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Christians and Muslims in service to people with disabilities

ND_de_la_PaixBishop Salim Sayegh at the Centre Notre-Dame de la Paix in Amman, Jordan, Christians and Muslims collaborate together, inside the Center of Our Lady of Peace (OLOPC), for a common cause: service to persons with disabilities. A joint effort that allows them to break down prejudices and to live their faith, side by side.

Majdi Dayyat, President of the Center, gave his testimony during the conference “Jesus our contemporary”, held in Rome from February 9-11, 2012, organized under the aegis of the Italian Episcopal Conference. The Center was born on the initiative of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. It aims to support persons with disabilities and their families, both Muslim and Christian. It was inaugurated in 2002 with the support of Queen Rania of Jordan. According to Majdi Dayyat, the Christian religion and the Muslim religion, notwithstanding the difference and divergences, share a “common ground”: they “believe in one God who is the source of the dignity of human beings, and who is merciful”. “Rediscovering ourselves in these principles, Christians and Muslims can therefore work together”.

In the service of disabled persons

The Center “has Christian and Muslim members subdivided in committees and present in all the governorships of Jordan”, according to its President. Their role is that of “sensitizing the population on the critical problem of disability”, on the right of these persons “to a dignified life”, “to be respected and welcomed, to have guaranteed the services they need”. Thanks to the work of the Center, Majdi Dayyat says, the support for disabled persons has evolved from a “simple charitable assistance” to the “right” of such persons to be welcomed without the necessity of making an appeal to sadness and pity. The Center’s members do not treat them, he adds, as would be done by “a doctor or a lawyer” but like “an integral part of the team”. “We do not give them money”, he specifies, “but we offer services completely free”. We deal with by “by taking care ourselves of the disabled as human beings” and “of being close to these people without showing discrimination, in the desire to make visible to the world the beauty of the gift and of the love”.

Making prejudices collapse

The mixed committees offer the occasion “to Muslims to discover the truth about Christians” but also “to Christians to discover their neighbor in Muslims”, said Majdi Dayyat. The committees have “worked intensely” to accept each other, “without prejudices and preconceptions”. The initial phases of the committees knew difficult moments, having confront specific differences connected to each religion, as the President of the Center acknowledges: the Christian community is “too closed in on itself. And on the other hand, Muslims fear to have a debate with the plans of the Church, for fear of a threat for Islam”. “Today, instead, Christians have abandoned their isolation practice to ‘open themselves’ to this common cause with Muslims, showing ‘courageously’ their faith”, states the President, while Muslims “on their part show their faith” through service.

The committee members consider it important not to make any reference to religion, because they deal with a “humanitarian cause that knows no differences between Christians and Muslims”. But the Center of Our Lady of Peace confirms, on the other hand, the “religious principle of this commitment” which is realized only in the spirit of love of the Bible.

Praying together

In the course of the first meeting of the Committee”, reports the president of the Center, the Bishop (Mons. Salim Sayegh, Patriarchal Vicar and Founder of the Center, ed.) asked all “to pray. Christians and Muslims together”. And in fact, the Muslims prayed “The Al-Fatiha” – the first chapter of the Qur’an – and the Christians prayed the “Our Father”, each one in silence, side by side. At the end of the meeting, “one of the Muslim youth leaders approached the Bishop and confided to him: ‘I am happy that the glass wall that is among us has begun to break up”. In Zarqa, he notes, those fears were “strong” because of the presence of some extremist Islamic movements; besides “some Christian members refused to allow Muslims to join them on the committee”. With time and perseverance finally the first meeting finally took place and the Bishop again asked “each one in their own way, to pray in silence”. At the end of the prayer, the President recalled, “a Muslim journalist whispered to the Bishop: ‘Thanks for having made us pray”.

The committees of the Center of Our Lady of Peace are present in Amman, the Capital, in Aqaba, Madaba, Zarqa, Mafraq, Ajlun and Irbid.

Sources: Ann Kurian di Zenit