Visit to a Catholic Church
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The worshipping among Catholics takes place in the church. The church I visited was hexagonal when viewed from the outside. The walls are made of stone and were painted creamy white except for the doors and windows which were of different colors. Inside, there were four rows of pews with three corridors separating them. The rows stretched towards the far end of the building where stood a raised place, the altar. On the altar, there was a red light above a cabinet to the left, a table in the center covered in white clothes and bundles burning on every end of the table. Near each candle there was a bouquet of flowers. There were also two chalices and two other containers on the table to the left. At the center of the table stood a cross. Behind the table were three chairs, the central one was higher than the ones on each side of it. There were two doors from both sides of the altar, each leading to different rooms behind the main church building. There was a section occupied by the choir. Many paintings covered the walls. I could recognize the image of a woman with a child, a man on the cross, a man with a crown made of thorns and one of the winged creatures. There was no ceiling but the roof of the building was very high. Before the beginning of the service, a boy in a white robe went round the rows of pews with a bowl of a smoldering substance that smelled like incense.
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At the beginning of the service there was singing led by a choir. The priest and two others entered from one of the doors near the altar and took the seats behind the table. The Holy Book was brought in through the main entrance, escorted by a large group of dancers who consisted of men and women, both young and mature. The choir used a keyboard and drums in their singing. Three scripts were read from the Bible before the priest began preaching. After the sermonizing, the priest offered the prayrs for each member. During the whole service the priest was in charge of the different activities. His dressing consisted of a white robe with a purple belt round his waist and black shoes. The robe had crosses both in front and at the back with images of two doves above each cross. He had nothing on his head, and his hands were hidden in the robe unless he raised them. He raised his hands blessing the people. In the middle of the service, the priest said a prayer after which all the people started greeting each other while saying ‘peace be with’, while singing. Some parishioners could move four pews in front or behind their places. The greetings were directed to everybody, whether you know them or not. This was the only interaction among the people I observed during the service. There were more personal interactions after the service with some groups like youths calling for their members to attend a short meeting before leaving for their homes.
There were many beliefs about God that I observed during the service. At the start of the service, each person prayed for him/herself and asked for forgiveness. They addressed God like he was present in the room, knowing all their good and bad deeds, loving and compassionate. They also acknowledged their need for forgiveness and implored God to forgive them and give them strength. Some of the prayers were directed to Jesus Christ, the son of God and also Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus whom they begged to intercede for them to God the Father. The prayer also included request for the Holy Spirit to guide them in their daily lives in struggles against sin.
This service was very different from what I am used to in the mosque. It was strange. The cause of this are some aspects of the worship service that are not traditional in Islam. For instance, the singing and dancing were unusual for me. Directing prayers through somebody to intercede for you is a new idea for me as a Muslim. I could not figure out the prayers that the parishioners said after receiving the sacrament. Some were praying only for a short time, while others could take up to ten minutes. Also, not all the people took the sacrament that left me wondering why one took part while others did not. It should be noted that there is no sacrament received in any of Muslim prayers, so this was a new idea and experience for me. The most unexpected was that women were allowed to be near the altar just like men and were even allowed to read the second script before preaching started. I was surprised because I thought that men take charge of the activities during service while women are the audience. It was my understanding until I attended the service and realized that even women take part in the activities taking place during the mass. The service takes place on Sunday and this is different from what I am used to as the Muslim service is conducted on Friday. Entering the church with the shoes on was also unfamiliar to me.
Since I attended the service, I have had to look for books on the Catholic religion to try to understand some of their traditions. The mass made me feel so different from the Catholics in almost every aspect, except that I am human. Although I felt relieved when the service was over, I was left strangely curious of this religion. Reading about it and trying to interpret what I saw during the service in light of what I understand about life in general has become my goal. I never thought that other religions could be that intriguing. Above all, there are aspects of the Catholic religion that are really interesting, like the visiting of other members homes after the service for fellowship. It makes the Catholic community aware of each other’s situation since they know even your home. It was a great experience.
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