Archbishop Robert J. Carlson invited the ecumenical Taizé community to St. Louis in 2016 after the unrest in Ferguson following a police-involved shooting death two years earlier.
He underlined his concern for the urgent need to rebuild relations between different groups in the St. Louis area. It’s just one example of Archbishop Carlson’s efforts to unite leaders and people in the St. Louis area from various faith groups.
In his first year in St. Louis, Archbishop Carlson established dialogue with other faith communities through involvement in the Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis, and he’s continued his support.
It was no surprise then, in 2011 when Archbishop Carlson was chosen to receive the inaugural Interfaith St. Louis Leadership Award by the Interfaith Partnership at its annual dinner.
“The archbishop is committed to a relationship with the Interfaith Partnership as being something that strengthens ties within religions in the St. Louis metropolitan area,” John Knoll, then-interim executive director of Interfaith Partnership, said at the time.
The brothers of the Taizé Community, in collaboration with churches of different Christian denominations, led a Pilgrimage of Trust with programs at various churches in the St. Louis area. At a time when fear and violence seemingly were commonplace, the pilgrimage created a space in which people of diverse community backgrounds came together for prayer and conversation on ways of building trust in their daily lives. The event culminated in a gathering over Memorial Day weekend of 2017.
Some other ways Archbishop Carlson made an impact with interfaith and interreligious leaders:
• In September of 2017, Archbishop Carlson joined other faith leaders in St. Louis calling for a commitment to peace and justice in St. Louis in what he described as a time of “deep hurt and disappointment.”
They gathered at a prayer service four days after a not-guilty verdict in the trial of former St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley. He was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death in 2011 of Anthony Lamar Smith of St. Louis.
Archbishop Carlson noted that peace should not be an unrealistic dream, but rather, our affirmation of peace in the world is a public commitment to justice. “Where there is no justice, there cannot be peace,” said the archbishop, which elicited “amens” from the crowd. “Peace and justice are not in competition.”
• Archbishop Carlson and F. Javier Orozco, executive director of human dignity and intercultural affairs for the archdiocese, served on the cabinet of the Interfaith Partnership of St. Louis. The cabinet issued a statement in 2019 mourning the loss of life after shootings at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch and condemned similar attacks on “our Muslim sisters, brothers and friends.”
• In February 2017, Archbishop Carlson called for people to help “our Jewish brothers and sisters” in cleaning up Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City in the aftermath of extensive vandalism there. Seminarians, priests, deacons, students and laity followed through in a clean-up days after the vandals toppled more than two dozen grave stones and damaged an estimated 200 more at the historic cemetery.
• In 2012, Archbishop Carlson joined leaders of other religious groups in signing a letter drafted by the president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod supporting religious liberty.
The letter, “Free Exercise of Religion: Putting Beliefs into Practice,” was issued by Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It includes two dozen other signatures from leaders of other religious organizations who oppose the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services health care mandate, which forces many religious employers to cover contraception, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plan.
• As chair of the Cabinet of the Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis, Archbishop Carlson signed a statement opposing all proposed “Right to Work/Freedom to Work” legislation or calls for referenda being considered by the Missouri Legislature.
• In 2016, the American Jewish Committee bestowed the John D. Levy Human Relations Award on Archbishop Carlson for his leadership in advancing Jewish-Catholic relations. Archbishop Carlson is the first St. Louis Catholic bishop to receive the award recognizing honorees for their work in impacting the quality of life for all St. Louisans.
• Archbishop Carlson annually supported the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity gathering Christian leaders from around the region to pray for unity.