Communication and Dialogue: The Keynote of the 9th Annual Interfaith Solidarity March in Los Angeles

Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Scientologists, and members of other faiths and beliefs gathered at St. Basil Catholic Church in Los Angeles for the 9th Annual Interfaith Solidarity March and forum on Sunday, June 2. The event, organized to foster unity, peace and understanding among different faith communities, addressed pressing issues. Key among them were the Israel-Hamas War and humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and the resulting spike in hate crimes against Jews, Muslims and Arabs reported in other parts of the globe.

The program was organized and produced by the Institute for Religious Tolerance, Peace and Justice (IRTPJ), led by Dr. Arik Greenberg, founder and president of the nonprofit, who also serves on the Loyola Marymount University theology faculty. 

Those taking part in the march were urged to walk next to someone they didn’t already know, particularly someone of a different faith from their own. It was suggested that by getting to know and understanding an individual who may hold different views from our own, we may learn that communication and interfaith dialogue can be transformative.

Rev. Olivia McDuff of the Church of Scientology International, master of ceremonies at the march launch, acknowledged Dr. Greenberg and described him as “a strong voice for peace.” She said, “His persistence and passion for bringing all faiths together are the foundation of the initiative’s success. This program develops trust among different faith communities, and this is of vital importance. In the words of Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard, ‘On the day when we can fully trust each other, there will be peace on Earth.’”

Following the march, a panel discussed the crises in Gaza and Israel. It was moderated by Father Alexei Smith, Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Father Smith believes the answer to these issues require moving far beyond “tolerance,” which he considers to be a negative word. “It means ‘I’ll put up with you.’ We’re certainly much beyond merely putting up with other religions, and we should allow ourselves to be open to other faiths. Allow them to nurture us as we nurture and encourage them.

“It is critically important that people today see that men and women of various faith traditions can live harmoniously. We don’t always agree. But we must not let our disagreements prevent us from working together for the greater good.”

Panelist Aziza Hasan, Executive Director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, shared her personal perspective on discrimination and hate.

“After 911, there was so much pain and loss and grief in people’s hearts,” she said. “As Americans and Muslims, we were upset and grieving along with everyone else. We became the target of people’s anger and hate. A number of interfaith allies made a human chain around us. They said, ‘We want you to know that we love you.’ That was a key moment because they were there for us when it mattered.

“An inclusive and respectful society starts at home; it starts with me. And it’s really actually about me being willing to look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do better? How can I show up for other communities? And who was already showing up for me.’” 

She believes that regardless of our own religious beliefs, we can contribute to creating a more inclusive and respectful society.

The mission of IRTPJ is to promote religious tolerance, interfaith dialogue and education about religions of the world as a pathway to world peace.

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