A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Going with God Love One Another

By Juliet Palmer

By Juliet Palmer

“And hospitality do not forget: for by this some, being not aware of it, have entertained angels.” Hebrews 13:2

Lyon was one of the last places I visited on my pilgrimage through France. I stayed at the Centre Jean Bosco which is about a minute’s walk from the exquisite Notre Dame de Fourvière, a World Heritage site and place of pilgrimage to many.Although the present Basilica was built in the 19th century, there has been a shrine at the site dedicated to Our Lady since 1170. Set high on a hill above Lyon, the Basilica, with its tower surmounted by a golden statue of the Virgin can be seen for miles, providing a useful landmark for footsore pilgrims.

Palmer Lyon Basilique de Fourvière Front view

Fourvière Basilica, Lyon


Fourvière is also a very important place for the Marist order, as it was here the Society of Mary was founded.

There are two ways to get to Fourvière – by funicular, which conveniently connects to the local railway, or by road. I tried both options – and found the ‘road’ option to be steep but not too difficult, leading to a beautiful garden. There I discovered the ‘rosary walk,’ with the Mysteries marked out along the way. It was lovely to feel free to wander through a public garden, rosary in hand, praying as I went, knowing that my prayers and I were joining in a centuries-long line of pilgrims who had walked up the hill and through the garden, praying the same prayers on their way to visit Our Lady.

Fourvière seemed like the kind of place any prayer would be answered. Perhaps this is why I was ready for what happened a couple of days later.

It was 8.30am on Sunday 4 October. At the Basilica, the first Mass of the day had just been celebrated. Among the last to leave, I was astonished to see a couple of young Muslim men, identifiable by their robes, sitting in a pew. Nobody else – not even the priests and religious – seemed to be taking any notice of them, but I was fascinated. Why were they at Mass? I had to find out. Being a fellow ‘outsider’ may have helped me make this decision.

We introduced ourselves – their names are Mohammad and Ibrahim – and I asked the obvious question. “We’re here because we want to show unity with the Christian church,” the older of the two said. “Our faiths – Muslim and Christian, as well as the Jewish faith – are all handed down to us from Abraham. We have one God, one set of beliefs.”

Palmer Credit slideplayer.comMy initial response was to say the equivalent of “good on you” and to go on my way. I had actually left the church when I thought of Jesus and his relationship with Samaritans and of numerous examples in the Gospels and in other parts of the Bible that teach us to welcome strangers. I knew Jesus wouldn’t have thought much of my response. So I went back. I’ve had similar ideas about showing solidarity with our brothers and sisters in faith for some time, so Mohammad and Ibrahim’s mission resonated. I wanted to write about it – so we agreed to meet at the church an hour later as I had to check out from Jean Bosco.

When I returned, they had a story to tell me about a party of Israeli tourists who had visited the Basilica during my absence.

“They saw us sitting here and asked what we were doing. When we told them they cried. We were all embracing each other. They said all they want is peace between our religions. So do we.”

Given their purpose, churches aren’t the best places to interview people, so we went into town, found a Sunday-busy café with just one free table in its back room. Over coffee and croissants, Ibrahim told me his story.

“You must listen with your heart, not with your ears,” he began.

“Earlier this year, I had a dream in which God, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammad came to me, and God whispered in my ear that I was to unify his people.”

Ibrahim said he’d been to many Catholic churches since this dream, but people hardly ever ask him why he’s there. “If they ask, I tell them,” he said.

“We have one God – the same one. We have one father in faith – Abraham; and we have one set of commandments, all from God and recorded by Moses.

“When Moses led the Jews to the Promised Land, God did not ask him to tell the Jews to name their religion. He just gave them his Commandments. When Jesus told people to follow him, he did not tell them to call themselves Christians. He simply showed them the way to God. Mohammad didn’t tell people to become Muslim. He told them to keep the commandments and to follow God.

“It was only after Moses died that people started calling their religion Jewish, and after Jesus died that people labelled themselves as Christians. A similar naming happened after Mohammad – who is Jesus’s brother – died. God did not say to anyone – ‘you must name yourselves and set yourselves up as being separate’ … he just wants our allegiance and love.”

We spoke about the Christian commandment to “love one another.”

“We have that too, sister” they said. “But we have to try to show people it is the same for all of us – Muslims, Christians and Jews.

“Tell people it is important that we do this. It is not God’s way to divide people but to unite us to him. Alleluia. Amen.”

He cried out in a loud voice at about that point. I guess it was a prayer, but it was a little startling in a café. Mohammad looked very uncomfortable. Nervous, even. I realised at about that point that the back room, which had been completely full when we arrived half an hour earlier, was now empty and the front room – housing the counter, espresso machine and tables full of patrons – was nearly empty. Were people afraid? Perhaps. Probably, in fact.

Mohammad and Ibrahim left at about that moment after farewelling me as their sister in faith.

I think they are very brave. Regardless of whether you believe their testimony, they’re exposing themselves to derision at best and who knows what punishments at worst.

I respect them. They can see what many may become blind to as the current ‘War on Terror’ escalates: that we are all first and foremost people – brothers and sisters in our humanity, children of God, beloved by Him. All beloved – equally. All salvageable from our sins and able to speak to God in prayer. All of us commanded to love one another by Our Lord who has no truck with bigotry or hatred or racism.

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