Hearts Came Together in Interfaith Prayer

Northeast  |  May 15, 2016

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.”

They were like angels coming in. I thought of them like butterflies. Everything was just so kind and wonderful about them.

That message was echoed by other disaster relief recipients as well.

It was kind of the light when everything was really dreary. We were not alone.”

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:

A lot of people drove through the community, you know, different resources, but they didn’t stop … and you guys did, and that made a big impact.

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:

Let us bring out our innate strength and goodness to heal the pain and suffering of others.

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:

For the days following Hurricane Sandy, we saw tears, we saw sadness. but if we looked at that video, you saw a few smiles, you saw a bit of laughter, you saw a bit of respect, you saw people handed back a bit from their life. Tzu Chi was able to do that.

Father Anthony Devadhasan from St. Charles Roman Catholic Church echoed that sentiment:

Here in Staten Island, we witnessed Tzu Chi brought smiles on the faces, hope in the people, so that they were able to stand up and face life.

Father Devadhasan also shared his respect for the way Tzu Chi exemplifies giving without attachment, and upholds giving as a way of life:

They are teaching an example to us and we learn from them. To give without expecting anything, without any desire of that giving. That's a beautiful thing I learned from Tzu Chi.

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:

Our imams and pastors were helping the community, doing good. But for Tzu Chi, it's the perfection of goodness because you enabled us to become even better ... And that’s the key to how Tzu Chi has been working across the world. There are two ways to live a pleasant life, either in someone’s heart or in someone’s prayers. That’s where Tzu Chi is: In people’s hearts and in their prayers.

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.

I was just overwhelmed by the feeling [that] they would offer this with no question just a matter of their own goodness. And the manner in which they collect the funds. It was explained to me that they collect the funds by pennies dimes and nickels ... It was overwhelming. And I must say that it changed me. It made me be thankful to be part of the human race.

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.

More than 8,000 people were killed and thousands injured. It was shocking news to us. People were in a panic and worried about their families back home. As a Nepali citizen, I would like to thank Tzu Chi for their compassionate relief work back home.

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:

May we practice all that is good. May we do nothing that is harmful. May we be Bodhisattvas in this world, eliminating all afflictions and benefiting all living beings. May our minds remain still, pure and tranquil. May our vows be as vast as the universe, unwavering for countless eons. May infinite paths to the Ultimate Truth readily appear before us, and may we attain great wisdom and be awakened to our infinite potential.

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