In May, Sisters Mary Jackson Kay and Anne Powell of the Cenacle visited Al Nur mosque, with messages of hope and love from the Cenacle community. Following the Retreat in Daily Life that they led in Kapiti in June, the sisters each went and spoke to one of the Masses at Our Lady of Kapiti on Trinity Sunday.This is what Anne said about her and Mary’s experience:
Trinity Sunday – 16 June 2019
Last Friday night, a wonderful group of 47 parishioners ended their week-long Cenacle retreat. We met in small groups each day to listen to the gospel or a poem and to listen to one another, and to pray, to reflect and share. It was truly an experience of being in a community of faith, of sharing vulnerabilities and discoveries, and of hospitality of heart. As someone commented, “I’m used to seeing these people at Mass and not really knowing them; but now I feel as if we have a sacred bond. The next time I see them, we are friends.”
Where and how do we learn this art of communion, of openness, of risking sharing our wounded and healed selves and of hospitality?
I’ll tell you a story of how and where I received something of this recently.
In our Cenacle community, we wanted to do something in response to the massacre at the Al Nur mosque in Christchurch on 15 March. With our Cenacle Family, we made a book and many people joined in writing a message of prayer and solidarity in the book. We planned to post this book to the community of the mosque in Christchurch. However, in May, Mary Kay and I had to go to Christchurch for some ministry. So we decided to take this book and a donation, to the mosque and hand it over personally.
When we arrived at the mosque, we were met by two police officers on guard with semi automatic weapons – a disturbing sight in our own country. Having explained why we were there, we were led into the grounds and waited for one of the Muslim men, a leader, to come and meet us. We were not allowed to enter the mosque without being greeted and welcomed. When he came, he apologised for the dirt on his hands. “I’ve been planting roses”, he told us. “They were given to us and I didn’t want them to die.”
We gave him our offerings. He asked, would we like to come inside and we said yes. As we took off our shoes – as on a marae – and stepped into the passage, he pointed out the site where the first man was shot and killed. Then the second. When we entered the Men’s prayer room, he told us, “and this is where many were killed, over there and in that corner. I was saved because I was beneath a pile of bodies.”
I became numb with the awfulness of his story. This brave and kind man who was holding our small book of messages, told us: “God is One, God is love, God is merciful. God is kindness, not violence.”
We asked if we could pray and then he called an older woman, Fatima, to come and lead us into the women’s prayer room. Such a bare room. Such a peaceful space. You wouldn’t know that in the passage outside this room, and just through a thin wall, 45 people had been killed.
Fatima unrolled her faded prayer mat and knelt, in the Muslim way, on the felt underlay which protected the patterned green carpet. I knelt beside her until my knees felt like they would split. She prayed in her own language and we silently joined her for a long time. All this time, I had such a strong sense of Mary, Our Lady of the Cenacle, urging me “we are all brothers and sisters.” She kept repeating this and her message cracked my heart. Prayer and solidarity. Prayer and communion.
After our prayer, Fatima told us some of the story of her life, beginning with her years in Bosnia during that war. She allowed us to see her vulnerability and her faith. As she spoke, more women arrived with small babies and children. They came to break their fast at sunset as it was the month of Ramadam. Each one came to greet us warmly.
Then Fatima asked if we would like to join them to break their fast. Mary and I helped Fatima place a blue tarpaulin on the floor to protect the underfelt which protected the carpet. Such care of their few furnishings in the womens prayer room. Fatima and another woman knelt beside a pile of paper plates. On each one, they placed one date, a small piece of banana, a quarter of an apple and a small spinach croquette. I remember wondering if this was the whole meal. Plates were passed around everyone in the women’s prayer room. Welcome and hospitality. Welcome and hospitality.
After this simple meal, all the women stood to pray their ritual prayers. Their clothing, their gestures and words were the prayer. The children continued to run around shrieking, laughing and playing in the same room. Prayer and life together. I remember thinking this is like a marae – the karakia, the children laughing and playing … the at homeness.
After this ritual prayer, big pots of beef stew and rice were carried in and spoonfuls piled on our plates.More hospitality. More conversation.
When Mary and I finally left the community of the mosque, and stood outside in the dark on the footpath, we realised we’d been there for four hours.
I feel so humbled by the privilege of being among these women whose stories are very different from my own. I’ve not had to hide in a dilapidated bathroom and dial 111 and scream that many people are being killed in the next room. Some of these women have experienced similar tragedies and loss in their own homelands. Such events are part of their history and, I know, are part of the stories of some of us here today. Tragedy and loss are part of our own history of colonisation. And in various ways, we’ve all known loss and grief.
How do people move from confusion, terror, and anguish, to a place of hope, or forgiveness and even joyful hospitality? I think it’s through the grace of community, solidarity and prayer. And these were the graces of the parish retreat last week. We heard some of the anxieties, worries, and helplessness of one another and, through the grace of God and our praying community, were able to move into a space of confidence, solidarity, and love. We received from one another.
What might all of this say to us today as we gather in Our Lady of Kapiti parish? What on earth might it reveal to us about today’s Feast of the Trinity? It seems to me that God is not exclusively ours. The Divine Presence is everywhere we seek it. We’re invited to become more and more aware of God’s presence in our lives, in our world, in one another and around us. We’re called to recognise the spaces that are opening up in the darkness of our world and to respond with healing and love. As today’s reading reminds us: the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.