Brussels in May: a bright sun was blazing down on the Southern, Red, Moroccan neighbourhood of Saint Gilles. I was looking forward to summer as I sat outside a café in the Avenue Dejaer. On my green sweater, a black-and-white Dominican cross caught the sunlight like a new coin.
I was wearing my cross proudly as a sign that I had joined the Lay Dominicans just twelve days earlier, making my promise to the Order of Preachers, surrounded by my family, in the chapel of the cloistered nuns of Herne-lez-Enghien.
But should the cross be worn like a flag? Wouldn’t it upset people who didn’t share my choice? Wouldn’t it be better to preach the Good News by example, anonymously? I wasn’t sure, and I prayed that the Holy Spirit would show me what was best. I was really waiting for a sign which would be the answer to my prayer. I knew from experience that true prayer, which comes from the depths of your being and not from your lips, always finds an answer. And now, that day, an answer was given to me.
A Moroccan drew near and was looking insistently at my cross. He was fortyish, dressed in European style. Suddenly he tuned in one direction, surely towards the East, towards the tomb of the Prophet. He joined his hands, lifted up his eyes and spoke a few words in Arabic, which of course I didn’t understand. He bowed down, as Muslims do at the hour of prayer. After a moment he came up to me, seized the Dominican cross around my neck and kissed it. Then tears fell, which he dried furtively on the sleeve of his denim jacket. Why are you crying? Because I have never kissed a cross before. But I know that we both have the same God, Allah, for there is only one God! That’s true, but you say so because your heart is pure and there is no hatred in you.
I asked the stranger to sit down and he shook my hand with typically Eastern fervour. What he said then testifies to his close knowledge of the Koran, and he told me he was an Imam. He said: You have passed through the first three levels of perfection. Now you must pass through the last two. The fourth is the cancelling of all the vanities in you. Do not seek honours or power, nor ever use human beings to satisfy personal ambitions. And what is the fifth level? It is asking forgiveness of Allah.
His answer froze me. For twelve days earlier, when I made my first commitment as a lay Dominican, when the president of the Fraternity said: « What do you ask? », I had answered, in accordance with the ritual used by our Dominican friars and nuns too: « The mercy of God and yours! » – the equivalent of my interlocutor’s « forgiveness of Allah ».
The answer was clear. I have worn my little Dominican cross on my breast ever since. It has never been blessed by a friar – we’re not mad about blessing material objects in our Order – but it has been kissed by a Muslim. One day, no doubt, we shall pray together.
Author: Ludovic, Belgium, Vicariate of Belgium-south