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On a blustery weekend this past February, 26 people met at the Cenacle Retreat House in Chicago to reflect on the religious dimensions of marriage. What was unusual about this gathering was that it brought together Christians and Muslims who are married, engaged or seriously considering marriage.
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Some couples tried to find a common language that would allow them to pray together.
This is often accomplished by the Christian agreeing to adopt Islam-friendly language in prayer—which is not difficult, since Christians and Muslims believe in the same God and both call God merciful, just, compassionate and omnipotent.
However, increasing numbers of Catholics are marrying Jews, Muslims and adherents of other religions (the canonical term here is “disparity of cult,” but “interfaith” or “interreligious” marriage are more user-friendly terms).
Catholic-Jewish couples, because of their greater number and longer history in American society, have a growing list of resources, including books, Web sites and support groups like the national Dovetail Institute and the Chicago-based Jewish Catholic Couples Group.
The married couples present agreed that all should expect to be changed in some way by the faith of their partners. That’s how far I’ve come.”Opportunities for prayer were provided at several points during the weekend: a room was set aside for the five daily Muslim prayers, there was Catholic Mass and an ecumenical morning prayer.
“I have always deeply felt the need to fulfill my promise to raise my children Catholic, and before they were born I thought that if they ever decided to become Muslims as adults I would be crushed,” said one mother. Mirroring contemporary American society, couples differed greatly in their degree of personal and mutual religious practice.
One married couple hadn’t prayed together “because we never had the chance.” Another couple (engaged) hadn’t prayed together either, but because of a conscious choice.
In this case, the Christian woman felt she needed to go to church alone, so she could pray without constantly worrying about how her partner would react to the crucifix, the Eucharist and so on.
Where can priests and campus ministers go when called upon to counsel the small but growing number of such couples?