Faith Leaders Promote Unity as Passover, Ramadan and Holy Week Converge

On Thursday, hundreds of Catholics came together for the Mass of the Last Supper.

At St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church in Buena Park, the priest talked about the message behind Jesus’ last supper with his disciples — the final meal before his crucifixion. It’s an intimate moment in which Jesus is said to wash the feet the 12 disciplines, symbolizing humility and forgiveness.

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For the branches of Christianity, Holy Week is a very sacred week remembering the events that led to Jesus’ death.

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Inside St. James Cathedral downtown, dozens of ministers participated in a renewal of vows.

They participated in a Chrism Mass in which holy oils used for sacraments and rituals are blessed, and priests from various regions of the diocese were celebrated.

“We have our priests and our deacons, and also our lay people because they are specially called by God, as well, to come together and renew the vows that they took both as they became ordained, but also the renewal of baptismal vows that we take at the time of baptism,” said Bishop Canon Paula Clark.

New in her position, Clark is the first African American woman to hold the title. The six days of Holy Week leading up to Easter, Clark said, are a period for reflection and transformation. 

“I said something last week when I preached, and this time is a journey with Jesus,” Clark said. “It’s a high holy days for many different religions, not only Christianity but for people to reboot, reinvigorate and really come into relationship with whoever they are tied to.”

It’s a message Rabbi Deena Cowan connects with as the Jewish community celebrates Passover.

“We are commemorating the exodus from Egypt, but it’s not just about remembering something that happened thousands years ago,” said Cowan with Mishkan Chicago. “The commandment in Passover is to see yourself in the story, so we do something called a Seder where we have a big meal and it takes us an hour or more to get to the meal.”

It’s an experience Cowan said centers around the idea of freedom — a period in which Jews walk in the footsteps of their ancestors sharing a ritual feast at the beginning of the Jewish holiday.

The eight-day festival of Passover began Wednesday evening. The Passover Seder plate is a staple where a variety of symbolic food like matzo and herbs are displayed.

“This is the maror; it’s a bitter herb” Cowan said. “It reminds us of how bitter it was to be enslaved, and there’s a point where everyone eats it and it’s very spicy — you feel in your mouth and in the tears that’s it’s supposed to draw what the experience was like to be enslaved at. And you think about where is that still happening in the world around us.”

For Muslims, Ramadan is one of the most sacred months of the year.

“It is the month that the Quran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad, and so it is a sacred time for the community because it’s a time that we were taught that fasting was prescribed for us,” said Alia Bilal, deputy executive director at the Inner-City Muslim Advocacy Network.

At the IMAN Center in the Chicago Lawn, Muslims gather for a night of reflection. During Ramadan, observant Muslims fast every day from dawn to dusk.

“In some ways it strips you raw,” Bilal said. “You’re at your most natural state when you have no food and water in you, and it allows you to understand who you are without the things we add to our self.”

It’s a holy time in which Bilal said people unite for prayer, fasting and spiritual growth. It’s tradition to chant and play drums during gatherings. It’s said to be a moment when Muslims connect with the divine.

“It allows you to turn off something that usually blocks the spiritual self,” Bilal said, “and by the end of the month people are often feeling their best both spiritually and physically.”

She said there’s a message of unity and that religious communities should seek out connections between each other more often.

“I think that faith should always be something that helps people to see the connections between themselves more than the divisions,” Bilal said. “I think people come to spiritual traditions from lots of different places in our faith should be something that connects us not divides us.”

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