September 1, 2010
In the spring of 2000 I spent a semester in Jerusalem, taking classes at Bethlehem University (a Palestinian institution) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Shortly before becoming a Jesuit I made another pilgrimage to the Holy Land, in the spring of 2006.
While in the Holy Land the second time I heard two Western tour guides, on separate occasions, tell an encouraging story about inter-religious cooperation. When Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square in the spring of 2000, the guides said, the mosque on the edge of the square silenced the call to prayer it normally broadcast at noon so as not to disturb the papal liturgy. According to the guides, doing so was an unprecedented gesture of goodwill.
There’s only one problem with this cheerful tale: it isn’t true.
I was in Manger Square that morning when the pre-recorded call to prayer came blasting over the Mosque of Omar’s loudspeakers midway through the Prayers of the Faithful. The lector paused, everyone stared at their feet in embarrassment for a few moments, and, when the recording finished, we went on with the Mass. When I visited six years after the fact, I had a conversation with a local Christian who told me that the interruption of that liturgy is still seen as a painful reminder of that community’s minority status.
Last week’s discussion of the proposed Park 51 mosque reminded me of the tour guides’ story. Read the rest of this entry »
May 3, 2010
Instead of heading south for spring break this year, as most sensible people do, I went to South Dakota. I didn’t go for the beaches, but instead to visit the Jesuit community on the Rosebud Reservation. The cultural milieu of the “Rez” is fascinating, and the Jesuits who live there are fine hardworking men.
One conversation in particular got me thinking. We were discussing the summer Sun Dances, native religious rituals in which men dance—sometimes for several days without sustenance—and pierce their skin as a way of offering sacrifice to the divine. Someone remarked that at a Sun Dance he had visited the previous summer there were more German tourists than Lakota worshippers.
I found the incident disturbing in different ways. Though obviously not a practitioner of non-Christian “traditional” religion myself, I couldn’t help but feel that the practices of those traditions had been somehow cheapened when reduced to a spectacle for tourists.
For me the more disturbing question, however, is what the phenomenon of the Teutonic Sun Dance says about the spiritual grounding of Westerners. Is part of the reason so many German tourists find the Sun Dance so alluring the lack of spiritual sustenance in their own culture? Read the rest of this entry »