American Dominican Robert Christian joined us to begin the day with the Eucharist. One of my professors at the Angelicum, Fr. Christian and I share a ministry in common – for a few months at the beginning of our service to the church, we each served as campus ministers in the Archdiocese of Seattle. He, at the Newman Center at University of Washington for a few months in 1985 and me at the Shalom Center at Western Washington university for a few months in 2003. His specialty is St. Thomas and sacramental theology, and is an excellent preacher.
We spent the morning at the Great Mosque of Rome, lead by former Lay Centre resident Mustafa Cenap Aydin of Turkey, and co-founder of the Istituto Tevere Centre for Dialogue. Unlike the synagogue and the many churches of Rome, the mosque is well outside of the historic centre and difficult to get to without a car. The design incorporates colors of classical Rome, familiar Arabic elements, and modern adaptations, including pillars in five parts to recall the five pillars of the Islamic faith and call to mind palm trees that might be found in Mecca. Various nations contributed parts of the mosque, from the careful mosaic to the suras encircling the worship area. The use of hidden natural light and the local colors mix with the exotic elements to provide a meditative space that can handle 2500 worshipers.
Our afternoon brought us back to the centre and across the river to PISAI – the Pontifical Institute for the Study of Arabic and Islam, where president Fr. Miguel Ayuso-Guixot, a Spanish Comboni Missionary of the Heart of Jesus gave an historical and theological overview of the encounter between Christianity and Islam. One of the oft-repeated metaphors of the week was one that Padre Miguel spent a few moments on – we are not looking for a “melting-pot” so much as a “mixed salad” when it comes to interreligious dialogue.
After a meander through the streets of trastevere, we met with Dr. Paolo Mancinelli of the Sant’Egidio community, one of Church’s best known lay movements, whose focus areas are direct work with the poor, peace and justice, dialogue and prayer. Paolo introduced us a little more to the work of the community, including Pope Benedict’s recent lunch with the community at their soup kitchen near Sant’Egidio.
We concluded the evening with evening prayer with the community at the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, a 12th century church built atop the foundations of its 4th century former self. Around the corner was diner at Trattoria degli Amici, a now-familiar restaurant run by Sant’Egidio community and disabled friends. Good food and good company always make for an excellent discussion!