By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator  

Everyone has a story and people need to take time to listen. That was the message of the annual Community Prayer Breakfast hosted by the Interfaith Federation of Great Baton Rouge.  

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Guests at the annual Interfaith Federation Community Breakfast hold up “candles” while singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth” to wrap up the event. The focus of the breakfast was to encourage everyone to listen to other people’s stories and to be a sign of hope for others.  Photo by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator 

 

The event, which drew several hundred people including faith leaders, ministry workers, law enforcement officers and community leaders, was held Thursday, Sept. 12 at the Catholic Life Center in Baton Rouge.  

Noting that it has been a year of “not so pleasant, heavy on the heart” events, Niloufer Mohamed, president of the Interfaith Federation said it doesn’t have to be large events that warrant attention. She said people facing smaller personal hardships or struggles simply need someone to hear their story.  

“We all would love to have someone to listen to us and just have someone listening and just understanding and engaging with us,” said Mohamed. “It takes the loneliness away, just giving that time and making someone feel good, making someone feel important.”  

Among those attending was Pastor Gerald Toussaint, from Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, the third historically black church in St. Landry Civil Parish deliberately destroyed by fire in April. The crime touched the hearts of people around the country and beyond. 

“We thank God,” said Toussaint, who took the day off from his job driving a truck to attend the Baton Rouge event. “We had a lot of help from the world, from all 50 states and from 20 countries.”  

Over a breakfast of biscuits, sausage, eggs and grits, guests listened to a number of speakers on the theme “BR Healing: Naming Our Story.” Rev. Robin McCullough-Bade, executive direction of the Interfaith Federation, kicked off the event saying everyone has a story to tell.  

“We have been created to not only to survive but to thrive by the grace of God,” said Rev. McCullough-Bade. “And our story is powerful … and it’s powerful when we let it go. There’s something freeing and healing when we name our story.”  

Rev. McCullough-Bade then went on to explain how people can take part in other people’s stories by listening and “giving hope and meaning.” She noted there are 650 congregations in East Baton Rouge Parish.  

“What if each house of worship became a listening post for the wounded to come and tell their stories?” she asked.  

Rev. McCullough-Bade then built an outline for a story for healing: conflict, setting, characters, plot and resolution.  

During his presentation on conflict, Rev. Charles deGravelles played a musical tribute called “Conflagration Blues” with a slide show of photos from the St. Landry church fires. Several members of the Interfaith Federation visited the church sites during Holy Week.  

“I loved it,” said Toussaint, who recorded the tribute on his phone.  

Rabbi Jordan Goldson presented the setting of the story by offering a traditional prayer for a new year and then sounded the shofar, a musical instrument made from a ram’s horn.   

Bishop Michael G. Duca spoke about the characters in the story and recalled the hopelessness he experienced from two historical events, the assassination of President John Kennedy and the terrorist attacks on 9/11. He noted disillusionments in life and factors such as “unexpected betrayals, bias, racism, classism, natural disasters that tear at the foundations of our lives.” 

“In those moments, we don’t even have the foundational confidence to rebuild. How do we move forward?” the bishop said. “Of course, as we know, as men and women of faith that there are answers beyond the limits of this world. The way that man or woman can be broken out of that lost place is by someone coming up to them and saying, ‘How are you doing?’ ” 

Thich Dao Quang, Baton Rouge’s only Buddhist monk, presented the plot of a story and about letting go. He noted the quest for “peace and harmony and happiness.”  

There was a discussion of resolution, followed by the lighting of candles representing community leaders, first responders and victims. The event wrapped up with the song “Let There be Peace on Earth.” 

“This morning (Sept. 12) was an opportunity to focus on our stories that connect us,” said Baton Rouge Mayor President Sharon Weston Broome.  

“To see all the faiths (and) different congregations coming together for the same purpose, it’s very heartwarming,” said East Baton Rouge Civil Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux.  

“We may look different, we may come from different backgrounds and when we take the time to listen, we realize how much more we have in common,” said Mohamed.