Monday, May 16, 2005

Does This Bother Anyone Else?

From today's Chicago Tribune (LRR):
Mohammed Ahmed and Abrar Anwar draw curtains to cover the wooden altar, the pulpit and stained-glass images of St. Benedict and Jesus carrying the cross. Faruk Rahmanovic helps them move plastic chairs to the sides of the room and unroll colorful prayer rugs stashed in a cabinet. Minutes later, about 50 young men and women drop their backpacks near the bookcase full of hymnals, slip off their sneakers and flip-flops and kneel on the rugs...

At most Catholic universities, this would be an unusual sight, but it's an everyday occurrence in the student center chapel at Benedictine University in west suburban Lisle. The school's location, science-heavy curriculum and moral foundation have attracted one of the largest Muslim student bodies of any Catholic university in the nation.

The article then goes on to explain that 13.5 percent of this year's freshman class (33 out of 250 students) are muslim, and quotes several of the muslim students expressing their gratitude for how the university has accomodated them.

What bothers me about the above is that the muslim students are meeting to pray in the student center chapel. I have no problem with the university admitting muslim students. I have no problem with the university providing them with a place to meet to pray. But does that place really have to be in the chapel?

I have a problem with the sacred furnishings of the chapel being covered for the sake of a non-christian observance. I do not know if the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in this chapel (I would imagine so), but if it is, I would have a really big problem with a non-christian religious observance being conducted in the presence of the Sacrament.

Again, I reiterate that my difficulty is not that the muslim students are there, nor that they are being afforded a place to pray. When I was in grad school at The Catholic University of America, there were a substantial number of muslim students there. I learned that many muslim families, both here and abroad, feel more comfortable sending their children to Catholic colleges and universities than to secular ones. Catholic University gave official recognition to a Muslim Students Association, and allowed the muslim students to use a room in the student center for their daily prayers. But that room was not one of the chapels.

I know the Benedictine community that sponsors Benedictine University, St. Procopius Abbey, quite well. I have a great respect and affection for them. I considered becoming a monk there, and spent a great deal of time there during and after college. One of the monks there was my spiritual director during and for a while following college. I consider my own spirituality to be essentially Benedictine - it was from the monks that I really started to learn how to pray. I know the Abbot of St. Procopius, Abbot Hugh Anderson, and consider him a wise and holy man. I have nothing but good associations with the place, so it concerns me all the more that the university should have made the decision they did.

I'm glad that Abbot Hugh is aware of the need to preserve the school's Catholic identity. But I think that allowing muslim students to take over a college chapel for their prayers is a step in the wrong direction.