By Bobby Panza
On Tuesday afternoon, a congregation of individuals gathered on the steps of The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights. Their shared purpose was to offer prayers for peace, reconciliation, and an end to the ongoing conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip, an urgent response to the escalating devastation in the region.
The vigil commenced with a Navajo prayer, known as the Prayer for Peace (Peace before us), led by the Cathedral Choir. As the meditative song filled the air, an increasing number of attendees joined in, adding their voices for peace, love, and light in all conceivable directions — before, behind, under our feet, within, over, and all around us.
“Loving God of all the earth, we pray for those who perpetrate injustice in the Holy Land, regardless of their motives. We pray that you will change their hearts and fill them with the spirit of mercy,” said Diocese Bishop Andrew Dietsche. “Teach us all the pathways of peace and forgiveness. Comfort the oppressed, shelter all those who have lost their homes, and bring solace to all those whose sense of safety has been shattered.”
A diverse assembly, ranging from infants nestled in strollers alongside their parents to a cross-generational mix of young adults and senior citizens, attentively listened to excepts from two distinct articles featured in the New York Times on October 7, 2023. These readings highlight the rising turmoil in the region.
Then came a period of silence.
Bishop Dietsche returned to the microphone to offer a reflection. “Many Israeli Jews likened what they were experiencing to the experience of New Yorkers on 9/11. For those of us who were here in this city at 9/11, who lived through those days and years that followed, the comparison is apt,” noted Bishop Dietsche. He continued with a story he recounted by a rabbi from the area the previous weekend, who drew parallels between the ongoing divisions between Palestinians and Jews, Hamas and Israelis, and the timeless tale of warring brothers, Cain and Abel from the Book of Genesis.
Bishop Dietsche contemplated the rabbi’s comparison, sparking a profound realization. “Palestinians and Israelis share a land in which each has a history. They have a common history and they share love and loyalty to the same land,” he said. “One of the things that we know about warring brothers is that one day they must look upon each other again.” The Bishop described the events happening in Israel and Gaza as a story of people who will have to one day look upon each other again in “something like peace.” He then reminded everyone of the opening Navajo prayer asking God for the pathways for peace and forgiveness all around us.
“Forgiveness always involves sacrifice. It always involves the laying down of rights and responsibilities. And those who are now called to contemplate the possibility of forgiving their enemies are going to need a lot of time to do that.” Bishop Dietsche went on to offer prayers, to begin the process of preparing our hearts for the time when we must look again upon one another in peace.
Following the vigil, one attendee told reporters that the conflict in the Middle East is a “perfect storm of madness.”
Shortly thereafter the West Side Rag spoke with Sister Hannah Spiers from The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, originally from the U.K. When we asked Sister Hannah if anything could fix the conflict in the Middle East she responded saying, “Divine intervention.” This would be an event that occurs when God becomes actively involved in changing some situation in human rights.
We hope God is listening.