Muslim woman, priest to discuss cultivating community

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February 26, 2019

Ayan Omar

Ayan Omar


Fr. Michael Peterson, OSB

Rediet Negede Lewi

Rediet Negede Lewi

Two members of the St. Cloud Muslim/Christian Dialogue Group will participate in the program “Cultivating Community: Insights Drawn from Muslim and Christian Practices” at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 28, in the Centenary Room (room 264), Quadrangle Building, Saint John’s University.

The program, sponsored by the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning , features Ayan Omar, a Somali-American Muslim who lives in St. Cloud, and Fr. Michael Peterson, OSB, a monk of Saint John’s Abbey.

The event is free and open to the public.

Rediet Negede Lewi, a senior at the College of Saint Benedict and a student interfaith leader with the Jay Phillips Center, will interview Omar and Peterson. Audience members will also be invited to ask questions.

“Ayan and Fr. Michael will share practices from their respective religious traditions that they find helpful for cultivating inclusive and thriving communities,” said John Merkle, director of the Jay Phillips Center.

 "As committed as Ayan and Fr. Michael are to interreligious dialogue, both will also discuss what they have learned about cultivating community from each other’s religious tradition,” Merkle added. “And they will explain how they and other members of the St. Cloud Muslim/Christian Dialogue Group strive to foster community between Muslims and Christians here in Central Minnesota.”

Omar, a refugee from Somalia who lives with her husband and two daughters, is a language arts educator at St. Cloud Technical High School. In 2017, she was one of seven refugees to receive an Outstanding Refugee award from the Minnesota Department of Human Services for her civic leadership. Omar has given numerous presentations on Islam and on the traumatic experiences of immigrant students in the United States.

“My educational and refugee background inspires my activism both locally and nationally,” Omar said. “I enjoy sharing how Islamic teachings and human decency are one and the same.”   

Peterson has been a Benedictine monk since 1996, first affiliated with Blue Cloud Abbey in Marvin, South Dakota, until its closing in 2012, when he transferred his monastic vows to Saint John’s Abbey.

He is the abbey’s oblate director, the sacramental chaplain at the College of Saint Benedict and the chair of the board of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, a group of monks and nuns engaged in interreligious dialogue with members of other religions.

Lewi is a psychology major and a theology minor, a member of the Delta Epsilon Sigma and Phi Beta Kappa honor societies and co-president of the CSB/SJU chapter of Psi-Chi: The International Honor Society in Psychology. Born and raised until age 14 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, she attended high school at the International School of Tanganyika in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. She has been working as a student interfaith leader with the Jay Phillips Center since the fall 2016 semester.