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Christian and Muslim women together to pray
 

Christian and Muslim women come together at the ancient shrine of Our Lady of Jesmond, Newcastle- upon-Tyne in England,  to pray for peace.

“We don’t come to pray together, but we come together to pray” Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales.

A unique event attracted Christian and Muslim women to honour Our Lady and pray for peace in June.  About 40 women and teenagers gathered together at this ancient shrine in Jesmond, Newcastle - upon -Tyne, England.

The programme was put together by women from both faiths and conducted in a warm-hearted, appreciative atmosphere.  The event was organised by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle Commission for Inter-Religious Relations.  It included readings from the Qur’an about Mary and the first verse of two hymns “Be still for the presence of the Lord” and “O Mother blest, whom God bestows”. 

The highlight was a sharing on the meaning of the Rosary for Christians and the Tasbe beads for Muslims where the older Muslim women showed how they prayed using their fingers, if they had no beads.

The event followed the guidelines set out in “Meeting God in Friend and Stranger: Fostering respect and mutual understanding between religions”, a teaching document of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales published this year (2010).  Chapter Four: Prayer and Worship
                 “...it is impossible to have peace without prayer,
                      the prayer of all,
                      each one in their own identity
                      and in search of the truth

                  We don’t come to pray together, but we come together to pray.”

The Commission will make this service an annual event.

St Mary’s Chapel in Jesmond Dene is first recorded in 1272 as a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages, until it was dissolved in 1548.  Up until the end of the 18th century part of the ruins was known as the Hospital.  The Chapel was dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  There was also a well nearby and Pilgrim Street in the city is named after this.

What was remarkable about the gathering was that it was made up of Christian and Muslim women from all over the North East of England, responding to an invitation from the Inter-Religious Relations Commission of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle.  The diversity was striking, including as it did, a large group of Christian and Muslim women from Stockton, Muslims from South Shields and Fenham, Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa), four Marie Reparatrice Sisters, with parishioners from our parish, the Holy Name,  a group of Christians from Gateshead and neighbouring Christians from “Churches Together in Jesmond”, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  The ages ranged from teenagers to over ninety!

The service took the form of interwoven Muslim and Christian prayers, songs and hymns and readings about Mary from the Qu’ran and the New Testament and concluded with the sign of Peace.

We were unsure what to expect, but we were struck forcibly by the occasion itself.  What was amazing was that it actually happened!  It was the fruit of a year’s planning between representatives of each of the two faiths.  In addition, we were more than a little taken aback by the similarities which emerged, in the way in which women of the Catholic Church use the Rosary and the Muslims the Tasbe (beads used as an aid to prayer).  The repetition of simple phrases in both, and their accessibility to women at all times was remarkable.  There then followed readings about Mary from St. Luke (1:26-38) and The Surah (19:19-22) and Al Imran (vv.45-48).  Once again, the parallels were significant as both prayers and readings opened our eyes to important areas of similarity which we had not thought existed and created a meaningful context for prayers for peace which followed.

Despite its obvious organisation, this was not a highly stage - managed service – there were times of hesitation – but genuinely respectful, even tentative, coming together as women  to share what was similar in their faiths, without in any way ignoring their differences, nor submerging their individual identities!

Members of the Inter-religious Relations Commission and members of the Holy Name parish to which we belong, offered lunch and sharing together, sampling delicious samosas!!

Christian and Muslim women together to pray