Dear Members of the College Community:
Once more, with a heavy heart, I search for words both to comfort and compel as I reflect on the tragedy that played out on Saturday in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Eleven unsuspecting women and men, open and vulnerable, were engaged in the act of worship, when they were gunned down by an out-of-control zealot. His act is as unspeakably senseless as it is despicably cruel. Hate always has two victims, the person at whom the hate is aimed and the person bearing the hate; hate crimes have no victors. All humans are made in the image of God, beautiful and precious in their diverse manifestations of humanness. Like multi-hued flowers in a bouquet, the faces of humankind, gathered as one humanity, are glorious and resplendent in their presentation. Why is it, some are blind to this beauty?
Our time is troubled, our values questioned, our principles tested, our ideals challenged, our country divided. When we see diversity as a deterrent to unity, we misunderstand unity. When we choose power over compassion, we “callous” our souls. Diversity is the basis for true unity; true unity is not homogeneous, it does not obliterate the elements that comprise it. Unity is achieved only through a dynamic self-giving and self-forgetfulness that fosters what is best in each person, We witness diversity in unity as we observe the good people of Pittsburgh gathering to grieve their loss and to support one another. Their actions tell us what we know to be true: “God is love and all who live in love will live in God and God will live in them.” Let us stand with and for the congregation of the Tree of Life Synagogue and let us pray with and for the people of Pittsburgh as they defy hatred and embrace love.
The words of Elie Wiesel serve as a guide for our actions. “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe.” Elie Wiesel, The Night Trilogy: Night, Dawn, the Accident
Today, the City of Steel is the center of the universe, as people from around the globe keep vigil for those living through the worst attack on the Jewish American people in the history of the United States. We are one with those who grieve and, we pray for those who cannot grieve that God may heal whatever fear fires their hearts with loathing. While we have seen the actions of the worst among us, we have also been blessed to behold the selflessness of the best among us. As long as one candle burns, the darkness shall not conquer.
From the experience of the concentration camp Viktor Frankl learned the one thing that matters. “A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life, I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth - that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.” Perhaps, as we encounter the terrors of our times, we, too, will comprehend that love can heal the greatest divides and create unity where it seems there is only separation. Let us be as many candles spilling light across the abyss of our divides so that bridges can be built and the two sides joined as one.
Blessings and peace,
Sister Carol Jean Vale, SSJ, Ph.D.
President, Chestnut Hill College