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When Pope Francis extended his message of tolerance for all people earlier this year, he said, "We must always consider the person." The pope, recognizing God's Word that we are called to love one another regardless of our differences, urged more understanding among people of all races, religions and abilities.
That same message is at the heart of "The Blue Rose" - a message heard by hundreds of elementary school students this past year thanks to an extraordinary interfaith effort involving the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, our Catholic schools, The Blue Rose Foundation and the local Jewish community.
"The Blue Rose" is a play adapted from a book by the same name, written by Gerda Weissmann Klein, a Holocaust survivor, renowned author and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom who once resided in the Buffalo area. The play and book tell the story of Jenny, a girl with developmental disabilities, and both are meant to teach people young and old about tolerance and understanding of those who may be different. The book was written in 1974 by Ms. Weissmann Klein about her neighbor, Jenny, and was among the first to be written to help people empathize with individuals who have disabilities.
Seeds for "The Blue Rose" events were planted when the Foundation was approached by a family member of the Daigler Family Scholarship Fund with the idea of a collaborative initiative to further the family's cause, namely assisting in the educational efforts of the diocese and raising awareness, respect and understanding of people who are different. That led to a partnership with The Blue Rose Foundation, a non-profit organization, founded shortly after the book was first published, that strives to support projects to educate and promote understanding of developmental disabilities.
"Tolerance is at the heart of our Christian mission and we saw how the educational efforts of The Blue Rose Foundation were in parallel," said Richard Suchan, Executive Director of the Foundation. "What was most remarkable about this program was the collaboration of so many different people and organizations to make it happen."
That collaboration resulted in "The Blue Rose" play being performed at two local Catholic high schools, first at Sacred Heart Academy in Amherst in May, and then at Mt. St. Mary Academy in Kenmore in November of 2012. Funding for the performances was provided by a grant from the Daigler Family Scholarship Fund, as administered by the Foundation. Children from area Catholic elementary schools and the Kadimah School attended afternoon performances (busing was also funded by the grant), and evening performances were open to the public. "The Blue Rose" was adapted for the stage and directed by Darleen Pickering Hummert and was performed by members of the award-winning Theatre for Change in Buffalo.
"We worked very well with the people from the Diocese of Buffalo because they were so flexible and shared our vision of not only tolerance, but also of understanding among people," said Beverly Slichta-Cusick, president of The Blue Rose Foundation, a 100% volunteer organization. "Both events were fabulous opportunities to promote that message, not only from the stage, but among the many different participants as well."
The interfaith aspect of the program was enhanced during the November event at Mount St. Mary's as the Jewish community helped with auxiliary funding of the performance through the Jewish Community Book Fair. Ms. Weissman Klein also hosted a question and answer session after both performances.
In a letter to the Foundation for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, Sharla Bleichfeld of the Jewish Community Book Fair summed up the importance of the program when she wrote, "We are especially appreciative of your willingness to support this unique collaboration through the Blue Rose Foundation. With programs such as The Blue Rose, we recognize our common humanity and acknowledge our shared concerns."