By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Music, songs and stories of compassion and tolerance filled the Cathedral of the Assumption during the Festival of Faiths’ “Interfaith Celebration of Music, Song and Soul” April 19.
The celebration, which drew hundreds to the Cathedral in downtown Louisville, was one of the opening events for the 22nd annual Festival of Faiths taking place April 19-22 at the Kentucky Center for the Arts.
Father Michael Wimsatt, administrator of the Cathedral of the Assumption, prayed during the start of the event reminding those who’d gathered that they are not just neighbors, but in a “spiritual sense brothers and sisters created in the image of God.”
Participants heard from veteran journalist Ann Curry, who delivered the keynote address sharing with listeners how reporting on human suffering caused by wars and natural disasters, she witnessed both humanity’s capacity for cruelty and for compassion.
Curry told listeners that over the course of decades as a journalist, that she’s witnessed “terrible pain and suffering.” “You see places in this nation where the cruelties of hunger and poverty is so deep that the American dream honestly does not have a chance,” Curry said.
“You may even witness the worst that we humans can do to each other — war, racism, genocide and the systemic use of violence against women and children.”
It begged the question, she noted, “how can humans be so cruel to each other?”
The answer at first, said Curry is that there are “bad people in the world who do bad things.” But, after sitting across from and interviewing individuals who’ve been accused of inhumane acts, she said she came to the conclusion that the “truth may be more layered than the idea that there are good guys and bad guys.”
She said she saw how easily these individuals can become “deluded by the narratives they tell themselves and how quickly these narratives can blind them to the humanity” of others. She also saw, she said, an “anger separating us from them,” not only abroad but here in the U.S. as well.
Curry said to her listeners that over the course of decades as a journalist, she has also witnessed the other side of humanity —the capacity for compassion.
Whether it was the pregnant woman in Darfur who drew the militia towards her, so her younger sister could escape or humanitarian workers helping victims of a war in Aleppo, Syria, the conclusion is the same, she said — humans’ capacity for compassion is such that they will act to shield others from suffering even when it poses a risk to themselves.
“If we step back for a long view of human history, we can actually see humanity’s turn toward compassion,” said Curry.
Once, she noted, “atrocities were a fact of war, now they are war crimes.”
“Once poor children were made to work in the nations’ factories other than be allowed to go to school, now we call that child abuse,” she said.
“Once if people knew you were gay, you were shunned and could even be killed,” she said. “Now you have the same right to thrive in this country as anyone else.”
Curry said she believes compassion can be learned and strengthened the more its practiced. She said she believes her own capacity to think of others was developed by watching her mother, a Japanese immigrant, struggle to find acceptance in the U.S. and her father’s effort to “defend her against loneliness and to help her become an American citizen.”
She believes the notion also, she said, that “compassion is contagious. When we see it in others we are inspired ourselves.”
Mayor Greg Fischer spoke to the gathering as well telling them that the Festival of Faiths is “one of the world’s great gatherings.” The theme of the festival is “Compassion: Shining Like the Sun,” a reference to Thomas Merton’s celebrated epiphany at the corner of what are now Fourth Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard in downtown Louisville.
Fischer said the Trappist monk’s famous words — “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around, shining like the sun.” — have inspired him for decades.
One of his goals, said Fischer, is to take the challenge to “help people see the light shining in them and one another.” “It’s what we call compassion,” he said.
The mayor said he’s proud of what the city has accomplished, but knows there’s a lot more to do. “There are still people starved for compassion in their daily lives,” he said.
“I see the hunger for compassion in the eyes of kids” whose families have experienced gun violence. He sees it too, he said, in the immigrants who’ve described “bitter insults” hurled at them.
That’s why the city needs this festival “to come together and nourish the faith in ourself and one another,” said the mayor.