Formation Update: Interfaith Dialogue Highlights Annual Gathering

John Aherne, OFM Friar News

MARRIOTTSVILLE, Md. — Seventeen friars in initial formation, along with six solemnly-professed friars, hunkered down during the recent polar vortex to take part in the annual formation intersession, held from Jan. 4 to 8 at the Bon Secours Spiritual Center. As in years past, the gathering was marked by a great building up of fraternity among the men in initial formation, as well as a presentation on a topic essential to the Franciscan charism.

In attendance were the six postulants and seven simply-professed friars who live at Holy Name College, Silver Spring, Md., together with their formators Joseph Nangle, OFM, Anthony LoGalbo, OFM, and Ronald Pecci, OFM. They were joined by Jeffery Jordan, OFM, and Ross Chamberland, OFM, who are both spending their pastoral year at St. Bonaventure University, Michael Reyes, OFM, spending his pastoral year at St. Paul’s Friary in Wilmington, Del., and Edgardo Jara Araya, OFM, pursuing studies at the Franciscan School of Theology in California. Not present in body, but present in prayer and spirit, was Abraham Joseph, OFM, currently in the Interprovincial Novitiate in Burlington, Wis. Robert Lentz, OFM, and Octavio Duran, OFM, also braved the cold to join the friars at the intersession.

After a great dinner on the opening night, Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, offered the welcoming address. He informed the friars in formation about what is happening in the Order in general, the Province in particular, and some of the issues regarding formation as the provinces of North America consider restructuring. Provincial Vicar Dominic Monti, OFM, our secretary for formation and studies, kicked things off the next morning by introducing the topic “Approaching Islam: Grounds for Dialogue,” and by highlighting the importance of Muslim-Christian dialogue within the Franciscan tradition, including Francis’s own desire to renounce violence and to welcome the stranger.

Dominic also introduced the main speaker, Holy Name’s own Michael Calabria, OFM, whose academic expertise in the area of Islamic studies is second to none. Michael holds a bachelor’s degree in Near Eastern Studies from John Hopkins University, a master’s degree in Egyptology from Brown University, and an M.Div./MA in scripture from the Washington Theological Union. He joined the faculty of St. Bonaventure University in 2003, where he taught modern languages and theology for nine years and initiated the Arabic studies program. He is currently working on his doctorate in Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, while residing at Georgetown University.

As a result of his background, Michael provided an intelligent, thorough, and inspiring overview of the fundamentals of Islam. This included the three dimensions of submission, faith, and integration, as well as the practices, festivals, and challenges that mark the religion to which nearly 25 percent of the world belongs. Michael painted a portrait of Islam as it truly is, not the sensationalized caricature that often appears in the media, and highlighted the enormous amount Islam has in common with Christianity. In doing so, Michael laid the groundwork for future dialogue and shared lived experience with our Muslim brothers and sisters.

Even more impressive than Michael’s academic credentials and his formal presentation, however, was how his exploration of Islam continues to shape his own spiritual journey, and how an encounter with Islam can enrich the life of any Franciscan. Hearing the echoes of the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, in our own recitation of the Hours; allowing the celebratory fasting of Ramadan to inform our own penitential tradition; reading Muhyi ‘d-Din ibn ‘Arabi’s prayer that My heart has opened unto every form: it is a pasture for gazelles, a cloister for Christian monks, a temple for idols, the Ka’ba of the pilgrim, the tables of the Torah and the book of Qur’an. I practice the religion of Love; in whatsoever directions its caravans advance, the religion of Love shall be my religion and my faith in light of Francis’ “Canticle of The Creatures.” This made us realize that the true grounds for dialogue between Muslims and Christians is already in front of us. We just need to open our eyes to see it.

— Br. John is a resident of Holy Name College, Silver Spring, Md. He professed his first vows as a Franciscan in 2012. Photos were provided by postulant Javier Del Angel.