Walls between faiths fall to the coronavirus challenge

The universal nature of COVID-19 has led to interreligious cooperation and the need for a universal response.

Volunteers from an interfaith group place fresh produce in families' cars during a free drive-thru market in Parsippany, N.J.

For religious groups, the global nature of the coronavirus has led to a global opportunity. Many more faiths are now cooperating – even during the self-exile of a lockdown.

They are holding interreligious services – virtually, of course, which makes it easier for congregants to mix. They are joining forces to serve those afflicted by COVID-19 – the need is huge with nearly half a million people having died, often alone. They are working together to deal with people’s questions about the meaning of the pandemic and to share prayers, often of gratitude.

Even the United Nations is joining in. UNICEF has launched a multireligious initiative to support the spiritual and emotional care of children during the crisis. In May, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres urged religious leaders to promote mutual respect and understanding as a way to counter the social strains caused by the pandemic.

In the United States, more than 100 faith leaders held a National Day of Mourning and Lament on June 1. In London, St. Paul’s Cathedral has set up an online interfaith memorial, which invites Christians, Muslims, Jewish people, and others to honor the deceased in Britain.

Most of the cooperation is local. On New York’s Staten Island, for example, clergy from different religions livestreamed a grieving service June 11 for the more than 1,000 people lost to the virus. In Detroit, different faiths are coordinating efforts to serve the community with food and other supplies – regardless of a recipient’s beliefs.

“Believers, facing an adversary like this one, lean upon the universal power of love, mercy, service, and care for their neighbors,” said Victor Begg, emeritus senior adviser of the Michigan Muslim Community Council.

One of the more unusual examples of cross-faith cooperation is led by Alon Goshen-Gottstein, the director of the Jerusalem-based Elijah Interfaith Institute. He has interviewed dozens of spiritual leaders in 15 countries on video about what he calls Coronaspection, or a reflection on how the crisis has positioned people “in relation to God and to true reality.” The list includes Bosnia’s Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. The topics range from mastering fear to how to make one’s home the center of worship.

A common thread is that religions have a shared spiritual foundation. The coronavirus, U.S. imam Feisal Abdul Rauf told Mr. Goshen-Gottstein, “is de-emphasizing the physical dimension and exemplifying the nonphysical dimensions of our interconnectivity.”

The spiritual challenges of the crisis are universal. For most religions, so are their responses. Their growth in understanding each other and in working together is faith in action. That can only bring solace and healing solutions to millions. 

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