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Religious Leaders Offer Hope in Economic Crisis

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The economic crisis isn't just being discussed over the dinner table, or the water cooler. All across the Chicago region, religious leaders are speaking from the pulpit. They're trying to spread hope, in a time of instability.

ambi: Choir Music

It's Sunday service at St. Mary of the Woods, and the Catholic church is packed. Father Greg Sakowicz takes to the pulpit.

SAKOWICZ: Don't let any hard times cheat you out of happiness by making you bitter. Don't let anger get a hold of you and take over your life.

Then he does something surprising. He tells people the church won't ask for more money in the collection plate, as it always does this time of year. He explains why, later:

SAKOWICZ: I think the best thing I can do as a pastor or other pastors is admit that people are scared. They're seeing their 401ks go down the drain, home prices have plummeted. And so the worst thing a pastor could do is get up there and pretend everything is fine. People would then say to me, 'You've been in that rectory too long, that's not part of the real world.'

Parishioners say they're thankful for his message.

ROY: It makes me feel like they're up to date.

Louis Roy's has had his house on the market for four months now. Having the priest talk about the economic crisis, helped.

ROY: You don't get lost in the homilies. You're listening more intently because you recognize now they are keeping in tune to what is going on.

Similar sermons are being heard in mosques, synagogues and churches across the city and suburbs. Like this message from Jeff Lee, the Episcopal bishop of Chicago.

LEE (reading): This, from a pastoral letter to the Diocese of Chicago…It's essential to remember now, as at other times of transition and turmoil, that most of the challenges in life are ones we cannot control and that our trust, as always, is best placed in the Lord.

The bishop says there's deep satisfaction in faith, community and caring for each other.

LEE: You know the old line, there are no atheists in fox holes, is not necessarily the way we want to awaken faith in people. I don't wish for bad times. But in bad times, people are looking for deep resources to sustain them.

HATCH: One thing I can tell you, religion is doing pretty good these days, you know.

Rev. Marshall Hatch says he hasn't seen crowds like this since September 11.

HATCH: You know, in times like these, pews fill up. I think it would almost be a mismanagement of a pulpit to have people showing up in economic calamity, and not talk about economics and hope in spite of.

Rev. Hatch is doing a series of sermons at New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church. He's trying to explain the current crisis in financial and biblical terms.

HATCH: This may be the generation that goes back to some basic, human spiritual values, that, maybe materialism and bling bling is not really life itself.

Up in Glencoe, Rabbi Steven Mason is offering similar comforts at the North Shore Congregation Israel. He points to some words in Hebrew on the wall of the sanctuary.

MASON: It's a big reminder, it's from the profit Micah. It says here's what God requires of you, to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. No matter what happens to your portfolio, start there.

ambi: Sound of prayer

At the Mosque Foundation in suburban Bridgeview, hundreds of men and women gathered recently for prayers. Imam Kifah Mustapha has been giving advice from an Islamic perspective.

IMAM MUSTAPHA: If you have safety, that you wake up, you feel safe, if you have enough food to feed your family per day, and if you are in good health, then this is what life is all about. Everything else could be some sort of luxury that you can live without.

His words comforted Jamal Alomari of Orland Park.

ALOMARI: Without religion, we'd be lost. We'd feel like everything is against us, the economic situation is very hard out there. By feeling comfortable on the inside, you feel comfortable on the outside.

Alomari says the imam inspired him to only buy what he needs. And he gave him hope.

I'm Lynette Kalsnes, Chicago Public Radio.

Music Button: Bird Show, “Green Vines”, from the CD Bird Show, (Kranky records)

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