Interfaith Dialogue at St. Anthony Shrine

HNP Communications Around the Province

BOSTON — St. Anthony Shrine’s Just Matters Interfaith group has launched an effort to begin dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters to better understand each other’s traditions and destroy hurtful and hateful stereotypes we have of one another. With increasing Islamaphobia in America and elsewhere in the world, there is no better time to work for peace and unity between these two great monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam.

This fall, Jackie Stewart and I collaborate with Ertrugul Cannizoglu and Birol Ozturk, and other members of the Muslim community who are likewise interested in sharing their Islamic faith with our Franciscan Catholic community.

The JustFaith Ministries has effectively presented a way in which both Christian and Muslim communities can begin to communicate with the goal of dispelling suspicions of each other often unjustly presented in the public media. The module titled “In the Spirit of St. Francis and the Sultan,” begins by helping all participants to introduce each other and share why we are interested in interreligious dialogue. Both communities expressed a desire to know each other and our religious traditions better so as to unite our efforts toward greater peace in our world.

In the first session, held in the Assisi Room at St. Anthony Shrine, we had discussions on ‘Finding Common Symbols’ and being people of the Book. The Qur’an and the Bible were respectfully placed side by side and flanked with lighted candles to demonstrate our desire to be enlightened by one another’s traditions. Exploring our common symbols of the desert and the revelation of God’s Word in both Qur’an and Bible helped us to deeply appreciate our origins in our shared Abrahamic covenant. The text, “In the Spirit of Francis and the Sultan: Catholics and Muslims Working Together for the Common Good” by George Dardess and Marvin L. Krier Mich, is excellent and well balanced in presenting both Christian and Muslim traditions. We highly recommend this well written book.

During our second session, held at Peace Islands Institute, we discussed ‘Developing Common Prayers.’ The Muslim community introduced its ‘Fatihah prayer’ along with cultural Arabic chanting. Fatihah literally means, ‘Opening’ in Arabic. In length, form and content, it resembles the Lord’s Prayer. Both the Fatihah and the Lord’s Prayer help us to communicate and open our hearts to our all Holy God. We enjoyed our conversations and shared our concept of God and how God is revelatory through the holy prophets, particularly Mohammad and Jesus Christ with emphasis on the uniqueness of both. A common prayer that the group still needs to decide upon before we pray it together is ‘open’ to deeper peace, is hope-filled and rightfully respectful. We hope to make it our own.

“God, through whom we live and move and have our being. We, members of your Muslim and Christian families ask you that you guide our steps as we strive to become one community dedicated to loving you and our neighbor in solidarity with each other yet always aware of our differences. Help us remain in faithful and creative tension, respecting those differences, yet eager to see in them not barriers but invitations to help bring about a fuller salaam for ourselves and for the rest of your creation: a salaam beyond our grasp and understanding at present, but one day to be revealed to us. We ask this in Your Holy Name: Allah, as given to us Muslims, Jesus Christ, as given to us Christians. Amen, Amin.”

At our third session at St. Anthony Shrine, we discussed ‘The Fundamentals of Christian Social Justice’ which includes an overview of the Bible written by human authors in different times and cultures, all inspired by our one god. We looked at the tradition of social justice in the Catholic community with its roots in the teaching of Jesus presented in the Gospels. We also surveyed a brief history of the social teaching of the church addressing such topics as fair wages, worker’s unions, economics, war and peace and immigration. The Islamic community identifies well with these important social issues and appreciates their reference in the Qur’an and the Bible.

The remaining topics are interesting, challenging and provocative. We are excited about our honest discussions regarding our treasured faiths. We host and alternate our meeting places in the Christian community at St. Anthony Shrine and in the Muslim community at Peace Islands Institute, both in the center of Boston. We will continue to explore the commonalities and differences in each other’s faith traditions. We will explore the Fundamentals of Islamic Social Justice, Christians and Muslims Today; Blessings of Religious and Cultural Sharing, Facing Demons and Challenges; Common Ground, Common Action and finally, Leaving the Tent, the Land Ahead.

This interfaith module encourages both communities to become engaged in a social justice issue and work to implement its teachings from a Christian/Muslim perspective in our society. We will then gather to evaluate our common effort to explore what we have learned together, what we appreciate and respect regarding each other’s religious traditions and how together we are called by our God to love and serve each other in our neighbor, all ‘in the spirit of Francis of Assisi and the Sultan! May God be praised!

— Fr. Gene is spiritual companionship director at St. Anthony Shrine. An article about his work with the Secular Franciscan Order will appear in a December issue of this newsletter.