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Redefining the city at Pope Francis’ 9/11 Multi-Religious Service

Buddhist abbot believes that clear words can clean hearts. So, being clear about who we are in New York City might have spiritual benefits.

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Abbot Bhante Kondanna in front of the ceremony for the breaking of Buddhist Lent at the end of last year. Photo illustration: A Journey through NYC religions

Abbot Bhante Kondanna in front of the ceremony for the breaking of Buddhist Lent at the Sri Lankan Staten Island Buddhist Vihara, end of last year. Photo illustration: A Journey through NYC religions

Buddhist abbots believe that clear words can clean hearts. So, being clear about who we are in New York City might have spiritual benefits.

Bhante Kondanna, the abbot of the Sri Lankan Staten Island Buddhist Vihara says that Pope Francis will give the city “a working definition” of how the spiritual people from different faiths can stand together when he conducts his multi-religious prayer service tomorrow at the 9/11 Memorial.

Perhaps, what happens in New York City then can be a “good model” for the world, Kondanna says,  about how “we can all work together, can all come together, for humanity.”

The abbot points out that religions differ, but many of their activities are similarly devoted to the good of the community.

“We can all learn from each other, even adopt” beneficial practices, the abbot offered.

Tomorrow, Francis will host a prayer service and readings of various religious scriptures with ten or more representatives of world religions before an assembly of 700 clergy and faith leaders.

The Buddhist was invited as a member of the mayor’s Clergy Advisory Council. He also serves as a representative of the New York Disaster Interfaith Services, a non-profit federation of emergency services and resources.

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Kondanna sees the Pope’s invitation as a gesture of compassion, a value that Buddhists emphasize also. “The cardinals could have selfishly kept to themselves” the attention and excitement that an event like this garners. Instead, the Church invited leaders to share the limelight. The pope’s open door to a gathering with global attention is a way of giving  credence to their voices without the downbeat of  challenging, drowning out or ignoring by omission the different religions’ perspectives. Francis has done this before with Buddhists in Kondanna’s home country Sri Lanka.

At the beginning of this year, Pope Francis made an unscheduled visit to a Buddhist temple in Columbo, Sri Lanka, while visiting the country. In a country where a 30-year civil war has sometimes pitted the Buddhist minority against the Hindu majority, Pope Francis strongly urged that “religious beliefs must never be allowed to be abused in the cause of violence and war.”

Kondanna appreciates this Pope’s connecting with others beyond his faith. “He’s being a role model” by “not thinking everyone will be Catholic,” Kondanna says. The same parameters apply to the monk’s own faith.

“As a Buddhist monk, I shouldn’t expect everyone to be Buddhist. How can I put my religion on others?” he said. What’s important is that Pope Francis encourages the spiritual practice of his admirers. Such actions by religious believers build a sense of a kindred spirit. “If you’re a good Catholic, I can see you as a Buddhist. You’re practicing right.”

 

Shrine at the San Rasa Sri Lankan restaurant (also known as Lakruwana), which has Catholic and Buddhist staff. Staten Island, 226 Bay Street. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

Shrine at the San Rasa Sri Lankan restaurant (also known as Lakruwana), which has Catholic and Buddhist staff. Staten Island, 226 Bay Street. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

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