Religious leaders, members share support, prayers for refugees and immigrants

The event was hosted by Inter-Religious Council of Linn County

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HIAWATHA — More than 100 residents and faith leaders came together to pray and speak in support of refugees and immigrants Thursday night.

The event, organized by the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County, was held at the Community of Christ Church in Hiawatha.

In a series of readings, nine faith and social service leaders spoke about why their traditions support America welcoming immigrants and refugees. Here are their perspectives: 

“We believe that whenever we welcome someone in need, we are welcoming Christ,” said the Rev. Nathan Williams, pastor at Echo Hill Presbyterian Church.

Jesus, he said, became a refugee shortly after he was born.

Reading from a prayer “We know the truth: all of these children are our sons and daughters, and their parents are our brothers and sisters, and we owe them a room in the inn,” he said, reading from a prayer for the Rev. Laurie Kraus.

Krishna Iyer, chair of the Hindu Temple Association of Eastern Iowa, said Hindus believe in the commonality of people and religions.

“No one is superior. No one is inferior,” Iyer said.


Alan Diehl, a founder of the Humanists of Linn County, said the atheists and agnostics in his group believe in working to make the world a better place.

“We strive to work together for the common good of humanity,” he said. “Although we share differences in our beliefs, we also share some very common beliefs. We are skeptical of untested claims to knowledge, and we’re open to novel ideas and seek departure in our thinking.”

Diehl asked the audience to consider his 92-year-old grandmother, who moved to Cedar Rapids as the child of an Italian Immigrant, where she was ridiculed and ashamed of being an immigrant.

“Here I am, the grandson of an immigrant, who, back in the ’20s and ’30s, was looked down upon because of her status as an Italian and a Catholic,” he said. “Here we have an immigrant group who is going through that (same thing).”

Becky Jensen and Meghan Zalewski, members of the Baha’i faith, read a prayer: “To be no cause of grief to anyone. To be kind to all people and to love them with a pure spirit. Should opposition or injury happen to us, to bear it, to be as kind as ever can be, and through all, to love the people.”

Eugenia Kendall, a Buddhist and member of the Cedar Rapids Zen Center, read from a book, “The Six Perfections,” by Dale Wright: “The mental attitudes of intolerance and impatience takes a toll on all of us. When impatient or intolerant, we diminish ourselves and others by inhabiting a rigid smallness of mind. The perfection of tolerance includes a patient willingness to accept present reality as the point of departure for transformative work in the world.”


Afnan El Shaikh, a teacher at the Islamic Center, shared a prayer of solidarity: “God ... we beg for your forgiveness for every time we let our small glimpses of your immense being swell our smallness into arrogance, dividing us from our sisters and brothers whose hearts you dwell in. We ask that you break us free from the unconscious and conscious chains of fear, hate and xenophobia that have shackled some of neighbors.”

Rabbi Todd Thalblum, of the Temple Judah, shared Jewish traditions of welcoming strangers.

“This phrase ‘protect, defend, look out for the stranger because you were the stranger in the land of Egypt,’ is one of our most common phrases throughout the Torah,” he said. “It is a core lesson of Judaism that we were enslaved in Egypt because we were the strangers. Once God brought us out of that place, it was to be a lesson to us to know how to treat others. It wasn’t to make us bitter and angry.”

Nancy Rhodes, a member of the Osage nation of Native Americans, shared her struggles in uniting parts of her heritage as a descendant of Native Americans and Europeans.

“How do I come to a wholeness of my heritage?” she said. “I had to come to a place of respect for all parts of my background ... to become a stronger and more resilient individual. This is something the nation needs to do.”


The Rev. Rebecca Hinds, minister at the People’s Church Unitarian Universalist, said Unitarians believe in inclusion and collaboration.

“Our commitment to inclusion and social justice have us outraged at any discrimination,” she said. “We open our hearts wide to others. May you know your inherent worth and dignity every day of your journey. Let us pray for the people whom you will meet along the way. May they remember how they were strangers, too. May they embrace the pathways of compassion.”

A collection was also taken for the Catherine McAuley Center of Cedar Rapids, where volunteers teach English to immigrants and which has committed to becoming a primary refugee settlement organization.

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