Interfaith and ecumenical delegation from Baltimore meets Pope Francis

March 02, 2016

By Christopher Gunty

VATICAN CITY – A Baltimore interfaith delegation attended Pope Francis’ general audience March 2 and were greeted by the pope at the end of the audience to receive his blessing and his prayers for healing in the city.

The leaders of Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities in Baltimore, led by Archbishop William E. Lori, hoped that by making a pilgrimage together, they would be better able to work together for peace and change in the region.

The leaders were impressed by the pope’s humility and attention.

Members of an interfaith delegation from Baltimore receive the blessing of Pope Francis March 2 at the pope’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square. From left are The Rev. Wolfgang D. Herz-Lane, bishop of the Delaware Maryland Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church; Earl El-Amin, imam of the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore; Father Donald Sterling, pastor of New All Saints Parish; the Rev. Dr. Frank M. Reid III, senior pastor, Bethel A.M.E. Church in Baltimore; and the Rev. Dr. Alvin C. Hathaway Sr., pastor, Union Baptist Church.. (Christopher Gunty/CR Staff)

The Rev. Wolfgang D. Herz-Lane, bishop of the Delaware Maryland Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, called being able to meet the pope, shake his hand and talk to him “the chance of a lifetime” and said, “I experienced him as a warm human being, welcoming us as a group, who in the end when we were finished asked us to pray for him, which I think was very touching.”

The bishop presented to the pope a stained-glass Luther rose, made by Joe Burk, a member of Breath of God Lutheran Church in Highlandtown. The Luther rose, a symbol of Lutheranism, is the emblem of Martin Luther.

“We have a writing by Luther from 1530 in which he explains what the Luther rose stands for and the symbolism of it," Rev. Herz-Lane said. "It has a black cross in it, and the outline of a rose. Luther has explanations for the colors and the shapes, all really focused on Jesus and how Jesus is the center of our lives.”

For Father Donald Sterling, pastor of New All Saints, the audience was very constructive. “The Holy Father is such a powerful sign of hope. He was able to give a sense of unity to us all. That to me is a walking blessing of sorts.”

The Rev. Dr. Alvin C. Hathaway noted that while the pope is a “deep, powerful and profound” spiritual leader, he is also a head of state. He was impressed with the access the group had to a head of state and how generous he was with his time. Noting the graciousness of the papal staff and security personnel, he said they welcomed the Baltimore representatives with great hospitality. “They treated us as perfect guests,” he said.

Pope Francis speaks at the March 2 general audience attended by an interfaith and ecumenical delegation from Baltimore. (Christopher Gunty/CR Staff)

Earl El-Amin, imam of the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore, said he had an opportunity to meet St. John Paul II 20 years ago with a Muslim group and was pleased to have a chance to meet Pope Francis.

The imam said mercy plays a prominent role in Islam and in the Quran, with 113 of its 114 chapters beginning with “the merciful benefactor and the merciful redeemer.”

El-Amin said he therefore understands the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy through an Islamic perspective, “but it’s the same as a Christian’s perspective and it’s the same as a Jewish perspective and it would be the same as a Hindu perspective: that mercy is mercy and that God is most merciful. God gives without us even asking for something and God redeems us when we ask God to redeem us and even when we don’t ask God to redeem us, God redeems us.”

Rabbi Steven M. Fink of Temple Oheb Shalom noted that Pope Francis reflected on a passage from Isaiah.

He said he was “overwhelmed by the humility of Pope Francis, by his validation of every human being with whom he came into contact. He seems to live the ‘I-Thou’ relationship, in which we see God in every person we touch and with whom we come in contact. … He’s modeling for all of us.”

He said lessons that he can use in his own community from Pope Francis as a worldwide pastor are humility, transparency and simplicity.

“His message was from the book of Isaiah, which talked about God’s love for his people and that God will always take us back in love, that we’re always able to repent and come back to God. That’s one of the most powerful messages in Judaism as it is in Christianity,” the rabbi said.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore greets Pope Francis during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 2. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Archbishop Lori said he was a little nervous before introducing the group to the pope.

“But the Holy Father presents such a calm and loving presence," the archbishop said. "He took his time, he looked us all in the eye and squeezed our hands.”

In that moment, the archbishop said, he realized, “we really are among friends and the Holy Father has come down from the platform to join us, as a friend. I think we all felt his pastoral love.”

Also accompanying the archbishop were the Rev. Dr. Frank M. Reid III, senior pastor, Bethel A.M.E. Church in Baltimore; Bishop Denis J. Madden, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore; and William J. McCarthy Jr., executive director of Catholic Charities of Baltimore. 

Click here to watch a video of the meeting.

Also see:

Interfaith and ecumenical leaders ready to meet pope and ask prayers for Baltimore

Interfaith leaders impressed with pilgrimage to Rome