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Faith leaders reflect on their messages during the weekend's religious ceremonies


This weekend brings an unusual alignment - three major world religions are all celebrating important holidays. For Christians, this Sunday is Easter. For Jews, the eight days of Passover begin tonight. And for Muslims, we are in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan. Each of these holidays has its own symbolism and themes, and it's not a stretch to tie any of those themes to world events, from the pandemic to the war in Ukraine.

So we've invited three faith leaders to tell us about the messages they are bringing to their congregations during this holy time. Reverend Marshall Hatch is the senior pastor at the New Mount Pilgrim Church on the west side of Chicago. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MARSHALL HATCH: Thank you. Glad to be here.

SHAPIRO: Rabbi Ruth Zlotnick is the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Am in Seattle. Good to have you here.

RUTH ZLOTNICK: Hello. Great to be here.

SHAPIRO: And Imam Mohammed Herbert is imam at the Islamic Society of Tulsa, Okla. Welcome to you.

MOHAMMED HERBERT: A pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: Well, the world right now offers an abundance of topics that are suitable for a sermon.


SHAPIRO: What is foremost on y'all's minds right now?

HERBERT: I think for us, really, one of the biggest things that's running on everyone's minds is, what's next? I mean, what is really coming in the world, right? And so we find ourselves turning back to our faith traditions to find those answers of how to, you know, translate all of the noise that we're hearing, you know, day in and day out and how to turn that noise into action, right? Because if we're just people of feeling, then we're not really doing anything. It doesn't really help ourselves or anyone around us if all we're doing is just feeling. But the hope is that this feeling can then motivate action and change, that when we feel sad about our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, for example, that it doesn't just stop with that feeling of sadness. You know, that feeling then should motivate an action.

SHAPIRO: Rabbi Zlotnick, you're nodding right now.

ZLOTNICK: Yeah. I'm nodding because I completely agree. And I think, you know, these times feel catastrophic to us, and they are catastrophic. But for all of our faith traditions - and certainly I can speak best about the Jewish faith tradition - our ancestors also lived in catastrophic times. And one of the reasons why I'm grateful to be a person of faith is because I know that there were others, my ancestors, who walked this path before me and who created ways to withstand the suffering around them, which helps me, in my day-to-day life, withstand the suffering around me. But I couldn't agree with the imam more that it's about both helping us on an individual level to have the resilience to take step by step, but also not just to nourish our souls but to transform that into action.

SHAPIRO: Reverend Hatch, I know this sense of catastrophe has been very personal for your congregation. You lost family members. You lost friends. The COVID pandemic really hit your community hard.

HATCH: Yeah. You know, the pandemic has been very real in our community. And obviously, over the past couple of years, we've talked about - it has exposed some of the disparity in access to health care and resources in a community like ours. We have felt it pretty heavily. And I think that what we've discovered, obviously, is that, you know, faith is really made for times like these. These are very uncertain times. And as the imam shared and the rabbi shared, if we ever needed faith, it's in a time like this - to provide some stability in times of uncertainty.

SHAPIRO: As I was thinking about these three holidays - Easter, Passover and Ramadan - I realized they all have themes of renewal. Can you tell us about how you're applying that specific idea to your observance this year?

HERBERT: I think one of the realities of discipline and one of the realities of kind of, like, holding yourself back from, you know, basic pleasures, is that you kind of take a step back and you realize all of the things that you took for granted, right? And so now it's, you know, 1:45 p.m. here in Oklahoma. And I am exhausted, tired, fatigued. I need a coffee. Like, I need a couple coffees, right? But I think to myself that, in this moment, I mean, could you imagine being a young man or a young woman, you know, walking across train tracks in Ukraine, trying to find a home - like, literally not having a home, right? I mean, I'm home now. I'm a little hungry, but that's about it.

SHAPIRO: Reverend Hatch, Rabbi Zlotnick, how do you think about that theme of renewal in this particular moment?

HATCH: Yeah. Sort of leading up into this season, interestingly enough, you know, the numbers in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations have been going down, you know, since the first of the year. And so this has been a season we've used a theme - regathering.

SHAPIRO: What a great word.

HATCH: Yeah. Yeah. We've used that text, Rabbi, in the 107 Psalm about coming from the east and the north and the south and the west and regathering, and let the redeemed of the Lord say so or testify that, somehow, we feel like we've been survivors through a horrendous pandemic.

ZLOTNICK: I will just add to that, that while there is the theme of renewal for sure in the holiday of Passover, for me this year, Passover is all about the idea of coming out of a dark and narrow place and entering a place of freedom and light. And so for me, it's not so much about renewal, but it's about hope of overcoming the obstacles that lead to human suffering. And of course this year, it's those who've suffered through COVID and the Ukraine war that's raging on.

SHAPIRO: To conclude, I'd love it if you could give us a passage from your religion's sacred texts that is feeling especially meaningful to you right now in this moment. Rabbi Zlotnick, do you want to begin?

ZLOTNICK: I will say I'm blessed to be serving a community in Seattle, Wash. And there is a psalm - Psalm 121 - in Hebrew is, (speaking Hebrew). I lift up my eyes to the mountains. From where will my help come? It will come from the Holy One, the Eternal.

SHAPIRO: Imam Herbert, what's a passage that has been particularly meaningful to you these days?

HERBERT: We have a statement from the Prophet Muhammad - peace and blessings be upon him - where he describes the Ummah, the nation of Muslims. And he says, you see the believers as regards to their being merciful among themselves, as showing love among themselves and being kind among themselves, resembling one body, so that if any part of the body is not well, then the whole body shares the sleeplessness and insomnia and fever with it - right? - that we are here together as one people.

SHAPIRO: Reverend Hatch, do you want to have the last word?

HATCH: It's the Matthew 28 text that we reflect on. The fifth verse is, don't be afraid; fear not. And I've found that, you know, we return to that theme time after time as we've looked in the face of this pandemic that has caused just a tremendous amount of anxiety. And so the first thing to overcome is to overcome fear. Don't be afraid; fear not.

SHAPIRO: Reverend Marshall Hatch of the new Mount Pilgrim Church in Chicago, Rabbi Ruth Zlotnick of Temple Beth Am in Seattle, and Imam Mohammed Herbert of the Islamic Society of Tulsa, Okla. Happy holidays to all three of you, and thank you for speaking with us.

ZLOTNICK: Thank you.

HATCH: Thank you.

HERBERT: Pleasure and honor. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Kathryn Fox