When I saw the story of the Heartsong Church, a Christian congregation in Tennessee opening its church's doors for their Muslim neighbors to use for prayer service, I recalled how a Muslim family opened its doors for me to celebrate a Catholic Mass last December in Nigeria.
Last December, while back in Nigeria for vacation, I decided to visit a family in a rural community. The community is one of those places that GPS signals do not reach. When I asked the distance to the place, I was told, "Not too far." That was not very helpful. I set out with some of my family members early in the morning, and we drove through winding country roads. The roads to this town were unpaved, and some of the bridges through the rivers were made of two planks that could barely support the weight of the car. When we came across such bridges, we had to get out of the car and let the driver alone drive through. By the time we got to the village, it was 3 p.m., and it wasn't possible for us to return the same night. Within a short time of my arrival, news went around the community that a priest was visiting, and people started coming around to visit with me. Some of the Catholics in the village pleaded with me to say a Mass for them. They had not had a Mass for a long time. Luckily enough, I had my Mass kit with me in the car.
We decided to have the Mass in the church at 8 p.m. This community had no electricity. The church relies on a small generator to provide light for the church. Unfortunately that night, the generator would not power on. Close to the church is a Muslim family that had a small power generator that worked. We decided to approach them and say an outdoor Mass in their compound. When we approached them, they were excited to have us celebrate the Eucharist in their company, and they partook in the celebration. I did not for once think about whether or not it is liturgically or theologically proper to do this, nor do I believe the Muslim family had any theological issues with us celebrating Mass in their home. The fact that Catholics in this community wanted to worship God in their own way was most important to me. It delighted me that Muslims and non-Catholics were open to help them in their worship.
We finally gathered for Mass at 9 p.m., and the opening song to the celebration lasted for one hour. Present at the Mass were Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, African Traditional Religionists, Muslims, and others. Everyone sang, and the women danced -- and danced and danced. The Mass lasted till 1 a.m. The Mass was powerful and moving for me. I had never had such a wonderful experience in the celebration of the Eucharist, not even in my very first Mass as a priest. If this was the only Mass I had to celebrate as a priest, I told myself, it was worth my becoming a priest. The people gathered for this celebration did not see each other as foreigners from different tribes, religions, and churches. They saw each other as one people, with one common origin. This unity is never portrayed in the media. What we see are stories of the radical fringe elements in the different religions. They seem to be the loudest, and so often, their story is one that is told, casting religion in bad light.
I'm sure that numerous stories, like those of Heartsong Church or this community in rural Nigeria, exist. If you have one of those stories to share with me, I am committed to making it known through the website www.racialdialogue.com. When you share such a story, you are doing your own little part to build a world civilization of love and peace.