Religious leaders encourage acceptance of immigrants
Various religions, traditions, ethnic backgrounds and ages were represented in the nearly 200 people mingling Sunday in a packed room at St. Simon's Episcopal Church in Arlington Heights.
They brainstormed ways to actively build solidarity in their communities. They discussed the importance of respecting those who have beliefs different from their own. And through speeches given by local religious leaders, they learned the basic tenets of Islam, Judaism, Sikhism and Christianity regarding the treatment of immigrants.
"This is beautiful. This is America," said Rev. Corey Brost, co-founder of the Children of Abraham Coalition. "This is what we stand for in this country."
The Interfaith Immigration Forum, organized by the coalition, aimed to inspire its attendees to take action in light of new and more aggressive national immigration enforcement guidelines. Though President Donald Trump's orders call for widening the pool of undocumented immigrants targeted for deportation and hiring more enforcement agents, Brost said most religions believe refugees and vulnerable immigrants should be welcomed and protected.
"It's a sign of the times," he said. "People are hungry to make a difference. People's hearts are moved by the plight of immigrants. People are disturbed by the fear and misinformation out there, and they want to do something."
Parminder Singh of the Sikh Community of Palatine, however, said prejudice against immigrants and minorities is not unique to the United States or the Trump administration.
"Hate was always amongst us. Hate can manifest itself at any moment," he said. "Not knowing about each other is not an excuse to hate."
Though practicing different faiths, the three other religious leaders who spoke Sunday had similar messages.
Rabbi Lisa Bellows of Congregation Beth Am in Buffalo Grove said the concept of welcoming strangers into their homes is embedded in Judaism. Imam Nazim Mangera of the Muslim Community Center in Morton Grove said many of the Muslim prophets were immigrants or refugees themselves. The Rev. Dianne Shields of St. Simon's church said Christians are taught to love all of God's children, whether they be friends, family, neighbors or strangers.
"We need to realize we are stronger because of our diversity," Mangera said. "When we discriminate and imply by our actions that some lives are worth more than others, or when you denigrate the faith and traditions of cultures and choices of any group of people, we weaken our strength."
For 17-year-old Gina Pieri, a student at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, the event inspired a new personal goal: To go out of her way to talk to at least one stranger per week.
"I want to invite people into my life who are of different faiths and different ethnicities and learn about them," she said. "I want to learn to accept them into my life as extended family."