Dilatato Corde 3:2
July – December, 2013


As I met with the women who are on our Jewish, Christian, Muslim Women’s Dialogue committee this summer, my mind raced back to our first dialogue meeting . In 2006 when the United Nations went to the negotiating table to work out a cease fire between Israeli and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, we, Sisters of Saint Benedict, Saint Mary Monastery, decided to bring people together in a peaceful way.

While I was watching the terrible bombings and saw the devastation and the people who were displaced, I thought to myself, “We have to be peace makers here in the Quad Cities area of Illinois and Iowa.” As a member of the Board of Directors of the North American Commission for Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, I knew that promoting dialogue on a local level was part of my mandate. The result was a Muslim-Christian women’s dialogue in the fall of 2006 that drew about forty people to the monastery for each of the two sessions, one in late August, the other in early September. Our topic, prayer and spirituality as practiced in the family and the community, was presented by both Muslim and Christian women. Initially, I thought I would have a difficult time getting women to present. I was wrong; the women were very honored to be asked to speak on a topic which was dear to their hearts. After the brief presentations, questions on that topic were given to the women at the tables for their part of the dialogue. We wanted to have everyone be involved in this dialogue, not just the presenters.

Something particularly memorable occurred in the middle of one discussion. Though we had carefully scheduled the sessions after sundown so the Muslims could pray their evening prayer before they came, someone miscalculated the setting of the sun on one of the evenings. A Muslim woman stopped the discussion, explained the situation and asked if it would be possible to have a ten minute break so they could pray. They quietly removed their shoes, faced the northeast, and began their evening prayer. The Christians remained seated, with closed eyes and heads bowed in prayer. We were one community praying to the same God, but in different languages and with different words and postures. In addition, we Christians were moved by the Muslim’s fidelity to prayer in spite of the situation.

Our dialogues have become an annual event in the Quad Cities. Women look forward to the evenings, proven by the fact that our group has grown to 100 participants. The topics we choose are practical and simple but profound: Peace-Making; Rites of Entry: Weddings, Death and Burial; The Teaching and Practice of Social Justice; Prayer and Fasting; Who IS God? This fall’s topic is “Who Is the Stranger?”

Last year, we invited our Jewish sisters to join us for dialogue. This year we will meet at the Center of the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities. In the future we will alternate our meetings between the Monastery, the Mosque, and the Synagogue.

As I prepare for the Annual Fall Dialogue I am grateful for the Spirit’s nudge eight years ago.

What impact have these seven past years of Dialogues had on the monastic community? Participants will attest that we have removed fear, suspicion, mistrust, prejudice and ignorance. We have built trust, friendships, an awareness and reverence for those who worship in a different tradition from ours. Above all, we are in awe of God’s love for all people of the universe.

Not only have we continued to grow but we have a spinoff of small groups forming who meet throughout the year. I have been asked help in a large growing parish in Peoria, Illinois. Some of its members read about us in our Diocesan Newspaper and now hope to begin an interfaith group in Peoria. Perhaps this participant’s response tells the story best: “I can’t express the impact that the two dialogue meetings have had on me. It was such a beautiful and enriching experience! What I learned preparing my own talk, what I learned, and how my hear t felt listening to the other women was all very humbling!. There is so much to learn.”

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