Christians and Muslims Celebrating Baptism

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Fr. Louis Birabaluge, SX

On the day of the feast of Pentecost (May 15th), the Lord added (Ac 2: 47) ten new members to our Christian183 community in the parish of Mongo Bendugu , Our lady Queen of the Apostles (Diocese of Makeni/Sierra Leone). An event which was meant to be an internal Christian community feast, ended up being a nice experience of interreligious dialogue, both for Christians and Muslims.

Indeed, among our new members, was a boy from a Christian family, and two girls from a family where the father is a Christian and the mother is Muslim. Another newly baptized belongs to a family where the mother is a Christian and the other six members were all from Muslim families. This composition made our celebration an inter religious feast where Christians were joined by Muslims to celebrate the growth of a Christian community.

This extraordinary event led me to believe that the experience deserved to be shared, especially in this time when religious diversity is somehow seen as source of conflict. In fact, during the preparation of the baptism, we asked all the catechumens to inform their parents, who all gave their permission for their family members to be baptized. The catechumens faced no resistance from their families. During the celebration, members from Muslim families came to witness the joyful event.

Following the liturgical feast of Pentecost, I explained how Christian faith by nature is not just a commitment to unity, it is also unity in diversity. As the first Christians during Pentecost, those baptized were called to speak a language which could be heard by all (Ac 2:8), regardless of differences in culture, tribal origin and social status. And the language which can be heard by all is, undoubtedly, the language of love (1 Co 13: 1-7). As Christians, we learn this language from Jesus Christ, who gave his life for us. Therefore, I invited the new Christian members to praise God because through baptism they were becoming members of the Body of Christ, the Church whose task is to be sign of communion and reconciliation among all people, especially here in Mongo Bendugu, Sierra Leone.

Our feast ended with a nice meal which was shared in the parish hall. It was interesting to note that the food was prepared and cooked by both Muslim and Christian women together. So, from the beginning to the end of the feast, our celebration of the baptism became a true and real experience of interreligious dialogue.

Obviously, there is a need today to seek means and ways of translating the commitment of interreligious dialogue into the real experience of life where people can meet, pray, eat, work and be happy together. Actually, the theological foundations of interreligious dialogue have already been lain down: We believe in One God the Father of all who has no favorites (Dt 10: 17), in whom there is no partiality (Ac 10: 34; Rm 2: 11), and who wants to save all men and women (1 Tm 2:4). He gave his only Son, Jesus Christ as ransom for all (1 Tm 2:6). His Spirit is given to us as a teacher of his love, a teacher of all that Jesus had taught us (Jn 14:26). As Christians, this teaching of the Church is already an achieved treasure. Still, it needs to be put into practice. And this is indeed is what our Christian community and some Muslims did during the welcoming of ten new Christian members.

The experience is surely not impressive. But it is meaningful. It has a value alongside many other unknown interreligious experiences throughout the world; those which do not figure on the headlines of powerful mass media. As missionaries living in a context of interreligious encounters, it is our task, even our duty to make it known that people from different religions are living in peace together. In so doing, says Fr. Damian Howard SJ., we help the Church to gain a deeper understanding of the faith of others[1]. But also, we serve our world today where fear, real or imagined due to religious pluralism is presently increasing.

[1] ID., “Rischio e resitenza: cinquant’anni di dialogo interreligioso nella Chiesa Cattolica”, in La Civiltà Cattolica, n°3949(2015), p. 43.

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