Community members, business and religious leaders, and elected officials gathered at the Chandler/Gilbert YMCA Tuesday morning to celebrate the religious diversity of the community during a breakfast to benefit the organization.
“Our goal with the prayer breakfast is to bring together a diverse community of believers to demonstrate how we are all unified as human beings, and no matter what our faith is, we all play a role in building stronger individuals, families and communities,” said Chandler/Gilbert YMCA board chair Staci Charles.
Religious leaders from Catholic, Mormon, non-denominational Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Baha’I faiths offered prayers for a united community.
“Nearly all prayers in the Hindu religion are written in Sanskrit,” said Mouli Subramanian, president on the Tempe Board, Maha Ganapati Temple of Arizona.
After Subramanian offered a Hindu prayer, he translated it to English, “May God protect us both, the student and the teacher. May He nourish us both, the parent and the kid. May we impart the best of knowledge from this study. May we build a stronger community today so our kids will be strong leaders tomorrow. Peace.”
The unity of faith in the community creates an open place where anyone is welcome and children can succeed, said Corey Bullock, Ahwatukee Campus Pastor, Central Christian Church.
“We don’t need to be uniform in our practice (of faith),” Bullock said. “He (God) has a heart for unity.”
This sort of unity and acceptance allows children to grow, thrive and achieve their dreams, said Jessie Sands, the executive director of Chandler/Gilbert YMCA.
One such success story was Henry Cejudo, who won the 2008 Olympic gold medal in wrestling at 21 years old.
“I’m a true testament to living the American Dream,” said Cejudo. “I had a mother who sold me the American Dream. For a woman who only spoke Spanish, she would tell me, ‘Henry, tu eres Americano’ or ‘Henry, you are an American.’”
Cejudo, the son of Mexican immigrants, was born in California and raised in Phoenix. His mother raised him and his six siblings while his father was in prison. He said the help of the local YMCA provided him with meals and a safe environment to grow up.
“Without the YMCA, who knows?” Cejudo told the audience.
Cejudo recalled watching the 1996 Olympics on a black and white TV with wooden paneling.
“I remember getting chills at the back of my head and I get chills just thinking about hearing the national anthem,” he said.
At 16, Cejudo moved to the Olympic training facility, forgoing collegiate wrestling for the chance of achieving Olympic gold. In 2008, he became the youngest American wrestler to win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling.
Dream, sacrifice and victory have become the words he lives by and the words he wants other children to internalize, he said.
“Dream all you want, we live in America,” Cejudo said. “For you, the Olympics are every four years, but for Olympic athletes it’s every minute, every second. And if you dream big, sacrifice daily, you will enjoy victory.”
It’s this sort of inspiration and dedication that is important to teach children to succeed.
“We must commit ourselves to the success of our neighborhoods, they are the lifeblood of our community,” said Chandler Mayor Jay Tibshraeny.
But the work of elected officials, isn’t enough, said Gilbert Mayor John Lewis.
“We do everything to build our community,” Lewis said, “but compared to the power of prayer, it is miniscule.”
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