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Cardinal O’Malley urges goodwill in wake of terror attacks

Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley.Alessandro Bianchi/REUTERS

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley joined a chorus of religious leaders in speaking out against anti-Muslim sentiment Thursday, warning Boston-area Catholics against "letting the darkness of hatred and prejudice poison our own hearts."

In a piece published Thursday in The Pilot, the archdiocesan newspaper, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston called on Americans to "walk boldly in the path of the Good Samaritan" at a time when terrorism has driven fear and distrust of Muslims to new heights.

"One of the most pernicious effects of terrorism is that it can instill prejudices and group hatred in people's hearts and minds,'' O'Malley wrote. "All of us are horrified by the evil perpetrated by radical terrorists, but we must not let their inhumanity rob us of our humanity."


Terrence C. Donilon, a spokesman for O'Malley, said the cardinal wrote the statement out of a general concern about "the need to maintain civility while keeping the homeland safe," not in response to any particular event or political matter.

Noting that many Americans do not know any Muslims, O'Malley said Muslims in America "are much less apt to be radicalized than their European counterparts" and have in many cases foiled terrorist attacks.

He said 10 percent of doctors in the United States are Muslim, including his own dentist.

"We cannot afford to be sloppy about security, but we must guard against letting the darkness of hatred and prejudice poison our own hearts," he wrote.

He invoked the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story Jesus tells about a Samaritan traveler who stops to help an injured Jewish stranger despite the enmity between Jews and Samaritans at the time.

"The Samaritan's act of kindness was at the same time an act of forgiveness, an act of renouncing prejudice and group hatred,'' the cardinal wrote.

Imam Yasir F. Fahmy of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury, the largest mosque in New England, said he welcomed the cardinal's words.


"Our traditions collectively call us toward mercy, toward kindness, toward compassionate behavior, and I find all of those prophetic virtues in this message," he said.

Fahmy said his congregation shares the fears and concerns of many American Muslims, who are alarmed at the increasingly charged political rhetoric against Muslims online, in the political arena, and on the streets. But Fahmy said visits to the Roxbury mosque by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Police Commissioner William B. Evans, and a number of interfaith clergy have "expressed at a deep level the care, love, and support we have pervading in the Boston community."

O'Malley's words echo those of other local faith leaders who have tried to counter anti-Muslim and antirefugee rhetoric in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. The Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, for example, denounced the demonization of Muslims in a recent statement calling for "open hearts and open doors to Syrian refugees."

"To have the cardinal come out so strongly is exactly what I think the world needs to hear, and it's a reminder that the true language of all faith communities should be one that affirms the image of God in every human being," said the group's president, Rabbi David G. Lerner of Temple Emunah in Lexington. "Sadly, many people seem to be losing sight of that basic message."

In the United States during World War II, O'Malley wrote, the conflict with Japan led to the creation of "concentration camps" for Japanese-Americans. "This very un-American reaction was spurred by people's fear,'' the cardinal wrote. "Fear can cause us to do terrible and stupid things.''


O'Malley also wrote that Christian and Muslim Arabs in the Middle East are "suffering incredible hardships'' from sectarian violence in the region, including "our own Catholic brothers and sisters who are truly martyrs, willing to sacrifice all rather than renounce their faith in Jesus Christ.''

O'Malley also addressed the debate playing out in the presidential campaign about allowing refugees from the Middle East and other parts of the world into the United States. He pointed to the Christmas story: Jesus was born in a stable because his parents were in a strange place with nowhere to go.

"Let us remember the doors that slammed in the face of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem,'' O'Malley wrote. "We must ask our leaders to be vigilant and protect our citizens, but at the same time we cannot turn our back on so many innocent people who are hungry, homeless, and without a country.''

The Rev. Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, the state's main ecumenical group, said many local Christians are trying to find ways to express support for Muslims. Quakers in Cambridge sent a mosque a bouquet of flowers. Some individuals have written letters to mosques expressing solidarity and concern.

In Worcester, Muslims invited interfaith leaders to the steps of City Hall last Sunday for a service in which they denounced terrorism and prayed for those hurt and killed in recent terror attacks.


The Rev. David Woessner, of St. Michael's-on-the-Heights Episcopal Church, said he was encouraged by the friendly discussions afterward.

"For me the touchstone is always to come back to the phrase most often repeated in the Bible — 'Do not be afraid,' " he said. "You can read it as consolation, but I also read it as a command. We have to work on not being afraid."

John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Lisa Wangsness can be reached at lisa.wangsness@globe.com.