MORTON GROVE — Cardinal Francis George said Thursday that the United States will be a country of minorities by 2041, and believes a lack of majority will create stronger bonds between faiths.
The cardinal, the top Catholic official in the Chicago area, was a keynote speaker for an interfaith gathering Thursday at the Muslim Education Center in Morton Grove.
The event recognized Muslims’ devotion to faith in the final week of Ramadan, and promoted religious acceptance.
“The demographics are changing quickly,” said George. “More coalitions, like what we see tonight, will form in the coming 28 years, and they will grow in influence. More will be accomplished under shared priorities.”
The renewed talks between Israel and Palestine were among the topics on which the cardinal shared thoughts, but he emphasized a need to extinguish rising aggressions in the U.S.
“The Boston Marathon bombings reopened hostilities toward Muslims in America, and we cannot let the actions of two individual criminals drive wedges between us,” he George said. “The choices we make now will shape the conflicts, wars and peace treaties in the years to come.”
Leaders from the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago praised George for attending the feast and maintaining positive relations.
“We Muslims have a lot to learn from the Catholic faith, both historically and in modern times,” said Mohammad Kaiseruddin, chairman of the CIOGC. “It took years before the Catholics were accepted by the general public. Just 50 years ago, John F. Kennedy had to justify his Catholic faith while running for president.”
Mohammad Aleemuddin, president of the Morton Grove and Chicago Muslim Community Center, said Ramadan brings a community together because they share in the sacrifice of fasting, and said he’s glad to share that experience of devotion with the Catholic leader.
“Though we have different faiths, we have a common goal in making this world a better place,” Aleemuddin said. “Let’s put our combined resources toward promoting the good in life.”
Scott Alexander is a professor of Islamic studies and director of Catholic-Muslim studies at Catholic Theological Union. As another keynote speaker, he promoted a balance between talk and action when it comes to forging positive relations between the religions.
“You cannot have one without the other,” Alexander said. “Just talk can lead to empty words, but you cant make meaningful actions without learning through dialogue.”
Differences should not be avoided, he continued.
“I always hear people say, ‘Let’s not focus on our differences but on our similarities,’” Alexander said. “But why? Difference only leads to conflict if there is alienation. Ignorance, not differences lead to conflict.”
Morton Grove Mayor Dan DiMaria spoke briefly, telling the religious leaders that his town already fits their models. He said Morton Grove is culturally and religiously diverse, where all viewpoints are heard.
“In these types of events, you often hear the word tolerance, and that really bugs me because tolerance means you put up with something you don’t want to put up with,” DiMaria said. “That’s not the case in Morton Grove. Understanding and embracing others is what America is all about, and having the cardinal here shows we can all get along.”
Morton Grove was chosen for this year’s celebration by a committee within the CIOGC. All members of the organization, including the MCC, take turns hosting the end of Ramadan.
Also in attendance were representatives from Palatine Gurdwara, Wilmette-based B’hai House of Worship, St. Nicholas Church in Evanston, St. Joseph Church in Libertyville, the Islamic Cultural Center in Northbrook, the Mundelein Seminary, St. Isaac Jogues Church in Niles and St. John Brebeuf in Niles, among others.
Attendees from Morton Grove included Rev. Dennis O’Neill of St. Martha Church and Rev. Isabell Hughes of St. Luke’s Church.
“The diversity in Morton Grove is why I chose to come here,” O’Neill said. “Has members (come) from at least 20 ethic backgrounds in which English is not their primary language spoken at home.”
Hughes said the annual interfaith Thanksgiving service is one example of shared values in the Morton Grove community.
“We served about 200 people of many faiths and denominations last year,” Hughes said. “People embrace each other no matter the color of their garb, and when we do break bread together, like tonight, it truly is a feast. We don’t hold back.”
Everyone in attendance began eating at 8:12 p.m., according to Ramadan tradition.~.