By Heather Walker
ROME — Due to government restrictions to help stem the spread of COVID-19, The Lay Centre community gathered online with Istituto Tevere director Dr. Cenap Aydin and guests to learn more about Ramadan. The online event culminated in listening to the “muezzin,” the Muslim call to prayer.
This year, Ramadan began April 13. During this sacred month in Islam, Muslims fast from dawn until sunset, after which they enjoy an iftar, usually a large in-person meal with family and friends that breaks the fast.
Aydin, a Lay Centre alumnus, explained that Lay Centre staff and residents have often been his guests at iftars in years past. However, the pandemic prevented an in-person gathering this year. In “trying to keep up the tradition,” he said, he organized an iftar online.
Aydin invited participants to introduce themselves, which quickly helped create an atmosphere of friendship. Discovering the multicultural and religious facets of the group — both Christian and Muslim — made this an exceptional opportunity for sharing and learning.
An interesting presentation about Ramadan followed. Aydin explained the tradition and meaning of Ramadan, which is a special month dedicated to prayer, spiritual devotion and the study of the Koran. It is also a month for compassion, mercy and almsgiving, intended to prepare a Muslim for the rest of the year.
Aydin then invited Dr. Donna Orsuto, The Lay Centre director, to share a reflection on fasting from the Christian tradition.
“For Muslims, Christians and Jews, fasting, prayer and almsgiving are important practices for us all,” Orsuto said. She then shared a short passage of Jesus’ teachings on fasting in Matthew 6:16-18:
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."
“Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are ‘external acts’ that are considered an integral part of Christian life, but what Jesus does in this teaching is to place a spotlight on the importance of the necessary inwardness that is to accompany these three external acts,” she said.
She highlighted three main points from this Scripture passage. First, the importance of the word “when.” Jesus assumes fasting is part of the life of the followers. It was a common Jewish practice that would have been integrated into the lives of the early Christians as well.
Second, Jesus tells us what not to do when fasting — “Do not be dismal” — reminding us that we fast to honour God and to humble ourselves.
Third, Jesus proposes how we should fast — joyfully and without drawing attention to ourselves.
In the Christian tradition, fasting, like almsgiving and prayer, is to be done in secret.
Orsuto concluded: “In this time of Ramadan, we pray for you, our Muslim brothers and sisters, that this intense period of prayer, fasting and almsgiving will draw you closer to the Almighty One and Giver of peace. We also pray that the fruit of these disciplines will transform you inwardly and that the fruit of your fasting, prayer and almsgiving will help many who are suffering in various parts of the world.”
There was a short time for dialogue before the call to prayer, after which there was a moment of silence and farewells. The hope is that we will come together in person to share an iftar among friends in 2022.
Main photo: courtesy Lay Centre Leadership Scholar,Christopher Donnelly
Photo gallery: with permission Istituto Tevere and Lay Centre