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Head of Episcopal Church in Buffalo to celebrate St. Paul's bicentennial

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Michael Mroziak, WBFO
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A downtown Buffalo parish is marking its 200th anniversary this year. This weekend, the man who now leads the Episcopal Church is in Western New York to help celebrate that milestone but also reflect on his church's role in social justice issues including race relations and refugees.

The City of Buffalo was incorporated in the year 1832. By then, the Episcopal Parish of St. Paul had already been established for 15 years. Now a Cathedral on the corner of Church and Pearl Streets, the parish is celebrating its bicentennial this year.

St. Paul's has been a rich contributor to the city's architectural heritage and, according to the head of the Western New York Diocese, also produced some of the church's greatest musical composers. But it's also been a leader in applying what is preached within the cathedral walls to issues outside them.

"It's been a great outreach for the Gospel in Buffalo," said Bishop William Franklin. "Particularly these days, it's very committed to being connected to the social mission of our city and our region."

A gala celebration of the St. Paul's Cathedral bicentennial was scheduled for Saturday evening in downtown Buffalo. Its guest of honor is the man who currently leads the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael Curry. Although born in Chicago, Curry was raised in Buffalo and attended its public schools while his father served as a local Episcopal priest.

While a lot of his weekend visit will be filled with meeting and greeting, as well as a special Mass to be held Sunday inside the Cathedral, there will also be reflection of the Episcopal Church's role in addressing social justice issues. They include race relations. 

Bishop Curry, the first African-American to hold his position, says his church is fully committed to bridging gaps but also recognizes that solutions must be more than short-term fixes. 

"The Episcopal Church made a pretty profound commitment at the General Convention in 2015," Bishop Curry said. "It made a commitment to engage the work of racial reconciliation for the long haul, not for the sprint but for the marathon. And it made a commitment to do that in ways that actually engage the real issues."

Poverty is also among the issues the church actively addresses. So, too, is the plight of the refugee. The Episcopal Church has played a very active role in helping refugees resettle. Bishop Curry noted that many people who represent the roots and ancestry of the faith were themselves refugees, from the Israelites to the prophets to even Joseph, Mary and the Christ Child.

When asked about the challenge of leading a congregation in an era of rhetoric that often times links refugees and immigrants to crime and terrorism, Bishop Curry suggested that while there's nothing wrong with wanting security it's important to overcome the tone of fear and understand that a wide majority of those fleeing other parts of the world are doing so in search of a safer, more promising life. He added that those who are being resettled in America, many through the assistance of his church, have already undergone a lengthy and adequate vetting process.

While replying to the question of overcoming fear, he referred to the First Epistle of John and its mention of "perfect love."

"It may be for us at this time that it will need to be perfect love, a real love, that will help us cast out our fear of the stranger and the alien," he said. "There's no reason in the world that you cannot do security and humanity at the same time."

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