Caring for Our Multi-faith Siblings

A few weeks ago, as my Easter worship celebration was coming to an end, the pastor offered a series of prayers. As I contemplated the words flowing from her heart, I was struck by one prayer in particular because it was the first time I’d heard an interfaith prayer in my mainline Protestant church. The pastor offered a prayer of blessing upon “our Muslim and Jewish siblings” who, like the Christian community were in the midst of holy seasons: Ramadan and Passover.

This year was unique in that all three Abrahamic faiths celebrated major holidays at the same time. The seasons of Ramadan, Passover, and Easter seldom align and next year, more typically, we will see the seasons once again scattered at varying times in the spring. But for this year, for a few weeks, all three traditions were united through holy weeks of rituals and prayers.

At DePaul, the three Abrahamic traditions along with other faith and spiritual communities are often united, sometimes in prayer and ritual, and at other times through service, a community meal, or dialogue. This is DePaul. Our community is defined by a mission that “compassionately upholds the dignity of all members of its diverse, multi-faith, and inclusive community.”[i] According to Islamicist Antoine Moussali, C.M., Saint Vincent sent members of his own Vincentian community out to a multi-faith world and asked that his missionaries demonstrate “ardent zeal, prudent discretion, patient forbearance, joyful openness to change, active interior life, confident humility, infinite respect for the other person whether Christian or [other], openness and circumspection intelligence of mind and heart.”[ii]

As members of the DePaul community, we are all called to care for our siblings of all faith or spiritual traditions. We are asked to unite with one another and support one another, not just during special holy times, but always. As Vincentians, we are called to infinitely respect everyone within our multi-faith community. May we approach our caring, support, and respect for people of all faiths and all spiritual expressions with ardent zeal, joyful openness to change, and humility.

To ponder: As you go about your daily tasks, how do you show respect and offer support for those whose faith or spiritual lives are different than your own?

Reflection by: Rev. Dr. Diane Dardón, Director, Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care, Division of Mission and Ministry


[i] University Mission Statement, 4 March 2021, at: https://offices.depaul.edu/mission-ministry/‌about/‌Pages/‌mission.aspx

[ii] Antoine Moussali, C.M., “Relationships with Islam in the Time of St. Vincent: History and Attitude of St. Vincent and his Missionaries to Moslems,” Vincentiana 39:3 (May 1995). Available online at https://‌via.‌library.‌‌depaul.edu/‌cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1621&context=vincentiana.

Finding the Human Connection

The arrival of March means a few things here in Chicago. It is the arrival of meteorological spring, although I wouldn’t put away the winter coat quite yet. We are in the Lenten season for many Christians, and this year Ramadan will start for Muslims worldwide during our spring break. It also means Saint Patrick’s Day, which turns our hearts toward all things green and Irish. I think the spirit of this season reminds all of us to bring the beauty of our full selves to this community, and to look with special care for those among us who may be a bit lost, but who with a bit of minding could blossom beautifully.

As with any saint, especially one who lived sixteen centuries ago, we know a lot more about the Patrick of hagiography and myth than the one of history. On the bright side, we can learn a lot from hagiography and myth. For many, Saint Patrick represents the plight of those who fall victim to great evil,[1] but who under God’s care can turn evil to good. In his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, Saint Patrick speaks poignantly against the horrors of slavery as someone who had experienced it himself. In the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States, Saint Patrick’s Day became a symbol of Irish cultural and religious pride and an honoring of immigrants more broadly.

After its establishment in 1898, DePaul University’s mission was centered upon providing higher education and a ladder to a better life to the children of immigrants in Chicago, many of whom were Irish Catholics. Rev. Francis X. McCabe, C.M., DePaul’s President from 1910 to 1920, oversaw tremendous growth in DePaul’s student body and began coeducation of men and women together over the objections of the archbishop. He also made DePaul the first American university to grant an honorary degree to an international figure when he bestowed one upon Irish leader Eamon de Valera in 1919.[2] De Valera had escaped from an English prison and was touring the United States to raise money and political support as the Irish War of Independence raged.

Given that March is Academy Awards season, it also seems appropriate to note that a commitment to include and honor people from different cultures and identities in a deep way can often best be achieved through the arts. There were three powerful Irish films released last year that also may evoke some mission-related reflection.[3] In The Banshees of Inisherin, we see what appears to be an idyllic Irish village. As the story unfolds, we see that the village contains elements of evil and corruption, but most of all feelings of loneliness and of being trapped. These are brought to the surface when the vital human connection of friendship for one of the residents is cut off without warning. Aisha tells the story of a Nigerian Muslim woman seeking asylum in Ireland who, having already suffered immense trauma and hardship, is now caught in a bureaucratic nightmare. And, in the Irish language film An Cailίn Ciúin (The Quiet Girl), we witness the effects on a neglected young girl spending a summer with distant relatives who truly see and care for her despite her quietness.

Each of these films dramatizes the profound human need for connection. We see how much can lie beneath surfaces. One of the paradoxes of DePaul’s mission is that we emphasize the individual care and attention we call personalism, while also proudly carrying the banner of the nation’s largest Catholic university. There is great potential in this paradox. We can offer the diverse resources of a large school while providing personal holistic attention to each student as well. To fulfill this potential, we need to remind ourselves of the value of connecting with those students who may be quiet, who may feel lost in bureaucracy, who may suffer from traumatic life circumstances, or who merely feel an unmet need for friendship that can make life seem meaningless. Perhaps in a nod to their Irishness, none of these films offers an easy, happy ending, but each demonstrates that even in the midst of difficulty, reaching out for true connection is always worth it for all involved.


Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Assistant Director Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care and Muslim Chaplain.

[1] The predominant understanding has been that Saint Patrick was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as an enslaved person, although as with most everything about his life, the historical accuracy of that has been questioned. See “Was St. Patrick a Slave Trader and Tax Collector?” IrishCentral, March 7, 2022, https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/saint-patrick-slave-trader.

[2] See “DePaul Presidents: Rev. Francis X. McCabe, C.M.,”               The Full Text (blog), DePaul University Library, February 24, 2010, https://news.library.depaul.press/full-text/2010/02/24/depaul-presidents-rev-francis-x-mccabe-c-m/.

[3] By the time you read this, you will know how many of the fourteen nominations garnered by Irish talent resulted in Oscar wins. See Emma Jones, “Oscars 2023: Banshees and the Irish Films Breaking Records,” BBC, March 6, 2023, https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20230303-banshees-and-the-irish-films-breaking-oscars-records.

 

The Sacred Dignity of all Persons

More than four hundred years ago in the small French town of Folleville, France, Saint Vincent de Paul had a transformative experience that he would later describe as the start of the Vincentian mission, which we continue to this day.[1] While serving as a tutor and spiritual director for the wealthy de Gondi family Vincent was called to the bedside of a dying peasant. The opportunity to facilitate the sacrament of confession and the profound positive effect it had on the man revealed much to Vincent about the conditions and human needs that were widespread in his time. When Madame de Gondi famously asked, “What must be done?” the mission had begun.

The Vincentian mission to honor the sacred dignity of every human being has taken many different shapes in many different environments over the last four hundred years. It is a living legacy that seeks to serve the same goals and purposes in ever-changing circumstances. DePaul University seeks primarily to advance the dignity of every person through higher education, but in doing so, we serve the whole person and the larger community. We find and serve not only the material needs of people but their spiritual needs as well. It is because of, not despite, our commitment to our Vincentian Catholic mission that we honor the spiritual needs of all in our community, inclusive of people of all faiths and none.

Much of our Christian community has just come to the end of the Lenten period with the celebration of Easter.[2] Our Jewish community has begun the observance of Passover. Our Muslim community is in the middle of the fasting month of Ramadan. Others observing sacred holidays during this season this year include the Sikh, Jain, and Baha’i communities. We remind ourselves of Dr. Esteban’s call in the fall tocreate an accepting and nurturing environment in which people of every faith are supported and nurtured.”[3] Just as our university closes for Good Friday to facilitate Christians’ observance, we encourage all members of the community to be flexible and accommodating so that people can engage in religious observances and spiritual growth. Doing so enriches and inspires the entire community, as our own Father Memo Campuzano beautifully shared last week.[4] The spirit of accommodation and the honoring of human dignity invites conversation among people about their needs, recognizing that not everyone is the same and all are equally precious. The staff of the Office of Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care is here to serve as a resource whenever we can be helpful in such dialogue.[5]

We invite all of our community to find, as Vincent did, life and beauty in honoring and facilitating the sacred traditions and spiritual needs of each other. Many of us are weighed down by the hardships or just the daily grind of life. We seek these special observances to provide joy and meaning to our lives, as individuals and as communities. Being able to facilitate these moments for others provides a special blessing of its own. The Prophet Muhammad[6] offered this beautiful prayer for those who would provide food for him when it came time to break the fast, “May those who are fasting break their fast with you, may the righteous eat your food, and may the angels pray for you!”[7]


Reflection by:    Abdul-Malik Ryan, Assistant Director, Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care

[1] Andrew Rea, “The 400th Anniversary of St. Vincent de Paul’s Sermon at Folleville,” DePaul University, January 25, 2017, https://news.library.depaul.press/full-text/2017/01/25/4809/.

[2] Orthodox Christians will observe Easter on April 24.

[3] A. Gabriel Esteban, “Religious Observances: Facilitating a Culture of Respect, Understanding and Civility,” DePaul University Newsline, August 31, 2021, https://resources.depaul.edu/newsline/sections/campus-and-community/‌Pages/‌Religious-observances-2021.aspx.

[4] Memo Campuzano, C.M., “Spiritual Times: Times When We Hope Together,” The Way of Wisdom (blog), DePaul University, April 8, 2022, https://blogs.depaul.edu/dmm/2022/04/08/spiritual-times-times-when-we-hope-together/.

[5] Contact information and a calendar of holidays and religiously significant events can be found here: https://offices.depaul.edu/mission-ministry/religious-spiritual-life/religious/Documents/2021-2022_‌Religious_‌Holidays_Calendar.pdf.

[6] Peace and blessings be upon him and all of the prophets and sacred teachers and guides.

[7] Hadith reported by Abu Dawud.

Ramadan and the Vincentian Question: Guidance and Inspiration in Times of Challenge

Muhammad ibn Abdullah(1) was a man living in seventh-century Arabia. Coming from a prominent clan and tribe, he traced his own lineage to the Prophet Abraham through Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar (ar. Haajar). That family history was a source of collective pride for the people of Mecca, where Muhammad lived and where a house of worship built by Abraham and Ishmael served as a place of pilgrimage for tribes from throughout the Arabian Peninsula. At the same time, substantive connection with Abraham’s guidance seemed to be lost to most Arabs, except for a few Jewish tribes and scattered individuals who claimed to be followers of Jesus or of a general Abrahamic monotheism. Muhammad’s father died before he was born, his mother when he was just six years old, and he was raised as an orphan by his uncle. Despite his noble lineage in a society wherein lineage was greatly valued, these circumstances meant Muhammad lived a humble life.

Muhammad’s experience as an orphan left him sensitive to the plight of the vulnerable in society. He felt his society did not live up to the chivalric values it claimed to hold dear and which it celebrated in its self-image and poetry. This was especially true when it came to those who were marginalized, which often included women as well as those who were enslaved or without tribal connections. Muhammad felt a call to do something and yearned for specific guidance from the Creator. He began to spend periods of time in meditation and prayer in solitude in a cave outside of the city. It was while engaged in this practice, in the lunar month of Ramadan, that the Prophet Muhammad received the first of what he understood to be revelations from God, which we call the Qur’an.

Muslim communities worldwide, including thousands of DePaul students, faculty, staff, and alumni, will begin observance of the month of Ramadan with the sighting of the crescent moon this week.(2) Muslims will commemorate the revelation of the Qur’an by fasting from dawn to sunset each day for the next lunar month while also engaging in special night prayers and acts of charity. These spiritual practices serve to develop spiritual discipline, generosity, compassion, and connection to the Most Merciful. Ramadan is filled with many different practices and traditions which make it an eagerly anticipated and joyously welcomed time in Muslim communities. Of course, as was the case last year, this year’s observance will be limited by precautions due to the pandemic. Despite that caution and uncertainty however, there is also a hopefulness this year that better times are coming.

Madame de Gondi once asked Vincent de Paul what has come to be known as the Vincentian question “What must be done?”(3) to confront the widespread material and spiritual poverty of seventeenth-century France. Similarly, the Prophet Muhammad sensed that profound change was needed to address the social and spiritual challenges of seventh-century Arabia. Today, we as a DePaul community must ask the same question in facing the challenges of twenty-first-century Chicago. The spiritual practices of Ramadan serve to remind us that the guidance and inspiration we need to address the most profound challenges can come from being open to signs from the transcendent, being spiritually in touch with ourselves, and being socially connected as a community.

What spiritual and social challenges do you see as most pressing from your vantage point in twenty-first-century Chicago? What spiritual and social practices help you to remain committed to addressing them in your life and work?


1) Commonly referred to as the Prophet Muhammad. This of course spoils our narrative as neither he nor others thought of him in that way when our story begins. It is considered proper etiquette for Muslims to say the Arabic formula ﷺ often translated as “Peace be upon him” after the names of prophets and other sacred figures. I will not write the formula in this reflection, but I encourage those who wish to follow this practice to do so as you read.

2) It is expected that the moon may be visible on the night of Monday, April 12, which would make Tuesday, April 13, the first day of fasting.

3) For a discussion of the Vincentian Question see Edward R. Udovic, C.M., Podcast: “The Vincentian Question,” 2 December 2015. At: https://blogs.depaul.edu/dmm/2015/12/02/the-vincentian-question-2/

 

Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Muslim Chaplain and Assistant Director, Office of Religious Diversity, Division of Mission and Ministry

 

The Beauty of a Higher Purpose

Virtue is so beautiful and amiable that they will be compelled to love it in you, if you practice it well.1

In the remarkable short letter from which this quote was taken, Vincent responds to news that several of the missionaries would be travelling on a ship with “some heretics.” After briefly expressing his distress at what they may have to “endure from them,” Vincent spends the rest of the letter reminding them that this is God’s plan. He encourages them to use their best manners and “be careful to avoid every sort of dispute and contention.”2 Vincent expresses hope that an example of beautiful character will be “helpful” to all.

Muslims are now entering into the final week of the observance of Ramadan. Ramadan is normally a month filled with fasting, prayer, and charity; it has been this year as well, although in all other ways it has been different with mosques closed and social activity curtailed by the pandemic. In a traditional saying of the Prophet Muhammad (which he sources to John the Baptist) it is said, “the similitude of the fasting person is that of someone who is carrying a sack-full of musk in a crowd of people—all of them marveling at its fragrance (although they can’t see what has created it).”3

The experience of long days of fasting and nights of sporadic sleep risks making one impatient or hard to be around. However, we find that when undertaken with intention and perseverance, a connection to a higher purpose along with increased gratitude and vulnerability reveals a beauty in the fasting person that is attractive to those around them even if they don’t know the source of it. Such a state also increases generosity that rains upon us all, even upon those who may be seen as heretics in a particular time or place.

During times of difficulty and anxiety like those we are living now, it is tempting to be less patient, less compassionate, more selfish, or even divisive with each other, particularly with those who hold differing worldviews.

What are some practices or exercises you can engage in to remain grounded in a sense of higher purpose? Is there a foundational belief or perspective which enables virtue to emanate from you, such that its beauty and fragrance is enjoyed by and helpful to all whom you encounter?

 


1) 3032, To Philippe Patte, In Nantes, [November or December 1659], CCD, 8:209.

2) Ibid.

3) Jami at-Tirmidhi, Kitab al-Amthal (Chapter of Parables), Book 44, Hadith 3102. See: http://sunnah.com/urn/630960

 

Reflection by:

Abdul-Malik Ryan
Assistant Director and Muslim Chaplain
Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care
Division of Mission and Ministry

“Healing Grief, Inspiring Hope: the Prophetic Practices of Ramadan”

iman iftar photo

This is the khutbah (sermon) I delivered for the Eid ul Fitr prayers marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan at the University of Chicago on June 25, 2017.

In it, I try to examine the reality of grief and trauma as pervasive aspects of the human experience and how true prophetic religion does not seek to cover up or pretend away such realities but rather acknowledges them directly. It also provides individual and communal practices for healing such grief and trauma, while at the same time always inspiring hope in a reality greater than what we can perceive in the moment. Examples of this prophetic methodology are mentioned from the Qur’an and the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him!). The worship practices of the month of Ramadan can be some of the best examples of these practices in our community and we should build on that model and work to create real and healthy communities throughout the year.

I welcome feedback and please share with others if you think the message is important.

Peace and Blessings,

Abdul-Malik

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