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Interfaith tribute stresses inclusion

Many voices at 9/11 event today at Hatch Shell

By Lisa Kocian
Globe Staff / September 11, 2011

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Religious leaders from diverse backgrounds began meeting in the spring to create a commemoration of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that now stands to exemplify interfaith cooperation.

Organizers of the resulting event this afternoon at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade hope that many voices will be heard as they seek to both mourn a tragedy and celebrate the good deeds that followed.

“Unity and diversity is never easy,’’ said the Rev. Nancy Taylor, senior minister at Old South Church in Boston, one of the organizers of the event. “It takes work, but you will see [this] afternoon the product of people who cared more about getting to know each other and working together than what our differences might be.’’

Eventually, the religious leaders joined with representatives from business, politics, and the military to build the event, a tribute to the heroes and the victims of Sept. 11, and to the service members deployed worldwide. They met weekly all summer.

The spiritual highlight of the tribute - which includes musical performances, poetry, readings, and remarks from leaders such as Governor Deval Patrick - will be a common prayer led by 17 religious leaders.

“We understand the meaning of this society, that this is a pluralistic society and that this is a way to bring harmony to society, to work with one another,’’ said Imam Talal Eid, executive director of the Islamic Institute of Boston, who helped draft the prayer.

Eid, who is also chaplain at Brandeis University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said sharing the reading of the prayer demonstrates the cooperation that went into organizing the event.

“In this way, it is coming as [a] universal prayer, and regardless of who will say the prayer, it is accepted by all of us,’’ he said.

David Hastings, president of the Massachusetts 9/11 Fund, who will be among the speakers, described the way clergy members came together as “wondrous and seamless.’’

The Boston experience stands in sharp contrast to news accounts from New York, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been lambasted for not including clergy members as part of the city’s official ceremony.

Thousands of people signed a petition asking for a formal prayer at today’s ceremony, the Associated Press reported yesterday, but Bloomberg said it would be impossible to include all the religious leaders who would want to participate.

The ceremony, as it has each anniversary, will include a reading of the victims’ names, punctuated by moments of silence.

“Many of us served here after the attacks, and we know the importance of prayer and the presence of clergy,’’ the Rev. Rob Schenck, an evangelical pastor, told the Associated Press. “To exclude them from the ceremony was hurtful.’’

Hastings, a native New Yorker, said Boston is different in scale and ego.

“Boston is a series of small towns, neighborhoods,’’ said Hastings. “Nobody feels like they are the ones representing Boston. The different faiths talk about their part; the different neighborhoods talk about their part.’’

In many ways, the event today will be an outgrowth of the past 10 years of work among religious leaders, according to the Rev. Laura Everett, associate director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches.

About a month after Sept. 11, religious leaders released a joint statement condemning the attacks but also cautioning against profiling and intolerance. They followed that with work to promote understanding, she said, organizing a camp for children of all faiths, for example, and sponsoring talks between members of different religions.

Today’s event is not only a tribute and memorial but also “a celebration of the things we’ve accomplished together since then and acts of kindness and charity,’’ said Everett.

From the beginning much of the discussion centered around fighting “Islamophobia,’’ Everett said. So, the group came up with the idea of offering tours of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, a Roxbury mosque.

That will be part of the Community Service Pavilion, a feature of today’s event, which will introduce people to nonprofits where they can volunteer.

Lending a helping hand is a traditional role of religion, said the Rev. David Michael, pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Needham.

“We hear a lot of negative things about religion,’’ said Michael, who is responsible for interreligious relations for the Archdiocese of Boston. “Part of my response to that is religion is also part of the solution.’’

He said he learned about the role of religion in this national tragedy on Sept. 12, 2001, when he joined other religious leaders on Boston City Hall Plaza for a prayer vigil.

They expected a few hundred people to stop on their way home from work. Instead, they saw around 10,000 to 15,000 participants.

“I realized then the power of the religions also to touch people, to reach people, especially when they see us standing together, which in the present world and climate is extremely important,’’ Michael said.

The tribute at the Hatch Shell, “Massachusetts Remembers,’’ starts at noon. For more information, go to massremembers9-11.org.

Lisa Kocian can be reached at lkocian@globe.com.