by Father Michael J. Lynch
In the past, the invitation to a Passover Seder seemed rare, but now these kinds of invitations to Christians to join in the telling of the story of liberation are common. Similarly, the invitations to “Iftar” (the breaking of the fast) are multiplying. In New York City alone this season, there were multiple Iftars on almost every evening of Ramadan, which spanned from May 5 to June 4. Any person of goodwill was welcomed to break the fast at sundown.
During the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims commemorate Muhammad’s reception of the recitation known as the Quran, I accepted an invitation to attend the Interfaith Iftar in Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn, and Auxiliary Bishop James Massa attended the American Pakistani Public Affairs Committee Iftar at the World’s Fair Marina in Queens.
What a joy it was to be among our Muslim brothers and sisters, giving thanks to God for blessings in this life and having a taste of a feast that prefigures a heavenly banquet. At both events, we were able to bring greetings from our Ordinary, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, and at his behest provide an introduction to a copy of the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace & Living Together,” signed by His Holiness, Pope Francis, and by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb, in Abu Dhabi in February.
In Queens, Bishop Massa spoke of seeking to show how different religions can live peaceably side by side. “It is a special joy to break bread with you and to share a good word,” the bishop said. “In light of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre, the Christchurch mosque killings, the Sri Lanka Easter bombings and last weekend’s attack on Catholic churches in Burkina Faso, the appeal of the imam and the pope has a particular urgency: ‘Terrorism is deplorable and threatens the security of people, be they in the East or West, in the North or South, and disseminates panic, terror and pessimism.’
“But, the two caution, ‘This is not due to religion, even when terrorists instrumentalize [religion]. It is due, rather, to an accumulation of incorrect interpretations of religious texts and to policies linked to hunger, poverty, injustice, oppression and pride.’ ”
In Brooklyn, I had the opportunity to share selections from this important letter, highlighting the themes of courage and interreligious dialogue, sharing the “aspiration that this declaration may be an appeal to every upright conscience that rejects deplorable violence and blind extremism; an appeal to those who cherish the values of tolerance and fraternity that are promoted and encouraged by religions.”
Both Bishop Massa and I recalled the 800th anniversary of St. Francis meeting with the Sultan in Egypt at another crucial time in interreligious dialogue.
I was able to encourage my ecumenical colleague, Rev. Dr. Chloe Breyer (executive director of The Interfaith Center of New York), to present themes from the document at the Iftar dinners she attended at various houses of worship throughout the city. She reports it was happily and warmly received.
For more than 20 years, there has been an official Roman Catholic-Muslim Interfaith Dialogue. We in Brooklyn are privileged to be among the founding dioceses in this important work. From my earliest days in this fruitful dialogue, I have met dedicated Muslim leaders and scholars who have worked diligently in partnership with Catholic leaders and scholars in a dialogue of mutual respect to learn more about the monotheistic core we share rooted in the faith of Abraham.
Father Lynch is the pastor of Our Lady of the Cenacle, Richmond Hill, and associate vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the Diocese of Brooklyn.