People walking through downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Friday, September 9 may have been surprised to see a bishop, a rabbi, and an imam joined in a public prayer for peace. Or, perhaps more surprising may have been the number of those people who stopped their hurried pace to join the prayer and make a pledge for peace.

“This is a time for each of us to take a moment to commit to diligently embracing opportunities to be kind and respectful – embracing opportunities to welcome peace,” Bishop Zubik said. “By uniting in prayer, participants will all play a role in combating the tragic violence that has so saddened all of us.”

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People gather to pray for peace. Photo by Bethany Shaw.

Deeply moved by recent violence and racial tension in the United States, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, called for a Day of Prayer for Peace in our Communities to be observed on September 9, 2016.

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh responded to this call by hosting an event titled Reach for Peace: An Opportunity for United Prayer that was led by Bishop David Zubik.

Evangelization is about finding new ways to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. This public prayer event offered people an opportunity to petition the Lord for peace that begins in their hearts and moves out into the world, and to open their hearts to God’s grace and a greater understanding of his desire for humanity’s unity and solidarity.

Catholic Charities said it was intentional about creating an inter-faith prayer event because they wanted to highlight and strengthen unity across diversity as a medium for peace.

“The truth is that there will be no grand, astonishing event that will lead us to world peace,” said Susan Rauscher, Executive Director of Catholic Charities. “We will achieve peace by committing to treating each other with kindness and respect, without exception.”

Bishop Zubik, Rabbi Aaron Bisno, and Imam Abdul Wajid led the service that included music and singing, prayers by each of the faith leaders, and a peace pledge.

“This is a time for each of us to take a moment to commit to diligently embracing opportunities to be kind and respectful – embracing opportunities to welcome peace,” Bishop Zubik said.

One of the core messages was respect for all people, and it was lifted up in prayer and through the diversity of the faiths that were represented.

“It’s crucial that people of faith come together across all that might otherwise divide us, and unite around our common belief that each and every one of us has been created in the same divine image,” said Rabbi Bisno. “We need to work together to ensure mutual respect and a profound peace for all our citizens. The harmony of our society depends on our realizing this essential goal.”

Imam Wajid said, “I believe there is no inter-faith without faith. A meaningful dialogue is only possible when people have a conviction that their faith has something to offer the society in which they live. Mutual understanding cannot be strengthened unless both convergence and divergence are held in a creative relationship.”

The message of peace continues in downtown Pittsburgh in a visible way. Catholic Charities has displayed free peace bracelets outside of its offices with the hope that people will take one bracelet for themselves and one for someone else. Each day they have had to restock the display.

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Peace bracelets outside of Catholic Charities. Photo by Bethany Shaw.

“I feel blessed that as Catholic Charities we are in a position to encourage people to take a moment to look inside their hearts for the inspiration they already have, and to give them an opportunity to spread it,” said Bethany Shaw, Director of Development for Catholic Charities.

The idea of seeking peace within ourselves as a starting place for peace in the world is an echo of Pope Francis’ call for peace. If one follows his homilies, tweets on Twitter, and Instagram posts, one will hear his message of first peace in our hearts.

In a Mass on August 9 Pope Francis preached, “How is your heart, today? Is it at peace? If it is not at peace, before speaking of peace, make sure your own heart is at peace. How is your family, today? Is it at peace? If you are not able to bring peace to your family, your rectory, your congregation, bringing it more peace, then words of peace for the world are not enough. This is the question that I would like to ask today: How is the heart of each one of us? Is it at peace? How is the family of each one of us? Is it at peace? That’s how it is, isn’t it? To achieve peace in the world.”

Let us pray for the gift of peace.

video of the event was posted on Facebook by WTAE News.