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Hallo again to all.

Not long ago we attended the funeral of a friend who died too young. While he probably hadn't been in a church since he was married, all of the family members and many close friends were Roman Catholic, so the funeral services and ceremonies followed RC custom. At the Rosary and Vigil, we sat towards the middle of a crowded nave.

After the cantor sang Schubert's Ave Maria there wasn't a dry eye in the house. The priest said 'Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with you....', and we responded aloud as we knew we should: 'Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.' This versicle and response continued to make up a decade, as is the custom, and then (absolutely by rote) we joined in the final response 'As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.'

At the end of this Rosary and Vigil service, as people were leaving in the dark silence, a man we didn't know (who had been sitting in the pew behind us) meekly asked 'Are you Catholic?' Probably he assumed we would say 'yes' else he wouldn't have asked; he seemed startled at us saying that, no, we were not Roman catholic, we were Anglican, but knew the liturgy and could say the responses.

A silicon waferA communion waferHe was born in this country into a family whose grandparents were Arab immigrants. He spoke no Arabic and was not a practicing Muslim. He knew the deceased because they had worked closely together at a computer company where, he said, faith and religion were never discussed. He said that he was startled to see that the dead man's family and loved ones were such demonstrative Roman Catholics, but it pleased him. 'You might think you don't need God, but, once you die, you discover that you did, and it's good to have your family pulling for you,' he said. He had read about Christianity in the newspaper a lot, but this was one of a very few times in his life that he had ever attended a worship service. He mentioned that he had recently finished reading the book No god but God to learn something about Islam, but in the process became curious about whether the God of Islam and the God of Christianity were indeed the same God. We told him that we believed that was true, but that there were plenty of Christians and Muslims for whom those were fighting words. We went home reflecting on the importance of not hiding our Christian faith in the secular workplace.

The next day at the Funeral Mass the church was entirely full and we had a seat on the aisle a few rows from the front. When Holy Communion was offered, the president explained that only Roman Catholics were welcome to receive, but that anyone was welcome to approach with folded arms to receive a blessing. The urge to ignore those instructions was powerful, to receive the Host illegally and risk the wrath of the priest if not the wrath of God, but ultimately good manners prevailed over what we thought was common sense, and we remained in the pew. We occupied our time by bathing in sadness for the dead man and his grieving family.

Then we saw the man we'd talked to the previous night, the one who said he was of Arabic descent and who was studying Islam. He walked right up the aisle, a little off center so he could see what people were doing when they got to the front. He walked up to the priest, crossed his hands in front of him (left hand on top, but we'll never tell), received a wafer, popped it into his mouth, and walked reverently back to his pew. When the Mass had ended, people were milling around talking to one another. We saw, and sought out, our newfound Arab friend. If we'd continued to exhibit good manners we wouldn't have asked him about his experience at the Eucharist, but curiosity won out.

He said that he'd read a lot about Christianity since the night before, and about the Mass and what it meant, and had decided to take communion before knowing that he would be told he was not welcome. He said that when the priest announced that he would not be welcome to take communion, he almost didn't, but decided that it was something he needed to do. 'At this point I really do believe that there is no god but God, and I'm sure that he does not mind my eating that wafer.' At that point his mobile telephone rang, and then he was gone.

We had exchanged email addresses before we went our separate ways. We wanted to invite him to visit our church, but decided to wait a while, perhaps until after Easter. Somehow Lent and Easter don't seem like the right time to bring an inquisitive outsider into the church. And he might want to find a mosque, instead. We shall see.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 26 March 2006

(Update on Cynthia's cancer: some good news from her oncologist, but the chemotherapy plods on and she is learning to live without hair.)

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