Yesterday was September 11th, or 9/11 as it will be most likely referred to for many years until memory and events move us to more blessed memories. In reflecting upon what to share that is significant to Christian ministry, but also is cognizant of the day, I was drawn to the unique ministry position in which I, a Christian in the Catholic tradition, am charged—that of supporting the faith development of students from other religious traditions, particularly Jewish and Muslim. This might seem like a contradiction to many Christians in today’s terrain of ministry, but historically, it is not such a strange position to be in. This ministry has been a blessing to my own walk with Christ. It is out of this ministry that I share with you today.
Ministry of Presence
I attended the Friday Jummah prayers of our Muslim students on campus. Call it a ministry of presence. I listened to the student give his talk (sermon) from his reading of the Quran that day. With the exception of speaking of Allah (God) rather than Christ, his talk sounded like what any young college student might share at a Bible study. Here was a student trying to navigate the world through their faith and sharing their walk—or should I say, their testimony.
On this day, I had one of those precious moments of evangelism. While the Muslim students recited their prayers (oh, if ever I could be as faithful to my own prayer life!), I sat in the back and took out my chotki, the Russian name for an Orthodox prayer rope. I have become fond of prayer beads, or prayer ropes, as a tool for prayer. It keeps me focused on Christ and/or scripture, particularly in places not conducive to prayer. Quite simply, the rope contains 33 beads (sometimes knots), which you finger while reciting, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Pray for Me, a Sinner.” Theologically…not a bad prayer, straight and to the point. This prayer form helps me to focus upon Christ, even in the midst of other activities.
What happened next is the grace. One of the Muslim students saw the beads in my hand, admiring the stones, and curious about what I was doing. I explained that they were Orthodox prayer beads. The student shared that in their tradition, they used almost identical looking beads called misbaha for prayer. Curiosity was aroused and I shared the prayer that is recited, and she shared hers: “Lord God, Pray for Me, a Sinner.” May just be me, but that sounded awfully familiar. We talked a bit more about this form of prayer in our daily prayer life, and then we moved on to the social. Yep, cookies and juice seem to be a universal element of any young adult gathering (with some Middle Eastern coffee thrown in there just to up the ante a little!).
No altar call was given. But the grace of Christ was extended between two individuals that afternoon. Christ was present in that moment. I, a Christian, was in dialogue with another who was Muslim. Mutual curiosity sowed seeds of trust to open the doors for a sharing of part of my faith, AND to receive a gift from hers. Yes, people of other faith traditions have ministered to my walk with Christ. Remember, it was the King of Persia that helped rebuild the walls of Jerusalem! In faith, I believe that Christ was about the work of evangelism this day. I believe the world and the Church we live in today, on this 9/11 anniversary, could use more of this type of witness, one of mutual respect and curiosity for the “other.”
Dr. James Puglisi is the Associate Director of Campus Ministry at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. He received his Bachelor of Arts (1984) from Allegheny College, Meadville, PA in Anthropology of Religions. He holds a Master of Arts in Higher Education (1996) from Geneva College, Beaver Falls, PA, and a Master of Arts in Applied Theology (2002) from Wheeling Jesuit University. He was awarded a Doctor of Ministry from Catholic Theological Union (2008) in the area of Practical Theology. His doctoral writing was titled “Shalom: The Role of Truth Telling in Creating Communities of Racial Reconciliation within Institutions of Christian Higher Education.” He is actively involved in interfaith and ecumenical work at St. Edward’s University and in the larger Austin Community. In addition to his work in campus ministry, he teaches courses in the cultural foundations curriculum in the area of migration, culture, and diversity. He has presented at conferences on racial reconciliation and inter-religious dialogue. He is originally from Pittsburgh, PA.