By Harriet P. Gross
As Thanksgiving approaches, I anticipate being in New York, visiting with my sister, her daughters and her grandchildren. I haven’t been there in a long time, and the ending of a year that hasn’t been the kindest to me seems the right time.
I began serious anticipation of the holiday earlier this month at a quiet Celebration of World Thanksgiving in Dallas’ Biblical Arts Museum. Because of the city’s iconic Thanks-Giving Square, which opened in 1977, those closely affiliated with it (and prominent among them is our Jewish community’s own Rosie Stromberg) hold this thoughtful, intimate event annually to make a formal Declaration of World Thanksgiving. They recall the First Convocation of World Thanksgiving in 1981, at which Franz Cardinal Koenig of Austria put forth the challenge that’s been repeated here every year since: “Thanksgiving is a healing and uniting power in human life. This power can unite people, can bring different nations closer together.”
Thirty-three years later, it seems as if world nations are more divided than ever. Still, Peter Stewart, founder of this local Center for World Thanksgiving, was present at the 2014 Declaration to share some hopeful history. The Thanksgiving Square Foundation is the Texas nonprofit corporation that funds the Center’s efforts, both nationally and internationally as well as right here. While visitors from around the world come to see architect Philip Johnson’s stunning Chapel of Thanksgiving, the Center sponsors seminars and holds meetings across the globe, all dedicated to spreading the powerful potential of gratitude.
“As the world becomes smaller,” Cardinal Koenig said, “the points of contact become more numerous; social and economic interests intertwine; and people of different creeds, races and cultures become neighbors. If we thank together, regardless of barriers, we will be prepared to listen to thoughts of peace.” He concluded, “The more thanks giving becomes a social event, the more people will learn to diminish enmity and hatred. To the cancer of the world’s pessimism, universal Thanksgiving is the optimistic alternative.”
The 30 or so people present to hear the Declaration heard these few potent sentences read aloud by five individuals representing at least that many races, religions, cultures and points of personal origin. And I was lucky enough to be one of them. A sheet given to each attendee included the Cardinal’s text, centered by a reproduction of the color photo taken in 1996 at United Nations New York headquarters that shows then-Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali reading the same Annual Declaration of World Thanksgiving. In it, he is backgrounded by an array of religious and civic leaders, all standing in front of a huge mosaic version of famed Norman Rockwell’s multicultural illustration called “The Golden Rule.” In fact, it was the local Center that made it possible for the United States to present this artwork as a gift to the U.N. in 1985, on the occasion of its 40th anniversary.
Truth is, the uniting of nations seems like the impossible dream to many of us today; the shining hope at World War II’s 1945 end has much dimmed. But as we approach the U.N.’s 70th birthday, the Center for World Thanksgiving keeps on trying. It has sent a delegation to Barcelona, Spain, to make a presentation before the Parliament of World Religions on the mesmerizing architecture of Thanks-Giving Square. And it has brought to a gathering of the same organization’s in Melbourne, Australia, a powerful proposal that Dallas might one day host its international meeting here.
Earlier this year, the Rockwell mosaic was rededicated at U.N. headquarters. If you haven’t yet seen it there, a version awaits you at the park that is Thanks-Giving Square. And do visit the incredible spiral chapel with its inspiring stained glass windows. This would be a very good place to give your own thanks next Thursday, on Thanksgiving Day. From New York, my thoughts and prayers will be with you. All said, I still have much to be thankful for.