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The Revd Katy Hacker Hughes

I recently had the privilege of addressing an inter faith meeting at Westminster City Hall. There were Imams, other members of the Muslim community, Sikhs, Christians of several denominations, Rabbis, and other members of the Jewish community. We were there to meet, share and discuss ways of working together and understanding one another better. One of the ways people of all the world faiths have cooperated in this area is in welcoming recently arrived Afghan refugees

I had recently watched a fabulous BBC drama series called Ridley Road, about the neo-Nazi uprising in London in the 1960’s, and the Jewish opposition to this. Towards the end of that programme a mixed heritage man and a Jewish activist are talking following the deadly race riots stirred up by the neo-Nazis. ‘We’re just the same’ says one. ‘No we’re not, we’re different, but we’re fighting the same battles’ replies the other.

Working with people of diverse faiths is not claiming that we are the same. We are different, we believe different things, and we rejoice in our diversity and the varied understandings and gifts we bring to the table. But we are fighting the same battles; secularisation, poverty, pandemic, mental health issues, the breakdown of family life, hostility towards religious people, the particular issues of living and working in London. Local faith leaders have found it has been particularly good to nurture friendships without an agenda; so that if and when a crisis or disaster happens, a quick and united response can be made.

Today, the church remembers Charles de Foucauld, Hermit in the Sahara; a man who dedicated his life to living amongst people of a different faith to him. A Christian priest, Charles de Foucauld lived and worked among the Muslim Tuareg population in North Africa and translated 6oo Tuareg poems and songs. He was deeply inspired by Islam. His belief was that it was not ‘other’religions which needed to be battled against but indifference or lack of faith. As a Christian, he perceived his calling to be a ministry of presence; proclaiming the Gospel from the rooftops not by what you say, but by how you live.

His approach to was to live with his Muslim neighbours whilst living fully as a Christian and showing Jesus through love and friendship. Whilst no brothers joined him in the monastery he built, and he only baptised 2 people, it always had local people visiting and staying, the poor, the lame and the lonely. ‘There is no saying in the gospel that more transformed my life than this one’, he said ‘whatsoever you did to one of the least of these you did it to me’

It was announced by Pope Francis recently that Charles de Foucauld is to be made a saint next year. It is somewhat poignant that during his life, success as most people would perceive it eluded him. But for him, total surrender to God’s will was the key to his life, even in the face of so called failure. ‘We are not called to be successful, but faithful’ as Mother Theresa said. We bring to God our insufficient loaves and small fish, as the disciples brought them to Jesus in today’s gospel What he does with them is his business. Whether they bear fruit in our lifetime or not.
Today there are many religious and lay congregations and organisations that have been inspired by Charles de Foucauld; in particular the little brothers and little sisters of Jesus. The spiritual influence of the little lonely hermit has spread far and wide.

May God help all people of faith to live lives of integrity that speak of the divine, and to work together for the good of all people.