The Children of Abraham & My Lenten Journey
It is well known that last year, I began a new ritual on Ash Wednesday. I walk over 10 miles from the footbridge to Ellis Island in Liberty State Park to the gates of the Elizabeth Detention Center just outside Newark Airport in Elizabeth. When we first began to plan this event, I could easily comprehend the physical aspects of the journey, but I had no idea just how much of a spiritual journey I would be embarking on.
When we were first planning the event last year we were concerned how houses of worship which were not Christian would react to being asked to participate in a Christian feast day. We were surprised to learn that this was not a problem, particularly for the Islamic Center and Al-Ghazaly School. They were delighted that we wanted to devote part of our observance of one of our holy days to a visit to their school. Last year we heard a reading from the Koran that explained our shared belief in welcoming immigrants. This year we heard a reading that talked about the equality of all people.
We were trying to give a face and a name to the immigrants who are forced into hiding and whose human dignity is disrespected by our laws and the attitudes of our society. What we achieved, in my estimation, was something much greater, the beginning of an interfaith cooperation and understanding.
The Catholic Church teaches that Muslims are to be embraced as fellow brothers and sisters of Abraham. That teaching came alive for me last Wednesday as I drew closer to people I had learned to believe were so very different from me. Standing in the cafeteria of the Al-Ghazaly school there was no denying that we were all God’s children.
I just read an article that concluded that the key to immigration reform was interfaith understanding. Perhaps that is so and perhaps that is also the key to many of the other challenges in our society. What I do know is that learning about another religion and being welcomed so warmly by someone from another faith tradition has brought me closer to my own Catholic faith starting my Lenten journey.