Prayer and Fasting at Boston College

December 11th, 2001

Theology Department
Boston College
December 12, 2001
To: Selected Administrators and Faculty
From: Francis X. Clooney, S.J. (clooney@bc.edu)
Re: Prayer and Fasting at Boston College, December 11th, 2001


In November the Pope asked Catholics worldwide to pray and fast for justice and peace in the world, in solidarity with Muslims completing their Ramadan fast in the middle of December. As the Pope said, We know that prayer acquires power if it is joined with fasting and almsgiving. The Old Testament taught this, and from the earliest centuries Christians have accepted and applied this lesson, especially at the times of Advent and Lent. For their part, the Muslim faithful have just begun Ramadan, a month dedicated to fasting and prayer. Soon, we Christians will begin Advent, to prepare ourselves in prayer, for the celebration of Christmas, the day of the birth of Œthe Prince of Peace.š At this appropriate time, I ask Catholics to make next 14 December a day of fasting, to pray fervently to God to grant to the world stable peace based on justice, and make it possible to find adequate solutions to the many conflicts that trouble the world. May what is saved by fasting be put at the disposal of the poor, especially those who at present suffer the consequences of terrorism and war.

Due to final examinations and to draw a closer connection to the tragic events of September 11th, here at BC we moved the day of prayer and fasting to the 11th (though of course some may still choose to pray and fast on the 14th).

The event was widely advertised on campus (at the BC website, in the campus ministry Sunday bulletin, by the housing office, by deans and department chairs, by many professors in their classes, and by signs and leaflets). On the basis of purely anecdotal and impressionistic evidence, I would say that a rather large number of people at BC were aware of the idea of a day of fasting and prayer and shared it in some way or another. I personally received emails from a number of students, faculty, and staff, who wished to express support for the idea and to indicate their intention to observe the day (though some said they could not attend the closing prayer service). Some asked for a clarification on the nature of the fast, and I indicated the range of possibilities, from the strictest Muslim observance to a variety of less comprehensive modes of fasting that might be undertaken.

The concluding prayer service was held in McGuinn 5th Floor Lounge, looking toward the east and the reflection of the setting sun on the buildings of Boston. We met at 4PM, since the sun set soon thereafter. With all tables and chairs removed, the room was just about large enough for the 80-90 students (grad and undergrad), staff, and faculty who squeezed in. The service intentionally brought together the traditional Muslim prayer (salat) after sunset with ecumenical prayer for peace. Imam Salih Yucel led the Muslims present in the salat, in Arabic, while the rest of us listened in respectful quiet. Thereafter I read part of the Popešs letter to set the tone and intention for the prayer for peace. Five students then read passages from the Gospel according to Matthew and from Isaiah, a traditional Buddhist blessing, a text from the Quršan, and an African blessing prayer from Burkina Faso. After each reading, the reader lit a candle in the window facing east. After the readings and a time of silence, we recited together the peace prayer attributed to St. Francis, and sang "Amazing Grace." Afterwards, due to the generous hospitality of Prof. Qamar-ul Huda of the Theology Department and with the financial support of the Jesuits of the United States, a very fine Indian meal was served, and as many as 80 stayed to eat and converse.

This was a fine event, though of course only one of many religious events on campus oriented to peace and nonviolence. (I think of the special prayer for peace on December 1st, sponsored by the San Egidio community, and even the dedication of the mosaics for Dorothy Day and Pedro Arrupe, also on the 11th). But our event was special in two ways. First, as a day of fasting, it involved a day-long alteration of normal habits, since even moderate fasting tends to impinge on onešs consciousness rather pervasively. I think it would be very fine were we able to foster a day of campus-wide fasting each year during Ramadan, and also in other holy times such as Lent or at Yom Kippur. Second, it was ecumenical and, more importantly, it was an occasion when all the BC community was invited to share in the prayer of the Muslim faith tradition. The transition from the salat to the ecumenical prayer (itself enriched with readings from several traditions) highlighted in a wonderful way an affirmation of religious diversity on campus while yet also noticing differences in the ways we pray and the communities to which we belong. (Some of us were able to join with the Hindu students on campus when they celebrated Diwali in November, led in worship by a priest from the local Hindu temple; see the Chronicle for November 29, 2001.) We are accustomed to inviting all on campus to attend prayer services such as the Mass of the Holy Spirit, and many non-Christians enjoy such times; this was an occasion inviting those of us who are Christian to share with others, in a parallel fashion. Since the Pope, in his November message, also announced his plan to invite religious leaders to pray with him in Assisi in January, perhaps here we can envision similar events during 2002.

Such events would also fit nicely with my understanding of the Society of Jesusšs commitment to the interreligious dimension of our ministries today. For more on this wider horizon, go to http://puffin.creighton.edu/jesuit/dialogue/, and to my reflections at http://fmwww.bc.edu/SJ/clooneygod.html. Thanks for your continuing interest, and for the ways in which you helped make the December 11th fasting and prayer known on campus. Let us continue to work for peace, and to find ways of doing so together on campus.


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