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On a blustery weekend this past February, 26 people met at the Cenacle Retreat House in Chicago to reflect on the religious dimensions of marriage. What was unusual about this gathering was that it brought together Christians and Muslims who are married, engaged or seriously considering marriage.

Attendees hailed mostly from the Chicago area, but also from Valparaiso, Minneapolis, Rochester, Minn., and Seattle.

A study by Creighton University’s Center for Marriage and Family in 1999 indicates that today roughly 40 percent of all Catholics marry non-Catholics.

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Some fears: baptism of their children (Muslim men), moving to a foreign country indefinitely (Christian women); giving up the faith (Muslim women), being rejected by the husband’s family (Christian women).

In their lists of shalls and shall nots, the overwhelming response of the participants, no matter the religion, was: “I will maintain my religious and cultural identity; I will not convert.” One couple admitted that before they got married, each fantasized about what it would be like for the other to convert.

(The Canadian Centre for Ecumenism has just published an exellent document, Pastoral Guidelines for Muslim-Christian Marriages.)The dearth of resources, combined with the reluctance of many imams and pastors even to broach the subject, has left Christian-Muslim couples at a loss.

To whom can they turn for advice about the unique issues they face?

Where can priests and campus ministers go when called upon to counsel the small but growing number of such couples?

And Christian-Muslim couples truly are in need of especially sensitive and informed pastoral care.

But privately in the morning and evening they are learning to pray side by side, each using their own prayer forms and postures, including prostration, but always praying the du ’ a (supplicatory prayer), which allows for petitions and more freedom in structure and language.

The couple sees praying together as one way of binding their lives together.

One man even cut short a trip abroad, at his wife’s behest, to be present.“Mixed marriage,” the canonical term for marriage between a Catholic and a member of another Christian church, is a fact of life in America’s religiously plural society.

But many may not realize how prevalent it is among Catholics.

One married couple hadn’t prayed together “because we never had the chance.” Another couple (engaged) hadn’t prayed together either, but because of a conscious choice.

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