Erie’s religious leaders come together

Eva Mihelich, News editor

In today’s world, social justice is an umbrella phrase that many issues fall under. Racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and many other relevant topics today are examples of what social justice aims to aid to make the world a more accepting space for everyone. However, the term ‘social justice’ does not typically go together with religion, mainly because a lot of people sadly associate religion with those hateful prejudices.

Mercyhurst aims to use its religious background to promote social justice since, to its core, each religion speaks of love. Every person deserves this love, regardless of any factor contributing to their identity. To promote this sense of unity between religion and social justice, Mercyhurst hosted a conversation between different Erie leaders of religion regarding social justice. The speakers had various religious backgrounds, so it is not a one-sided discussion that is not challenged or questioned in some way.

These Erie leaders discussed social justice issues in the local sense and dissected how it relates to Erie, what issues especially pertain to our community, and what can be done to solve these issues.

The Very Reverend Melinda Hall of the Cathedral of Saint Paul, Sheikh Mazin Alsahlani of the Al-Makarim Islamic Foundation, and Sister Valerie Luckey, OSB, representing the Benedictine Sisters of Erie all spoke at this event.

Verna Ehret, Ph.D., Religious Studies professor, indicated the importance of attending discussions like this.

“There are a number of reasons this is an important event for students to attend. A year ago, the Ethics Institute did a panel discussion titled ‘Individualism, Community, and the Power of Symbols.’This panel is a kind of follow-up to the previous panel. This new panel is focusing on three local religious communities and their work toward social justice throughout Erie.

There was some reflection on the larger religious ideas of the communities as well as the active work of building a more just society that they are engaged in. Seeing this work within Christian communities (both Catholic and Protestant), as well as Muslim communities in Erie helps students see the way ethical concerns bring people together. The Q&A portion of the evening highlighted shared values and work across the three speakers,” said Ehret.

Ehret spoke on the experience and value of the three selected speakers. “Rev. Hall is Dean of the Episcopal Diocese of Erie, and her congregation is in the heart of downtown Erie. The congregationengagesinagreat dealofoutreachandadvocacy for the people of Erie. Sr. Luck- ey is one of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, who are ever-present in the work of social justice throughout the city. Sr. Luckey, in particular works with Em- maus Ministries. Sheikh Alsahlani is the founder and head of the Almakarim Islamic Foundation in Erie, which is in the Shia tradition of Islam. Besides his work with the foundation, he travels nationally and internationally to give talks on peace and justice and, in particular, on inter-religious dialogue,” said Ehret.

Interviewed before the conversation took place, Ehret said that she is excited to see what the conversation brings.

“I am looking forward to seeing how these three people will build a conversation on social justice that engages their particular traditions while also opening up the ways justice transcends specific communities. Justice can be a tool not only for inclusion but also, and perhaps more importantly, for building belonging in the Erie community. I am very interested to see how each of them, individually and collectively, will explore that from their own traditions and experiences,” said Ehret.

The conversation took place on Feb. 7 in the Walker Recital Hall.

There was an impressive crowd, and a broad range of topics was brought up.

The speakers focused on finding similarities in their different religions and focused on respectful dialogue, which is so important today.

Talks like this are great ways for students to see firsthand the beauty in different beliefs, and it also shows people that the beauty in the community is finding those differences and yet coming together to make positive change.