By Marge Bitetti
CORONA—For Henna Jalal, caring for the homeless is part of her faith as a Muslim.
“I can’t go to sleep at night if my neighbor is hungry,” she says. “Being a good neighbor and realizing the duty to our neighbors doesn’t just mean being friendly to the homeowners next door. It means to help take care of the community as a whole, and that includes the poor.”
This is also a core calling of the Secular Franciscans as they perform Corporal Works of Mercy, which includes Feeding the Hungry.
This shared belief made manifest on March 20 when the two communities gathered to serve food to local homeless brothers and sisters in Corona.
Muslims and Catholics share a common bond to promote the dignity and wellbeing of the poor. In the Islamic faith, the rights of a person’s neighbor are extremely important. During the past several months members of The Secular Franciscans in Corona have been taking time to learn about the Islamic faith. A film about St. Francis’s encounter in 1219 with Malek al Kamil, the Sultan of Egypt, gave the Secular Franciscans a desire to deepen their understanding of the Muslim faith.
As a result of a Question and Answer dialogue that was held at the Corona Mosque, a bond of friendship developed between the two communities.
“As Catholics we want to show solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters,” says Bruce McAdams, the minister of the Franciscan Immaculata Fraternity. “We’re all God’s children and we all believe in the same God and want peace.”
The Secular Franciscan Order was established by St. Francis of Assisi more than 800 years ago. The purpose of the Order is to bring the gospel to life where members of the Order live and work. There are over 12,000 Secular Franciscans in the United States. The members strive to put into action lives inspired by St. Francis of Assisi that go from gospel to life and from life to gospel. They do this through everyday actions that help others while keeping true to the core Franciscan values: reverence for the dignity of each person; serving society and the church, and doing actions that foster peace, justice and respect for creation.
This acceptance of each other’s religion led to a work of mercy that was performed by members of both faiths. It was cold and rainy on March 20 as members of the local Mosque and Secular Franciscans gathered to feed the homeless at City Park in Corona.
“The more that people come together for one cause the more love there is,” shared Jalal.
She gathered a few friends about three years ago to make weekly trips to the park to make sure that the homeless there received a balanced meal.
“I think this is so beautiful. That is what all religions teach,” said Zinath Khan, who participated in the March 20 interfaith effort. “It makes me so happy that we can all get together for a good purpose.”
Although a local non-profit and a few of the local churches provide bags of food, there is no actual meal service provided for the needy. Many of the homeless who benefited from the meal reside in tents at the park or live in their cars.
“To be a follower of Jesus and St. Francis you have to be one with the poor,” said Secular Franciscan Ray Hardwick. “They are the lepers of our society.”
Referring to the interfaith partnering for this feeding he added, “we are doing this with our brother Muslims. They have a desire to feed the homeless and be one with the poor.”
McAdams shared that it was such a positive experience that there are ongoing plans to continue to work with members of the Muslim faith to feed the local homeless. The motto of the Franciscans is Pax et Bonum, meaning Peace and Good. Joint work for the benefit of the less fortunate is an example of this motto in action.
Marge Bitetti is a freelance writer and a parishioner of St. Matthew in Corona.