Biden makes surprise appearance at Georgetown interfaith forum on peace

WASHINGTON — Even though he wasn’t on the program, Vice President Joe Biden stole the show at a Georgetown University program promoting peace in wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.

Metropolitan Tikhon, primate of the Orthodox Church in America, speaks during a Dec. 16 forum, billed as "Interfaith Gathering for Solidarity, Understanding and Peace," at Georgetown University in Washington. Among those pictured are Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, second from left, and Vice President Joe Biden, back center. (CNS photo | Georgetown University)

Metropolitan Tikhon, primate of the Orthodox Church in America, speaks during a Dec. 16 forum, billed as “Interfaith Gathering for Solidarity, Understanding and Peace,” at Georgetown University in Washington. Among those pictured are Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, second from left, and Vice President Joe Biden, back center. (CNS photo | Georgetown University)

Laila Brothers, a Georgetown freshman, had just given a moving reflection about being Muslim and her hijab-wearing mother feeling as if she had “a target on her back” in the month following the terror attacks.

Brothers talked about how Republican presidential aspirant Donald Trump had suggested that Muslims wear a badge to identify them to others. She added how she wanted to spare her mother the stress that comes with wearing the hijab. Her mother’s response: “If they’re talking about Muslims wearing a badge, I already have a badge. My hijab is my badge.”

While Brothers was receiving applause after her remarks, Biden walked up onto the stage and greeted some of the other participants at the Dec. 16 forum, billed as “Interfaith Gathering for Solidarity, Understanding and Peace,” but gave Brothers a warm embrace.

Stepping to the microphone, he said, “My name’s Joe Biden, and I align myself with the words of this courageous young woman.”

Then, using only index cards as reference points, he spoke for nearly as long as the other speakers combined. Among those speakers was Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, who was quoted by Biden at one point during his remarks.

The immigrants who came “in waves” to the United States, Biden said, told themselves, “We don’t know the language. We’re not sure if they want us, but let’s go.”

Those immigrants, Biden added, had “the greatest fortitude, the greatest courage, the greatest sense of optimism.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, also attended the event but did not speak.

Cardinal Wuerl, in his remarks, reflected on the parable of the good Samaritan, which was read as part of the gathering.

While “e pluribus unum” — out of many, one — embodies the American idea in a legal framework, he said, when looking at the nation “through the eyes of faith,” Cardinal Wuerl said, it is incumbent for each person who answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

“We are part of one great human family,” Cardinal Wuerl added.

Imam Talib M. Shareef, president of the Nation’s Mosque, Masjid Muhammad, in Washington said that when God created Adam, the first man, “Adam’s own identity was not a racial identity. His identity was not a national identity. His identity was not an ethnic identity. The identity was human.” From that, the imam added, “that has to be the most important identity” when governing relationships with all other people.

“The idea of Genesis,” the first book of the Bible, “is that we are created in the image of God,” said Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig, senior rabbi of the Washington Hebrew Congregation.

He acknowledged how some have used their faith’s sacred scriptures to justify violence. But, he said, “if it can be used to teach hate, it can also be used to teach love.”

The gathering was the idea of Georgetown’s president. John DeGioia, who declared his intent to sponsor a forum exactly one week after the San Bernardino shootings. The event was held exactly one week after his announcement, as Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh clergy quickly committed to participating.

DeGioia had declared beforehand, “We shouldn’t let this moment go without an expression of solidarity by the university,” said John Carr, director of Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought & Public Life, before the event began. “Look at the turnout. You can see it’s the A-team,” he added, referring to the assembled clergy.

Despite the quick turnaround time, a 500-seat auditorium on the Georgetown campus was nearly filled, even though students — a reliable source of bodies for many a school’s events — had been dismissed the week prior after final exams.

At the gathering, DeGioia remarked on how the event was imbued with “a spirit of unity and solidarity with all members of the global family.” He said such a gathering was needed to enhance “the common good,” adding that it was necessary for it to be a sign “of where we are” and “what we would expect of ourselves.”