Midwest Muslim/Focolare Encounter 2016

 
An event, with a truly warm atmosphere, took place on a spring day in Chicago that was a little too cool for the anticipated outdoor gathering. It was the annual Encounter of followers of W.D. Mohamed and the Focolare community.

All were, happily, housed within the Mariapolis Center on the city’s south side. It began with a generously spread table of great foods, which were contributed by many from both sides.  Also the work of preparing and presenting was done together in a spirit of joy. The Pot Luck meal, itself, was a time of putting thoughts in common and discussing things that mattered to the participants at each table. As some expressed, it was a moment of shared food and fellowship. It was an occasion for some to get acquainted and for others to realize that they were already very close family.

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Then there was the move to the Focolare Center for the moment of the program. When all were seated, it began with long-time friend, Imam Omar Karim and Gary Brandl sharing readings from the Qur’an and the Bible.  Following the welcome by Erika Croatto and Gary, Imam Omar spoke a little about the relationship and, what to look forward to, that afternoon. He then introduced Imam Mikal Ramadan and Alice Sopala. To lead into the very beautiful video that would follow, they gave a short account of the earliest days of this friendship, as beginning in Chicago, and leading to world-wide connections, that have, so far, spanned more than 20 years.

The video, which recounted the history and growth of this fellowship, began with the friendship of Cardinal Keeler and Imam W.D. Mohamed and, included, meetings with the Pope. It gave emphasis to Imam W.D.’s invitation to Chiara to speak at the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque in Harlem, NY, in 1997. On this occasion, the historical talk by Chiara and its warm reception were extraordinary in every way. Also, in an interview with Serenella Silvi who was there in Harlem, translating for Chiara, a special emphasis was placed on the Pact which Chiara made with Imam W.D. immediately after the event, just outside the mosque.  The video also covered the “Faith Communities Together” in Washington, DC, in 2000, and on to the trips to Rome and the Encounters that followed until now.

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At the conclusion of the video, Imam Omar made some personal comments and invited all to share their impressions and thoughts.  What followed was enthusiastic and warm. It was a mutual exchange of really great ideas on how to make this family ever more connected.  Kathleen Masters brought up how it was possible for the Local Focolare Communities to interact with the local Muslims in ways that could result in making it an ongoing relationship, not confined to formal gatherings.  They suggested very practical local initiatives to work together in our communities. One noteworthy result was that a Muslim lady, Annie Najib, wants to join the conference call of meetings of the near-west suburbs. It was also emphasized by several who spoke that there was the possibility of being together again at the Mariapolis at Valparaiso U., in Indiana, this July.

It was expressed very well, by a Focolare member, that after many years of such events, with many very good encounters, “this past Saturday, something special happened; for the first time, we were way beyond exchanging pleasantries; there was something that made us ‘one’ with common desires to work together in practical ways and to further nurture our unity.”

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In conclusion, it seems the case to quote the last sentence of an experience of Jo-Ellen Karstens, a great friend of the followers of Imam W.D. Mohammed, which was shared on this occasion. “We feel that the reason the bond between us is so strong is that it is based on God.  Each one of us is trying to love our neighbor as ourselves, as we are taught both in Christianity and Islam, and when we love one another, we truly feel the presence of God among us.”