Saturday, May 16, 2015

Pope Francis & Rabbi Skorka: Forging a Deeper Relationship

Ruth Broyde Sharone - TIO Correspondent 

“The Grandeur that You See in the Other”

There may come a moment in long-standing interfaith friendships when individuals deeply devoted to their religious traditions notice how the differences that separate them from their dialogue partner begin to recede or even dissolve. While recognizing that philosophical and religious differences still exist, they begin to experience a form of familiarity and kinship that supersedes religion, dogma, tradition, and history.

Such a moment occurred between Pope Francis and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, whom the press likes to call “the Pope’s rabbi.” He was born and raised in Argentina, the son of immigrants from Poland. Today Rabbi Skorka is the rector of the Marshall T. Meyer Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, which trains Conservative rabbis, cantors and educators in the Latin American Jewish community.

Rabbi Skorka has known Pope Francis since he was Archbishop Bergoglio. Starting in the mid-1990s, they often met at celebrations of state ceremonies in Argentina. After connecting, they soon discovered they were interested in many similar subjects, including theology and an ongoing enthusiasm for rival soccer teams, they both like to point out.

They didn’t bond over soccer, however. Their intellectual and theological curiosity led them to plumb their holy texts together. In the process, they discovered they also shared a mutual appreciation for interfaith dialogue, “without apology or hiding,” as Rabbi Skorka describes it. In fact, their interfaith friendship ultimately steered them to co-author a book on interfaith dialogue, titled On Heaven And Earth (2013).

Travelling Together
Breaking tradition from the very beginning of his papacy, the unpredictable Pope invited both Rabbi Skorka and Sheik Omar Abboud, a Muslim cleric from Buenos Aires, to accompany him to the Holy Land in May 2014, marking the first time a Pope has ever invited other religious leaders to join an official papal visit. The Pope addressed both Israelis and Palestinians, in Jerusalem and in the West Bank. Making a special point of visiting the wall that divides the two peoples, the world eagerly watched to see how H.H. would deal with the current political standstill of one of the most intractable conflicts in the world.

Acknowledging freely that they don’t always see eye to eye on certain issues, Rabbi Skorka and the Pope are both acutely aware of the PR value provided by their trip to the Holy Land and their continuing friendship, at first for the Argentine community and now for the world at large

“Today, both Pope Francis and I believe that we must work to revitalize the type of conversations between our faiths that existed from the beginning of the first century into the second century,” Rabbi Skorka wrote in an article published in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal during his visit last January, just a month shy of the 50th anniversary of the Catholic Church’s historic proclamation Nostra Aetate (In Our Time). “Only by coming to the table with open minds can we truly understand the relationship between Judaism and Catholicism that goes back 2000 years, to understand who the other is, and the significance each faith holds for the other.”

Among other important declarations on the relations of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council, Nostra Aetate condemned anti-Semitism, canceled the imperative to convert Jews, and even acknowledged Jews as the Catholics’ “older brothers.” It was a groundbreaking document which may help to explain the Pope’s predilection for a frequent phrase he uses: “Inside every Christian is a Jew.”

Rabbi Skorka’s came to the U.S. recently, on a tour sponsored by Masorti Olami, a global organization that promotes Conservative Judaism in places such as Europe, Latin America and Israel, where Orthodox practices predominate.

During his stay in LA, as a guest speaker at Loyola Marymount University, he was asked to describe a highlight of their Holy Land trip together. The Rabbi chose not to speak about the political implications of that visit. Instead he cited a more intimate moment he shared with the Pope in the Church where Jesus was supposed to have celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples, above the Tomb of David, on Mt. Zion. Noting that usually the Pope conducts mass for thousands and tens of thousands, “on that occasion, however, the Pope led mass for just a few of us who were present. I was deeply moved by the sacred silence of that moment,” the rabbi recalled. “I stood beside him and learned humility from him in that silence and in the quality of the silence. Interfaith dialogue is the most valuable when you can accept the grandeur that you see in the other.”

Perhaps the most fascinating development in their friendship, however, occurred in the Vatican itself, in the fall of 2014.

Rabbi Skorka had been invited to attend an important dialogue to be held at the Vatican, which included dinner. Realizing that it would fall on the eve of the last day of Succoth, called “Shimini Atzeret,” the rabbi called the Pope to request permission to stay overnight in the Vatican for religious reasons. He explained he could not travel on the holiday and the nearest hotels were too far away for him to walk.

 “Of course, my friend, you’ll stay in the Vatican,” the Pope responded immediately, “even if I won’t be there.”

Following his election as the new head of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide, Pope Francis had a surprise for everyone. Preferring not to occupy the Vatican’s traditional papal quarters, he installed himself instead in a nearby hotel which meant that Rabbi Skorka would be his guest at the Vatican even though the Pope would not be there himself.

Rabbi Skorka then added some other essential information to their conversation. “I will have to say the ‘kiddush’ (blessing over the wine) and the ‘motzei’ (blessing over the bread) at the beginning of the meal, which means I’ll have to bring in special kosher wine and challah bread.”

“Of course, my friend,” the Pope said, “whatever you need to do, you’ll do.”

So the Rabbi arrived at the Vatican to spend the night, suitcase in tow, laden with enough kosher
wine and challah to share with everyone at the table. The Pope seated Rabbi Skorka next to him, on his right, and the evening meal began with Rabbi Skorka’s Hebrew blessings in the presence of the cardinals and archbishops in attendance.

And that night the Rabbi slept in the Vatican. It was a “first.”

Their friendship continues to grow. They email each other frequently and often talk on the phone, as good friends do. But perhaps the most revealing moment in their relationship occurred in a recent email the rabbi received. His voice was overcome with emotion as he shared details of the story at the Valley Beth Shalom synagogue in Los Angeles.

“Archbishop Bergoglio, as I knew him then in Argentina, and Pope Francis, as I know him today, would always began each of his letters to me with the same salutation: ‘Querido Amigo’ (Dear Friend).

“But in his most recent email to me, he began with a new salutation: ‘Querido Hermano’ (Dear Brother).”

From friend to brother, the interfaith path holds great rewards for those with courage, persistence, and the willingness to see the grandeur in the other.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Schools in Sierra Leone Open Sporadically After Nine Month Ebola Shutdown

Fr. Franciskus Xaverius Sudarmanto (pictured above saying mass), or as his friends call him, "Sudar," reports on the spotty opening of schools after being shutdown throughout the country for nine months due to the Ebola Crisis. Presently, even though neighboring Liberia, Sierra Leone has not been declared Ebola free yet. 6 days have passed since the last positive case was reported in Sierra Leone. Presently there are two hotspots: Moa Wharf area of the East 1 Chiefdom of Freetown and Kambia districts, which borders Guinea, where cases are reported in Forecariah (about 10 every week in that nation). We were worried about Kabala, when 23 days ago a woman died in the hospital and was tested positive. But it remained an isolate case. 731 Contacts are currently being followed in Sierra Leone and 22 are still admitted in the Treatment Centers. Every day about 300 samples are analyzed. In light of this we share a post from Sudar on the opening of schools again in Sierra Leone.

On Thursday, 23rd April, a few days after the official reopening of the schools in Sierra Leone, I went to Karifaia to visit the school. I could not wait to see the pupils cheerful with their teachers in the classrooms. But I was a little bit shocked when I found nobody in the school. While moving around slowly in the land rover in town, I met Hawa Koroma, one of our youths who has just taken the BECE exams this month, and Mary Kabba, just promoted to class six: they told me that school would start the following day, Friday. Then I met Mr. Sendeka, the former Regent Section Chief, who told me that many students and parents were still afraid to go to school. Unfortunately, I did not meet the acting head teacher because he was not in town, but had gone to the farm. When I asked if there were any teachers in town, Hawa and Mary told me that all teachers were in their farm. Many children were in town, but the teachers were still in their farms!

I continued my journey as far as Walia, hoping to find a different situation in the school. Surprisingly, on the way, I met Mr. Mohamed Marah, a community teacher, with his wife, holding a bunch of “locust” (a kind of fruit). They stopped me and asked me to give them a lift to town. Reluctantly I helped them. When we reached the school compound, I was shocked again to see that there, too, there was nobody, all the doors were locked. So I went straight to town. I stopped at the house of the head teacher and found shelter under a mango tree. I was tired. When the town chief came to meet me, some children, too, came around. They took some benches and a chair for me, then we sat down together under the mango tree.

When I asked the whereabouts of the head teacher, the Town Chief, a very simple man, told me that he was in Kabala for HTC distant course. Where were the other teachers? One of them was in Farana, Guinea, to get his motorbike repaired. As for the other one, they didn’t know where he was. The Town Chief then promised to talk to the people in the community, who would come to town on Friday, the following day, and ask them to send back their children to school the following Monday.

As in Karifaia, I saw children around the town, though not many. While they were gathered around me, I started singing together some Koranko songs. “Dinimbo kinambo ma ala bato...” “I kana wasu, mba fe mbi bolo...” “Mo wal ming ke la i wole sara sorna...” Then counting... 1, 2, 3, ... then spelling the alphabet ... a, b , c... They were all happy. My disappointment changed, little by little, to accepting the situation and hoping to see the following week something better.

While we were singing, counting, spelling, the town chief asked a big boy to climb the mango tree to pick some for me. The other two boys helped to gather the mangos. They put the mangos in a bag, which they gave to me. I knew, they were grateful for my coming, and tried to show it by giving a bag of mangos. But what made me keep smiling was that they look encouraged and motivated to make more effort in calling the community to cooperate for the reopening of the school and sending back their children to the class room.

On my way back to Mongo, I met some children in the bush, shouting, “Father... Father...” and stopped me just to greet. I stopped. They approached me, gave me some mangos, so I told them, “I will come back next week... You have to go to school... See you in the school!” Then I continued my way back to Mongo, while my heart could not stop praying for these children.

This morning, Mr. Foday Kamara, the head teacher of RC Walia popped in at the mission in Mongo, to say sorry for the school of Walia, which had not opened yet, due to his absence. I told him that to say sorry is not enough, the next step is to start the school next week in earnest. As it is common among the people here, the head teacher answered: “Yes, Father, by God ihn power!” [Krio: with the help of God]. Anyway, this answer reminded me of what St. Peter says in the first reading of the Mass today: “The God of all grace, who called you to eternal glory in Christ, will see that all is well again: he will confirm, strengthen and support you” (1Peter 5:10).

May the reopening of the schools be really a way for a healing process of our young people, pupils and students in our country, Sierra Leone. We need to encourage them. It is through us that God’s power will confirm, strengthen and support the people of Sierra Leone.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

An Easter Reflection on What Christians and Atheists have in Common

In light of our dialogue work with Atheists and Humanists, we found this article by John L. Allen, Jr. in Crux to be quite thought provoking.  We re-present his article for you here with the one caveat. Mr. Allen seems to naively equate Atheists with  Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchins, not realizing perhaps these two do not represent many Humanists and Atheists who are not so negative about religious persons. As much diversity and division there is among Christians, you can find similar differences among Atheists and Humanists. For more information about our work in this area click here.

This week, Holy Week no less, two stories broke that together illustrate a towering irony about the rise of violent Islamic extremism: In a growing number of places these days, nobody has more in common than Christians and atheists.

In Kenya, the militant Islamic group Al-Shabaab launched an assault on Garissa University College, beginning by shooting up a Christian prayer service. The gunmen then moved on, leaving Muslims unharmed while killing or abducting Christians. All told, 147 people are believed to have died.

It’s not clear if the militants deliberately chose one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar for the assault, though Christmas and Easter tend to be periods of special risk for Christian minorities in many parts of the world.

In Bangladesh, a blogger passionately opposed to religious fundamentalism named Washiqur Rahman was hacked to death in Dhaka by two men wielding knives and meat cleavers. It followed the eerily similar murder of Bangladeshi-American atheist blogger Avijit Roy in late February. Roy was assaulted by two men with machetes.

Reports out of Bangladesh assert that over the past two years, several other atheist bloggers have either been murdered or died under mysterious circumstances.

Both these Kenyan and Bangladeshi victims were targeted not just for being non-Muslims, but a specific kind of non-Muslim.

Among Islamic radicals incensed with the West, no two groups stir rage like Christians and atheists. Christians symbolize the perceived sins of the Western past, while atheists embody what Islamists see as the decadence and apostasy of the Western present.

In Europe and North America, we tend to think the primary cultural fault line pits liberals against conservatives, with religious believers often concentrated on one side. American pollsters, for instance, say one good predictor of whether someone will vote Republican or Democrat is how often that person goes to church.

In much of the rest of the world, that’s just not how things align.

Instead, the clash that matters is between those who support a secular state and those seeking to impose theocracy by force. Radical Islam tends to be the most lethal version of the latter option, but it takes other forms, too, including Buddhist radicalism in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, Hindu extremism in India, and even forms of Christian militancy in conflict zones such as the Central African Republic.

When the question is framed as pluralism vs. intolerance, the result is to put religious minorities, non-fundamentalist followers of the majority religion, and non-believers in the same boat, with Christians and atheists often at special risk should intolerance prevail.

That’s why no voice in the Catholic Church has emerged as a more eloquent advocate of secular governance than the bishops of the Middle East, for whom separation of religion from the state isn’t a theoretical concept, but a survival strategy.

When the Middle Eastern bishops gathered in Rome for a 2010 summit called a “synod,” they issued a strong call for “a sound democracy, positively secular in nature … completely respecting the distinction between the religious and civic orders.”

It’s a platform even the most ardent atheists ought to be able to embrace.

Given those dynamics, one unintended consequence of the threat posed by religious fanatics may be to recalibrate the relationship between non-believers and religious moderates.

Bangladesh, for instance, is a country of 156 million people that’s 86 percent Muslim; Christians form just 0.4 percent of the population. It’s hard to imagine any two groups there with more to gain from making citizenship, not religious affiliation, the basis of civil rights than Christians and atheists.

For such a coalition to emerge, each side will have to give.

Non-believers will have to move beyond the conceit that religion itself is the problem, acknowledging that one can be both a person of faith and also committed to pluralism and equality. That’s not just a theory, but the lived reality of untold millions of religious believers all around the world.

Believers, including Christians, will have to acknowledge that they’re not the only ones suffering. They’ll also need courage to say to fundamentalists that a secular society makes room not only for different religious traditions, but also for the Avijit Roys of the world.

If that kind of partnership is to become a global force, Pope Francis may be well positioned to help put it together.

The pontiff has already carved out a good relationship with some atheists, including a series of conversations with a leftist Italian journalist named Eugenio Scalfari, a man with a demonstrated knack for attracting admiration in secular circles.

As shocking as it may seem, one could almost imagine Francis inviting Richard Dawkins, the best-selling atheist pundit, to join him in denouncing the atrocities in Kenya and Bangladesh and defending “healthy secularism,” meaning a state that makes room for both religion and non-belief, but doesn’t impose either one.

Had Christopher Hitchins still been alive, perhaps the pontiff might have considered reaching out to him … and for the record, many of us would have paid real money to watch that exchange.

Whether such a dazzling gesture actually ensues is anybody’s guess. What’s certain is that as Christians observe Easter today, a growing number may have good reason to look on their atheist neighbors as their new best friends.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Urgency of Catholic Interfaith Advocacy

On March 30, 2015, the Xaverian Missionaries throughout the world, along with many lay people who collaborate with us globally, will celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of St. Guido Conforti, founder of the Xaverian Missionaries in 1895. His legacy lives on today in the the desire of the Church to reach beyond the borders of faith and culture to share the hope, mercy, and compassion of Jesus Christ. St. Conforti's spiritual journey shows us that the Xaverian Family has its roots in an intense spiritual experience, which sprung forth from the heart of a man who was passionate about life, humanity and creation as the fruit of his experience of God’s love. The great challenge of our times is to communicate this love in a fragmented world.

Spirit of Solidarity

One of the many aspects of St. Conforti's legacy lies in his spirit of solidarity across this
fragmentation. Even in his own times the divisiveness of society in Italy and throughout Europe influenced some of his own thinking.  We go to encounter God, the God of Jesus Christ, in the soul of every people, carrying only the cross of Christ – his love/giving – to do as He did and reveal to others our own experience of this love.We discover that the Spirit of God has gone before us.

In this consists “the challenge to understand and respect people who are different, to live alongside them and dialogue with them in a mutual enrichment in the evangelizing mission, apostolic relationships, formation to the religious life, relationships between cultures, generations and visions of the world, among the churches and faiths, as well as in the acceptance of diversities, different manifestations of faith and living together in a truly fraternal and human manner.We look for the God of Jesus Christ to learn from Him the ability to create spaces in which people have the right to “be”.

Catholic Interfaith Advocates

We live at a time when people of different faith backgrounds are interacting with greater frequency than ever before. We hear the stories of people who seek to make faith a barrier of division or a bomb of destruction all too often. Instead, we view religious and philosophical traditions as bridges of cooperation. Our interfaith commitment as Catholics, in honoring the pluralism around us, honors Christ present in all.

In particular, our Catholic tradition of dialogue is a gift to the world in a time when people within our nation and all of humanity use faith, race, and culture as a means to divide and segregate ourselves from each other. St. Conforti's legacy lifts up this great need and the balm of dialogue, exchange, and collaboration. Catholic individuals and communities proclaim the compassion of Christ in no uncertain terms.

We see Catholic interfaith advocacy as helping to create a world characterized by: 
  • Respect for people’s diverse religious and non-religious identities, 
  • Mutually inspiring relationships between people of different backgrounds, and 
  • Common action for the common good.
We think that the Kingdom of God is enhanced enormously through the Catholic Church's desire to be in dialogue with the world, by creating positive, meaningful relationships across differences, and fostering appreciative knowledge of other traditions. This is traditionally called the mission ad gentes of the Church, developed since Vatican II. St. John Paul II reminds us that our relationship with those of others faiths, or no faith at all is dictated by two important assumptions: respect for humanity's profound search for answers to the most profound questions of life, and respect for the power of the Holy Spirit present in all of humanity. He states: "...the inter-religious meeting held in Assisi was meant to confirm my conviction that "every authentic prayer is prompted by the Holy Spirit, who is mysteriously present in every human heart." (Redemptoris Missio #29)

What Catholic Interfaith Advocates (CIA) Need

Three important elements are required of Catholic Interfaith Advocates in order to be equipped to be part of the mission of dialogue of the Church today. They include:
  •  Desire to make a difference in a divided world based on our Catholic faith
  • Acquaintance with the rich Catholic tradition of interfaith dialogue and collaboration
  • Interfaith literacy: discover the richness of other faiths and points of view
  • Get involve in the many interfaith initiatives going close to you

April 14, 2015 is Better Together Day

The Interfaith Youth Core of Chicago had organized a great way to get at this. April 14 is Better Together Day. We're disconnected. The divide between our religious and non-religious communities is huge, and that’s a problem. Consider this: 35% of people think Islam is more violent than other traditions. 43% of people wouldn't vote for a well qualified atheist for president. When people hear the word Mormon, 3 of the 4 words that come to mind are negative. On top of that, religious tension is globally at a six year high.

 We can do our part to change that. Research shows that just having one friend of a different religious or non-religious background can build understanding and combat ignorance. That’s why, on April 14th, we want you talk to an actual human of another religious or non-religious background about the values you both share. Then come back and post the experience online.

Still confused? Let's break it down. By signing the pledge, you’re saying that on April 14th you’re going to...

1. Meet someone of a different religious or non-religious background.
2. Talk about something that inspires them.
3. Share your story here.

Anyone interested in learning more about becoming a Catholic Interfaith Advocate, contact us. We would be happy to help.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Does Cardinal Turkson Hint to the Upcoming Human Ecology Encyclical of Pope Francis?

Recently Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace spoke to the Irish Bishops at the Trocaire 2015 Lenten Lecture. The Irish Bishops had just issued their "The Cry of the Earth" and the Irish development agency, Trocaire (Mercy in Irish), has been resolute in their Drop in the Ocean Campaign.

In this backdrop we also know that Cardinal Turkson helped work on the first draft of the Holy Father's encyclical on human ecology. Here the Cardinal points out that global inequality and the destruction of the environment are inter-related. The promotion of integral ecology is the relationship between development, concern for the poor and responsibility for the environment.

He outlines four principles of integral ecology reflected in the ministry and teaching of Pope Francis. They are:

  • The call of all people to be protectors is integral and all embracing
  • Care for creation is a virtue in its own right (relationship between nature and humanity)
  • There is a necessity to care for what we cherish and revere (religious voice and sustainable development and environmental care)
  • The call to dialogue and a new global solidarity based on the fundamental pillars that govern a nation. (Everyone has a part to play)
In light of this there is speculation that the Cardinal's talk could provide a sneak peek in outline form to Pope Francis will issue in his next encyclical letter. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lent is not only a time for personal conversion...

“Dear friends, Lent is not only a time for personal conversion. It’s not about becoming ‘better', but it’s about overcoming the 'noonday devil' that wants to keep us from believing and living in the certainty that we are one Church, one human family and one Body of Christ with many members, all of whom are necessary. Lenten conversion is an invitation to believe that it is possible to re-build unity in the family, at work, and among the different generations, many cultures and different faiths. Even if we are unable to throw open all the doors of the fortress in which we are enclosed, we can make a little crack, a small opening, a tiny gap where we can begin to enjoy the sky, the fresh air, the sea and, above all, the beauty of the faces of those who enrich us and the history we are creating together.”
Fr. Pietro (Sigurani), Rector of the Basilica of Sant’Eustachio in Rome (Quaderno no. 8 per Quaresima 2015)

Lent is a time to turn away from all that mitigates and damages the power of a love that shown through the darkness of Golgotha, the piercing light of the cross of Christ. As Fr. Sigurani states: "Lenten conversion is an invitation to believe that is possible to re-build unity..." Turning away from sin involves the moment of turning toward new possibilities and a hope that can never die. New possibilities require us to re-imagine who we are as Catholics in a very diverse and pluralistic world, drawing lines of meaningful exchange and solidarity across cultural and religious boundaries. I share Fizzah's fear and hope. For us non-Muslims, fear can also blind us from the transformation the cross calls us all to. CC

Fizzah Abbasi, Freshman at George Mason University
I've lived in America my entire life. I identify as an American. I watch fireworks on the Fourth of July; I have said the Pledge of Allegiance my entire public school career, and I strongly believe in the First Amendment, which includes freedom of religion.

Neither my parents nor I have ever experienced much racism, but as I got older, I began to see that ignorance is all around, in different forms. People make terrorist jokes without glancing around the room to see who might be listening. I didn't give it much thought before, but now? It angers me.

I find myself defending my religion and my beliefs more than ever. When I started wearing the hijab a few months ago, I put my faith on display for everyone to see. I'm lucky to go to a university where there are many Muslims, but it still doesn't change the fact that we get treated differently at airports, or that our religion is constantly put on blast by the media. 

Last week, while sitting in the student center, I was approached by two older women who tried to strike up a conversation with me. I didn't think anything of it until I was later told that those women had approached me intending to "convert" me, and they had zeroed in on me because I was wearing a hijab. (I may as well have stamped "I'M A MUSLIM" on my forehead, right?)

I was shocked. This hadn't happened to me before.

I thought, is this what I have to deal with now... strangers trying to convert me to another religion because mine apparently isn't good enough?

The recent events in Chapel Hill have caused me to take a closer look at my faith and how other people view my faith. I have to admit I was disappointed with the results. Whenever there's a social injustice, I can expect my Twitter timeline to blow up. Everyone I know voices his or her opinions, loud and clear. However, when the shooting at Chapel Hill occurred, my Twitter timeline was silent. Very few people had anything to say about the three innocent Muslims that had been shot.

I began to question my place as a Muslim here in America. I started to think, would my religion put me in danger? Also, I realized, the fact that I wear hijab doesn't help much either; actually, it makes matters worse. For a fleeting moment, I considered the decision to take it off, for good. As it turns out, I wasn't the only one thinking this -- several young Muslim women voiced a similar concern. We are scared to walk outside with the very thing that helps define who we are.

It's not fair. Everybody deserves the right to express him or herself, without the fear that someone will treat you differently because of it. It's not fair that I have to convince people that no, my religion does not, in fact, support Al-Qaeda, or their more formidable successor, ISIS.

It also isn't fair that when the shooting at Chapel Hill occurred, the media was silent for a full 15 hours after it happened.

However, living as a Muslim teen in America means taking all these unfair things and dealing with them. It means that whenever I walk outside with that scarf around my head, I am representing every Muslim in the world, and that everything I do reflects on an entire race of people. It also means not exploding with hate and anger every time Bill Maher speaks, which believe me, is easier said than done.

None of this is simple, but I am willing to do anything for my faith and my beliefs, because without them, I have no idea who I am.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Newest Mission in Sierra Leone, West Africa

The Xaverian Missionaries have been working in Sierra Leone, West Africa since the early 1950's. In recent times we have moved to the peripheral area of Mongo Bodugu. The mission of Mongo Bendugu is settled by the Koranko Tribe, traditional Muslims who migrated from the nearby borders of Guinea in the last century. Fr. Carlo Di Sopra shared the fourth anniversary of our presence there.

On Sunday, 22nd February 2015, Mongo Parish reached the age of 4 years. We celebrated the fourth anniversary of its establishment by Bishop George Biguzzi in 2011. Looking at the better situation of the country, we agreed to have a simple feast on this occasion. It is also a kind of compensation for the ban of Christmas celebration last year because of ebola. The presence of Fr. Carlo di Sopra and Fr. Louis Birabaluge, who just arrived in Sierra Leone from Republic Democratic of Congo on January this year, was also a blessing for the community.

In this anniversary we tried to strengthen the family spirit of the parish. Sometimes we feel that we have not been familiar enough to each other, especially with the communities in the surrounding villages. This unfamiliar relationship is a barrier for building a Church as a family. So we invited some members and prayer leaders of the outstations in the surrounding villages which have started building their small Christian communities. They came not just to join the celebration, but also to experience living together with the Mongo community as their mother Church. They came on Saturday, joined the preparation of songs and penitential service in the evening, watched film of Jesus, then stayed together with the Christian families of Mongo town in their houses. This was an effort to develop our parish to be “really in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or self-absorbed cluster made up of a chosen few.” (EG no. 28.)

During the mass, Fr. Carlo reminded us that when Bishop George Biguzzi opened Mongo Parish he
said in a parable that he was like throwing a ball so that the parishioners of Mongo could start playing it. Therefore, like a game, parishioners of Mongo with the fathers and brothers have been playing the ball for 4 years. Some fathers could come and go, even the parishioners could come and go, but the game continues. As in any kind of games, success and failure, happiness and sorrow are inevitable, so in the life of Mongo parish.

The game is going on and will go on continuously, because, as Fr. Carlo  reminded us, the establishment of a parish in Mongo means that Jesus is here present in the parish permanently. The activity of mission in this parish is based on that presence of Jesus. As God the Father said about Jesus, ‘This is my own dear Son, listen to him’ (Mark 9:7), so the parishioners have to listen to Jesus through the fathers, brothers and the community who are present here to work in the parish.

During the reception in the Parish Hall, we were reminded that Mongo parish is not just for the Christian community. It is also for the society in general. Especially in this Muslim dominated area, we are obliged to nurture a good religious tolerance with Islam. The presence of the Paramount Chief and elders of the town also reminded us about the important of this religious tolerance. Fr. Carlo even asked us not only to practice the religious tolerance, but have to go beyond it by building a sincere and honest friendship where we can love each other and work together. With this attitude, we can avoid bad experience in other places where there is conflict between Christian and Muslim, even killing each other. Furthermore, we even should practice the mission through interreligious dialogue.

Beside speeches, the parishioners and guests also enjoyed the entertainment from our youth who performed cultural dance and songs. Their beautiful performance was a reminder that it is part of our responsibility to keep the local culture, to learn and develop it as our precious heritage with whom we need to open ourselves for dialogue.

We could see how enthusiastic we were when Mr. John K Kamara offered quiz which helped the parishioners to be aware of some practical knowledge about our church, the xaverian and the environment of Mongo society. At the end, with Salon music accompaniment, we had lunch together with a delicious local menu, namely rice produced by Mongo farmers with soup of goat beef also reared by them.