Chicago Food Depository SWIFT Service Project, January 11

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SWIFT Interfaith Dinner-Sunday, November 10

Zion Luthern Church,

Tinley Park, Illinos

 

 

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SWIFT Dinner Marks Interfaith Milestone

Annual awards event celebrated 15 years, honored environmental nonprofit

(Tinley Park IL – November 10, 2019) — Breaking bread at the site of its first annual dinner in 2005, the SouthWest InterFaith Team (SWIFT) once again filled the parish hall of Zion Lutheran Church in Tinley Park this month, welcoming more than 100 South Siders from 19 member congregations of the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths.

Fine food and frank discussion made for a heartwarming community gathering that lifted the hearts and energized the spirits of all who attended. Of note, SWIFT also used the occasion to honor the inspiring work of environmental nonprofit Faith in Place, which is now in its 20th year of empowering people of all faiths in Illinois to be local leaders in caring for the Earth. Communications director, Elena Bettis, accepted SWIFT’s annual Faith in Humanity Award on the group’s behalf.

Turning to history, SWIFT co-founder Khalid Mozaffar recounted for the audience how SWIFT came into being in the years following 9/11 and the interfaith acts of friendship and caring that launched the organization may now be even stronger today.

“SWIFT continues to thrive and continues its mission of interfaith harmony and community service,” said Mozaffar. “We can sit back and watch the news and the chaos and feel helpless and do nothing but complain OR we can choose to do what little IS in our control to make the society and the world a better place than we found it.”

See below for the full text of his 15th Anniversary address…

 

SWIFT FIFTEENTH YEAR ANNIVERSARY

Greetings dear Guests and friends, I begin in the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, Most Merciful.

As Mohammed mentioned, I am Khalid Mozaffar and I was one of the two co-founders of SWIFT and co-chairperson for the first few years. It is indeed great to see all of you here. And it is doubly great to see you all here at Zion Lutheran Church. It is truly like a homecoming. As we heard earlier, Zion Lutheran Church was a core founding member of SWIFT under the leadership of Rev Terry Baeder. Not only that, for the first couple of years, most if not all of the SWIFT programs, were held right here in this hall. Thiswas the first ever Speakers Forum… Andthese were the first dinners we had here at Zion.

So thank you Zion Lutheran, thank you Pastor Lynn Bird, and thank you members of this church for re-joining SWIFT and for hosting this event, especially at the occasion of its 15th anniversary.

Anyway, I am honored to have been asked to spend a few minutes talking about our origins and history.

So back in 2002, I was one of the teachers at the Sunday School at the American Islamic Association Frankfort Mosque, also known as AIA.  As our holy month of Ramadan approached that year, which is not only a month of fasting and devotion to God but also a month of charity and doing good, I wanted the students of the school to get involved in a project which would bring together all these values and lessons that we learn from Ramadan. So I decided to arrange for the AIA Ramadan Food Drive that year in 2002.

Part of making the arrangements was to figure out where the food collection would be donated. So I looked up local food pantries in the Yellow Pages and the first one to come up was the Tinley Park Food Pantry. I called the phone number, ready to explain that we were a local mosque wanting to make a food donation. The answering machine came on with the message “Thank you for calling the Tinley Park United Methodist Church”. 

Well, this is back then, when I had not interacted with any of the local churches before. And this being about a year after September 11, 2001, I thought to myself… “oh it’s a church. I will never hear back from them”….But to my total surprise, the very next day, I got a call from Rev Jim Young, the then-Pastor of the Tinley United Methodist Church, expressing his gratitude for the call and the intent to donate. We worked things out and the donations were made. In fact, because we ran out of room in their storage area, we brought the surplus donations right here to Zion Lutheran which was their over-run extra storage location.

A couple of days later, Rev Jim called back, this time asking if he could come over to the mosque to thank the community for their generous donations. He came over and spoke – one thing led to another – and there we began talks of forming an interfaith group. The talks continued with AIA, Rev Jim Young and some other members of the Tinley Park Ministerial Association.

As it turns out, at the same time as we at AIA were planning this Ramadan Food drive, some of the members of the Tinley Park Ministerial Association were discussing among themselves how to reach out to the Muslim communities of the South Suburbs after the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, to make sure that their Muslim neighbors were not being impacted in any negative way in terms of physical or verbal harassment, nor their rights to worship and assemble impeded – basically extending a hand of friendship and support to their Muslim American fellow-citizens. But they had NO idea who to contact and were worried how they would be received. All it took was a Food Drive to make things happen and for connections to be made! The result was that our needy neighbors were fed AND we Muslims were made to feel that beautiful neighborly love – that Christian love — that Jesus Christ whom Christians and Muslims revere, that he taught to his followers and to the world by his example. Love Thy Neighbor in action, not just words.

So that’s how it all started. In 2003, the group SWIFT became a reality with five Places of Worship as members at the time – the American Islamic Association, Tinley Park UMC, St Stephens Catholic Church, Zion Lutheran Church and Faith Presbyterian Church of Tinley Park.  The following year in 2004, we got formally incorporated as a non-profit in the State of Illinois and by then, we had reached out to the Jewish synagogues and were happy to bring on Temple Anshe Sholom of Olympia Fields as a member.

And folks, look around see us now. By the Grace, Mercy and Blessing of God, fifteen years later, here we are! We are now 19 members strong. And again, with all thanks and Praise to God, SWIFT continues to thrive and continues its mission of interfaith harmony and community service. We can sit back and watch the news and the chaos and feel helpless and do nothing but complain OR we can choose to do what little IS in our control to make the society and the world a better place than we found it. We need not accept the status quo. We can support organizations like SWIFT and other interfaith and social justice work. The next generations deserve a better society and world. Not a divided, cold, rude, hard-hearted, intolerant society but a compassionate, dignified, caring, selfless, civil and open-minded society.

We at SWIFT are here to defy all stereotypes and to counter the negative narratives that we see on TV and in politics… we through our interfaith cooperation and harmony want to show the skeptics that religion and People of Faith ARE indeed  a positive force upholding that which pleases God and that which is good for our families and society, and NOT a negative source of friction, extremism and intolerance. Some folks cannot believe that Muslims and Christians or Muslims and Jews can work together with one voice or that we can even put Muslims, Jews and Christians in the same room because somehow their religion tells them to shun each other or worse, harm each other.

We at SWIFT strive to prove otherwise. Yet we do not do that by watering down our principles of faith. We members are not changing our beliefs to accommodate each other. Instead, as Muslims, Christians and Jews, we remain passionate and proud about our own beliefs and practices because they all each teach goodness and justice AND very importantly, we see the goodness in each other and appreciate the others’ connections to God and treat each other with respect, dignity and love. We do this not in spite of our religious teachings but precisely because of our divinely inspired teachings. And this is the important part: beyond dinners and picnics and socializing, we vow to take this message and this philosophy back to our congregations, our relatives and our friends who look down upon us and who sadly believe we are committing a great sin by talking with the other. I am sure we all know such people, right? So we need to promise ourselves to take this message of SWIFT beyond these four walls. I hope we can all go back and be that beacon of light and hope!

May God bless all of our guests, bless SWIFT and bless the USA. Thank you!

SWIFT Care & Share Project-Drive for Rich Township Pantry

The Toiletry Drive “Caring for Neighbors” for the Rich Township Pantry had a great showing of 33 people coming out to volunteer their time. They ended unpacking 100 boxes! You can find more information and photos on the SWIFT South West Interfaith Team Facebook page. (click here for link)

Speakers Forum-Sunday, September 22

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The SouthWest Interfaith Team hosted a compelling program laying out interfaith perspectives on immigration, the true definition of “neighbor”, and our related responsibilities to each other as people of faith. The event was held on Sunday, September  22 at St. Michael’s Parish in Orland Park, Illinois.  Scheduled speakers included Liz Young of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Imam Abdul Malik Ryan, the Muslim Chaplain at DePaul University, and Rabbi Dr. Joseph Ozarowski who serves as Rabbinic Counselor and Jewish Chaplaincy Services Chaplain. Rabbi Ozarowski is currently a national officer of Neshma:  The association of Jewish Chaplains

SWIFT INTERFAITH PICNIC

SWIFT Interfaith Picnic July28, 2019

Above, Muslim co-chairman Mohammed Nofal and SWIFT member Suleiman Ramadan manned the grill for the interfaith picnic at Peace Memorial UCC in Palos Park. Below, Jewish co-chair Ernie Ratowitz was quite pleased with the turnout.

(Photos by Frank Vaisvilas, Daily Southtown)

SWIFT in the News

SWIFT’S NEW BILLBOARD IS UP!

PRESS RELEASE

Interfaith Billboard Returns to Promote Hope!

Christians, Jews, Muslims say even more will see new sign on I-80-294 this month!

(TINLEY PARK IL – Aug. 6, 2019) — “Location. Location. Location.”

That is the source of renewed optimism this month, as the SouthWest

InterFaith Team (SWIFT) has placed a new public service message of

“peace and understanding” on Interstate 80-294 in East Hazel Crest. But

this time, the SWIFT sign is facing East, adjacent to the Westbound

lanes, and it is slated to be up through Labor Day Weekend.

______________________________________

ONE GOD, THREE FAITHS

Christians & Jews & Muslims

ALL Working for Peace and Understanding

_______________________________________

As a result, OUTFRONT Media, which owns the billboard, estimates

that, over the next 30 days, more than 2.3 million vehicles will see the

nonprofit group’s encouraging message of unity. That translates into a

60% increase over the 1.4 million vehicles that OUTFRONT estimates

had seen the first SWIFT billboard last October.

 “In these challenging times, we felt this was a good way to spread the

healthy message of our group to a wider audience,” says Ernie

Ratowitz, SWIFT’s Jewish co-chair, and a member of the Shir Tikvah

(Song of Hope) congregation in Homewood. “We are all friends here at

SWIFT and we all get along. So we just wanted to remind the general

public that there is much more that unites us than separates us.”

Now in its 15th year, SWIFT is a joyful, politics-free collaboration of

area churches, synagogues and mosques in the Chicago Southland.

Started informally in 2003, it became an official entity in 2004. The

organization now boasts 19 member groups, including four Muslim

prayer centers, a combined Jewish congregation and more than a dozen

Christian entities of varying denominations, i.e. Catholic, Methodist,

Presbyterian, Episcopalian, etc.

Meeting monthly, the groups’ members work together each year on two

public forums on compelling interfaith topics, and multiple community

service projects. Each fall, they also honor an inspiring area group or

faith leader with SWIFT’s Faith in Humanity Award. (The next SWIFT

Forum, “Love Thy Neighbor?” is set for Sept. 22. See SWIFTinterfaith.org for

more details.)

 “SWIFT stresses the commonality of the three faiths,” explains attorney

Mohammed Nofal, the group’s Muslim co-chair and a member of the

Prayer Center of Orland Park. “While we highlight our similarities, we

also celebrate our differences. God made us of different faiths, colors

and religions — so that we may learn and understand one another.”

Adds Christian co-chair Sr. Marilyn Renninger of the Franciscan

Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Frankfort: “This billboard will help spread

the good that our group is doing in this area. SWIFT has been and is a

gift for many people. At our forums, dinners, and annual awards

ceremonies, we have people of different faiths working together on

volunteer projects, and that has opened hearts and minds to love,

understanding and respect.”

And it has rekindled hope that, together, we can ALL rise above hate.

 “SWIFT remains relevant, active and determined, acting like a beacon of

hope in this otherwise chaotic and divided world,” says co-founder

Khalid Mozaffar, an engineer and former SWIFT co-chair. “This group

offers a vibrant testament to the fact that People of Faith can be a

positive, unifying, functional force in modern-day society. And that

counters the false argument that Religion and its followers sew only

hatred and division in our troubled world.”

Through its billboards, he adds, SWIFT now has taken its message of

hope and harmony to a much broader audience.

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For more about SWIFT and to view videos of prior events, please visit

the SWIFT Interfaith Facebook page, or go to SWIFTinterfaith.org.

For more on the billboard, contact SWIFT member Rob McManamy at

robmac0613@yahoo.com.

SWIFT BILLBOARD MENTIONED IN DAILY SOUTHTOWN

Read Jerry Shnay’s article refering to SWIFT’S billboard in the Daily Southtown:

https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown/opinion/ct-sta-shnay-column-st-0806-20190805-gqsd3at3zjgpzobiqkveubefrq-story.html

Welcome to the SouthWest Interfaith Team!

Welcome to the SouthWest InterFaith Team (SWIFT)! Our mission is to promote dialogue among the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious communities and to work together on common community projects.

The hope is that the efforts of SWIFT will promote mutual respect and build understanding among these religious communities.

Membership of SWIFT is made up of Christian churches, Jewish synagogues and Muslim mosques. SWIFT is made up of groups centered around but not restricted to the South-West suburbs of Chicago, Illinois.

It is not the goal of SWIFT to convert any group to the beliefs of another. Also, SWIFT does not take stands on political issues.

SWIFT provides a forum for the Christian, Muslim and Jewish people in the area to educate, interact with and learn from each other. May God bless this endeavor and give it much success.

If your church, mosque or synagogue believes in interfaith dialogue, consider joining SWIFT!

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