious thinking. Do you think such an effort would help?

– N., East Islip

A: I’m on your side to a degree. I believe in the power of prayer, but that power is not like ordering something on the Internet. There’s no PayPal account to get God to intervene on our side.

Prayers to end terrorism do have a helpful spiritual role to play in terms of making each of us immune to the barbarism we’re forced to watch on the news as terrorists pursue their bloody carnage. Prayer can keep us from succumbing to fear. Fear is the terrorists’ goal, and by praying for strength to live our lives exactly as we’ve always lived them, we deprive the terrorists of their most cherished victory.

“Do not be afraid” is one of the most repeated phrases in the Bible, and by including it in our prayers, we remember that what terrorists seek is to crush our ability to hope, love and live as we like.

In addition to prayer, there are other spiritual responses to terrorism we ought to embrace. We must reach out to the American Muslim part of the Ummah, the name for the worldwide community of Muslims. American Muslims hate terrorists as much, if not more, than non-Muslim Americans because they spread the false and malicious impression that all Muslims condone terrorism, and that Islam is a violent religion. Both of these lies are corrosive and force peace-loving American Muslims to feel isolated and misunderstood.

My new mission, based upon my life experience with Father Tom Hartman, is to do what he described as “reaching over the fence and shaking hands with your neighbor.” Those of us who don’t have Muslim friends need to find some, and those of us with Muslim friends need to find more.

Religious institutions can be helpful in creating dialogue groups with local Muslims, and we can do more to find Muslims who feel isolated.

It reminds me of a poem I once heard by Edwin Markham:

He drew a circle that shut me out.

Heretic, rebel a thing to flout,

But love and I had the wit to win,

We drew a circle that took him in.

It’s time to take American Muslims into the circle of our lives. The question we must all ask is, “Are all my close friends exactly like me?” If that’s true, we’re vulnerable to, at best, misunderstanding and, at worst, bigotry.

This is not just pious naiveté. I believe that institutions can change and, most important, that we can change through close personal friendships with people not of our ethnicity or faith. Pope John XXIII changed the Catholic Church and purged it of its anti-Jewish teachings because of his friendships with rabbis.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. forged a truly national movement for civil rights because he was able to reach out to white clergy who were his friends.

Friendships can change the world. Friendships can defeat terrorism. I know that the war on terrorism must also include armies and bullets and bombs and diplomacy and sanctions, but those tactics are beyond us. They are the tools of governments.

Our tool is the human heart, and I believe in the power of the human heart.