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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Keynote speaker Yolanda Franisco-Nez shares wisdom from her Navajo grandfather at the interfaith service.

The goodness of God — in whatever form or theology — is that all people are of equal worth, despite the spectrum of their differences.

That was the central message among many at the 19th annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service held Sunday at the Salt Lake Masonic Temple, featuring remarks by Buddhist, Episcopal, American Indian, Latter-day Saint, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, Muslim and Catholic leaders.

Sponsored by the Inclusion Center for Community and Justice, the hourlong service was held in the temple's auditorium, where members of the Urgyen Samten Ling Gonpa Tibetan Buddhist Temple offered the invocation through chants and bell-ringing.

Yolanda Franisco-Nez, a Navajo and representative of the state Office of Diversity and Human Rights, reminded a few hundred participants that "all good comes from Diiyin (God), not Christopher (Columbus)," as she shared the story of her grandfather.

Vincent Yazza was 5 years old when his long hair was cut, he was given an English surname and uniform, and shipped off to boarding school for nine months a year until he was 24. He learned the importance of balance in his life early on, and became strong physically, mentally and spiritually, she said.

As a young married man, he had two children when he decided America needed his help during World War II. He rode a horse from Arizona to California to join the Marines, where he became one of the famed "code talkers" who helped win the war for a nation where many of his people were not yet allowed to vote.

He taught his granddaughter three specific lessons as he lived in a hogan at Fort Defiance — the final location for thousands of American Indians in the Southwestern U.S. who were rounded up by the government for the "long march" in the 19th century and herded like cattle to a place no one wanted. Hundreds died along the way.

He taught her that:

• All people must acknowledge the power of the Holy One and the love of Diiyin for all. "An inclusive environment is not only beneficial to society, but the worth of every individual" is vital to it.

• She must be the change she hoped to see in the world.

• Separate can never be equal. "He would say that we are all connected," she remembered. "Thanksgiving was his favorite time of year. We didn't discuss Columbus, but gratitude and balance."

The Rev. Robin James of the Episcopal Church of St. Mark urged the audience to embrace "radical inclusivity" and work to "break down the barriers that divide us."

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve said there is nothing individuals can't deal with in their lives if they love and have faith in God. "We have great interest and concern for all our Heavenly Father's children, wherever we find them."

Rabbi Tracee Rosen of Congregation Kol Ami said as economic challenges and fear are a daily staple for many, "It's our obligation to look at our situation honestly and look at life with reality in mind and still find a way to be able to count our blessings on a daily basis."

Abraham Lincoln was able to see past the immediate strife and tragedy of the Civil War in order to issue a proclamation in 1863, setting aside a national day of thanksgiving, said the Rev. Michael Kouremetis of Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church. He added that personal ego can be characterized as an acronym, "ease God out," unless individuals get a handle on it.

The Rev. Matthew Wixted of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City said as a chaplain at Holy Cross Hospital for 20 years, what struck him as most important was "the value and the dignity of every person," including one young man who had been estranged from his family, yet through depending on God was able to reunite with them just hours before his death.

Imam Muhammed Meta of the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake said there is much more unity in basic principles among the world's various faiths than there is difference. "Each and every religion commands its members to be charitable, kind, to be not abusive, to reach out with kindness and compassion and love."

E-mail: carrie@desnews.com