Archbishop Fiorenza of Houston, Texas is the son of Sicilian immigrants from Italy. He grew up in a neighborhood without many Catholics but with many Protestants and African-Americans. At a young age, he realized the value of diversity, compassion, but most importantly, the value of understanding all members of humanity. When he was a young man, he was aware of the inhumanity of segregation in the South, so he became active in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s to insure that African-Americans were treated equally and on par legally with other Americans.
Archbishop Fiorenza believes that the American identity is the responsibility of citizens to act responsibly with their cherished freedoms. He also believes that America must be charitable and share their vast resources with the less fortunate countries around the world. The freedom to do what is right (rather than to do what is pleasing to you) is quintessential to American identity, according to the Archbishop. In 21st century America, their seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding surrounding Islam and Muslims living in America. To combat these misperceptions, Archbishop Fiorenza suggests that the members of the Abrahamic tradition should engage in dialogue with one another to dispel the distortions that have spread through the media and other means. The Qu’ran, he noted, and the Prophet Muhammad have a great deal of wisdom that non-Muslim Americans can benefit from. In raising awareness, the members of the Abrahamic tradition can bind with one another around the shared value of monotheism – the belief in God (or Allah).
In his final blessing for the team and our journey, Archbishop Fiorenza noted that the nature of our project (to improve relations between Muslims and non-Muslims) is very pleasing to God. He hoped that the results of our project would become readily available soon in an effort to enhance respect amongst human beings. In conclusion, he prayed that the God of us all will bless all of our readers and all those who have come to know (and will come to know) the nature and importance of our project.
On our Texas leg, I found that Catholic Americans believe strongly in the virtues of knowledge and understanding. Father Nesti and Archbishop Fiorenza both emphasized the importance of these values for members of the Abrahamic tradition if they are to have a peaceful and prosperous future. I’m especially content with their actions and deeds because I was raised a Catholic myself. To see their awareness of the need to understand one another and their actions in trying to bolster a strong relationship amongst faiths makes me proud of my heritage.