I feel as much on Columban mission here in Sydney as I ever did in Lahore, Pakistan, if not more so, and it is usually in the ordinary encounters of every day. Last Friday, my colleague and I attended Friday prayers at a local mosque.The Imam welcomed us by name in his homily and introduced as “working for peace between communities.” Afterwards one of the congregation greeted me saying, “Welcome, Fr. Patrick, to the House of Allah. Thank you for the work you do.” In fact, in Australia, more Muslims than Catholics call me “Father!”
Ramadan in Sydney has become a very significant interfaith season. Every night, in public halls and private homes across Sydney, people gather for the iftar meal to break the fast with family and friends from other faiths.These are mostly hosted by Muslim organizations, though Catholic bishops, other churches and the state parliament also host these meals.It is an extraordinarily generous gesture of welcome and hospitality, especially given that the Muslims often feel battered by Islamophobia in the media and from elements of the wider Australian society.At some such gatherings, I have been the only Christian clergy present, which indicates, sadly, that local Muslim leaders do not know their local Christian leaders and vice versa.I am thinking how to change this in the future.
Facebook – despite all its deficiencies – is also a significant part of my interfaith outreach.Last year I attended a mosque on the occasion of Lailat al-Qadr. Seeing a priest making his way through the throngs on the street and heading towards the mosque, someone kindly asked me “Are you lost?”On my return home, I posted the story on Facebook, commenting that it must have been disconcerting to see a Catholic priest going to a mosque, explaining that I went to pray in solidarity with my Muslim sisters and brothers.Within five minutes, someone posted, “I’m sorry, Father.I didn’t recognize you.I am the one who asked, ‘Are you lost?’” By the end of the day, over a 1,000 people had liked my post, mostly Muslims, thanking me for being present with them on this auspicious occasion.
Columban Fr. Patrick McInerney lives and works in Australia focusing on inter-religious dialogue.