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The mayor of Louisville, Ky., challenged city, civic and religious leaders at Friday's Parliament of the World's Religions to "create a brush fire of compassion throughout the country, city by city."

Louisville has spent more than five years working to build a scaffold of compassion, Greg Fischer told 100 or so attending a breakout session. The city has been recognized internationally as a leader in expanding compassion.

"We really need a national rebirth of civic dialogue around secular values: love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness," Fischer said. "We don't hear that, certainly in Washington or most of our state capitals. So it's up to us to push that innovation up."

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker was on the panel of mayors discussing how cities can foster compassion. He noted that the Utah Civil and Compassionate Communities Initiative, which he launched earlier this month with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.

Becker noted the "warm hearts" of the conference's nearly 10,000 attendees and joked, "We will be a complete city of compassion by the time you leave."

The Salt Lake mayor described the city's progress in reducing homelessness through its housing-first strategy, but he said there's still work to be done.

Many Salt Lake residents are uncomfortable around the homeless, the poor who often ask for money on city streets. "They don't want them in sight. … If we could keep embracing the compassion element, hopefully that can fade as well," Becker said.

It's of utmost importance, Becker said, to counter the trend "in this era, where the angry voices so dominate not just the airwaves, but the public arena."

More than 100 Louisville organizations, including schools and businesses, have taken a pledge to make compassion a guiding value. Each spring, the city has Give a Day week, in which volunteers spread out to help others in the community. Last year, 160,000 people volunteered, Fischer said.

A curriculum to help children develop social and emotional coping skills is being tested in three elementary schools this year and will spread to 25 others next year, he said. City employees who volunteer as mentors to at-risk children can take two hours off work for that each week.

Even animal control is practicing compassion, Fischer said, increasing the number of animals that are placed in homes. He told about a pig that fell off a farm truck. "It took five days to find the right home for this pig — with a vegan farmer."

It's all about building "compassion muscles" that come in handy during crises, Fischer said.

For instance, vandals splashed slurs and other graffiti on the walls and signs of an Islamic center in the city last month. But hundreds of people from diverse backgrounds showed up to paint over and clean the vandalism.

"Compassion is a lot more than empathy," Fischer said. "It's action."

There is one downside to becoming a community of compassion, Fischer said. When people get parking tickets, he said, "They tweak me and say, 'Where's the compassion?' You can't win them all."

Twitter: @KristenMoulton