Refugee debate spurs community conversation

| November 2, 2017 | 0 Comments
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Taking a break from a couple of days of setup for their Phipps Center for the Arts exhibit are, from left, artists Susan Armington, Hend Al-Mansour and Sylvia Horwitz. (Photo by Joe Winter)

Joe Winter
Special to the Catholic Herald

The Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, a secular entity, is hosting an art exhibit by three Twin Cities women from three faith traditions: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

The art is meant to stimulate a conversation in the community, and is one of several such accompanying sessions that have grown out of the debate about whether the city, especially St. Patrick’s Catholic Church as the lead sponsor, should have accepted and resettled 21 Syrian refugees.

This proposal from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops divided the community several months ago, but calls for inclusion — via “all are welcome” flyers and signs posted by businesses, churches, homes and other groups — were a main result.

The Phipps jumped into the fray, around the time the final decision on the refugees was made, by hosting a prayerful session calling for unity between various religions and cultures – atypical for a secular gallery and theater.

The Phipps is now taking their advocacy a step further, facilitating a series of sessions intended to encourage residents to learn more about, and to share experiences with, people of differing faiths.

The exhibit, “In This Place: What Makes A Place Holy?” is free and open to the public through Dec. 3. The exhibit focuses on the lands of the Qur’an, the Torah and the Bible, from ancient times to the present, and on the ways people experience these places as holy.

Exhibitor Sylvia Horwitz, who is Jewish, said: “Themes of history, remembrance and place form a basic core in my work. Whether it is photographing rituals of daily life or solitary journeys into the wilderness, the primary task has to do with listening.”

Susan Armington, a Christian, said, “Like an archaeological tell made from layers of civilizations in one place, I build up the paintings’ surface with old writings and texts, handmade papers, textured paints and brushwork, to suggest wind, movement, shadows, depths, and the passage of time.”

Muslim artist Hend Al-Mansour added, “My work addresses gender inequality and sexual discrimination. Childhood’s memories are my reservoir of images and stories.”

Upcoming events related to the exhibit include a free lecture by University of St. Thomas theology professor David Penchansky, “Sacred Spaces in Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” on Tuesday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m.

A free community forum will be held at The Phipps on Thursday, Nov. 9, at 7 p.m., with four panelists from the River Channel TV program, “Different Voices: Shared Visions.” They include both ministers and lay people. This offering will be broadcast on the local television station and others in Wisconsin. Prior to the forum, exhibition tours will be offered. Tours are also set for Nov. 25. For details, call (715) 386-2305.

St. Patrick’s leaders are contributing to these events, and earlier they had been some of the most vocal advocates of taking in the Syrian refugees, even into their own homes, and working to provide their basic needs.

The resettlement request was rescinded, and the case transferred out of the USCCB, in part because of the major medical needs of some of the refugees, and a fear that providing them care would financially overtax the county’s Health and Human Services Department, officials said.

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