As part of Tzu Chi New York’s 25th birthday celebrations on April 24th, nearly 500 guests of different faiths came together to remember Hurricane Sandy, and to pray for people recovering from disasters around the world.
After an introductory welcome in English, Mandarin, and Spanish, renowned opera singer Jennifer Gliere performed “God Bless America”, a song which calls us to “raise our voices in a solemn prayer.”
She then invited the audience to sing along with her, allowing everyone to express personal thanks for the blessings of living in America. And yet, disaster can strike anywhere at any time, as it did when Hurricane Sandy, the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history, made landfall on the East Coast in October 2012.
The film “Hurricane Sandy and Beyond” which followed, reminded the audience of the scope of the disaster, and revealed that Tzu Chi New York provided $10 million in cash aid to those impacted by the superstorm. Personal testimonials from aid recipients interviewed in film highlighted the response of those who received emergency aid.
Kathleen, a resident of Breezy Point pointed out that the $600 she received helped tremendously, “but the feeling, even more than that … was that they cared.”
That message was echoed by other disaster relief recipients as well.
Members of the New York Police Department, who were helping others but in many cases were victims of the storm themselves, expressed an even deeper level of appreciation:
After the film, George Chang, Executive Director of Tzu Chi USA’s Northeast Region addressed the audience and expressed his gratitude that Tzu Chi was able to come to the aid of New Yorkers at this time of great need. And yet, he pointed out that some are still suffering because of the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, and countless others are recovering after tragic disasters around the world at this very moment and need our help:
Invited speakers then shared their memories of Hurricane Sandy and Tzu Chi’s disaster relief work. Pastor Lawrence Sallee, from Oakwood Heights Protestant Christian Church, remembered how Tzu Chi volunteers were personally able to lift the spirit of people at a time of great despair, as was evident in the film that screened earlier:
Father Anthony Devadhasan from St. Charles Roman Catholic Church echoed that sentiment:
Father Devadhasan also shared his respect for the way Tzu Chi exemplifies giving without attachment, and upholds giving as a way of life:
Mohammad Razvi, a community activist from a Muslim background and Executive Director of the non-profit Council of People’s Organization (COPO), pointed out how Tzu Chi is able to inspire people to become better, and that creates a lasting impact:
Then it was time for Tzu Chi volunteers to perform “Embrace Us All”, a sign language show which demonstrates Tzu Chi’s disaster relief mission which began in Taiwan 50 years ago, and continues around the globe until today. In fact, as Tzu Chi New York marks its 25th Anniversary in 2016, Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation celebrates its 50th Anniversary as well.
Next, a ceremonial distribution took place, with both givers and receivers showing each other the utmost honor and respect by bowing deeply.
The program continued with sharing by three aid recipients. Roy Richter from the New York Police department expressed his appreciation for the fact that Tzu Chi came to the aid of thousands of officers whose families were impacted by Sandy.
Maya Gurung from the Adhikaar organization, a New-York based nonprofit working with Nepali-speaking communities thanked Tzu Chi for their aid in Nepal after the tragic earthquake in April 2015.
Finally, Linda Huang, an individual care and aid recipient who Tzu Chi helped during a lengthy illness expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to get back on her feet again.
The program culminated in an interfaith prayer service led in turn by Father Anthony Devadhasan, Pastor Lawrence Sallee, Imam Tahir Kukiqi, and George Chang, and uniting Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Buddhist traditions.
Audience and religious leaders and representatives alike came together as “brothers and sisters from all races, religions, cultures, and languages, united and praying to ease the suffering of our one human family around the globe.”
The jewel of the afternoon truly was when everyone was holding tiny candles and united in prayer, while a film showing people of different faiths and religions in worship played on stage. The truth that universal love is our salvation arose in everyone’s heart in a powerful way.
In conclusion, a choir of kids from Tzu Chi Academy followed by female volunteers sang the inspirational hymn of “Love illuminates the world”.
As you finish reading this blog, please take a moment to pray for all the people suffering in the world right now. This prayer comes from the Buddhist tradition Tzu Chi is led by: