Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 26, 2004
'Let there be dialogue' -- Vatican II
Only by Catholics and Muslims sitting down and talking can there be understanding
A Shepherd Speaks
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
I must be extremely naive. Little did I realize that our diocesan office of ecumenical and interreligious affairs initiative in offering an Introduction to Islam class would provoke reactions like the following: "I am a very active Catholic and devout in my faith and to my Church. I am in shock to say the least at the idea of Islam being taught in our Church. . . .
"Islam is not peaceful!! Islam is in the West, trying to put a western spin on Islam. Do Not Be Deceived! . . . I protest strongly an imam coming into the Church. . . . Will you allow Middle Eastern Christians to come in and tell the truth about living under Islam? Will you speak of the girls having acid thrown on their faces for not covering their heads or for simply wearing a cross?
"My next letter will be to the Vatican. I am shocked and ashamed."
Get in step
The author is certainly out of step with the teaching of Pope John Paul and mainstream Catholicism which continue to urge all the children of Abraham, the biblical patriarch considered the father of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, to rediscover the brotherhood that they share and that prompts in them designs of cooperation and peace.
Such inter-religious dialogue seems to be the only sure basis for peace and warding off the dread spectre of those religious wars that have so often bloodied human history.
Regrettably, Christian and Muslims often judge one another by the extremists and make the mistake of judging the other's worst by their own best.
In the western world we also tend to believe that Islamic fundamentalism is the result of alienation, social exclusion, or globalization. In short, we tend to believe that if economic development takes place, then people in the Islamic world will become "like us" and then there will be no more threats to global security.
Furthermore, such an economic analysis used to explain terrorist attacks does not easily fit the profile of the Osama bin Ladens of this world who reject a Western modernity which many of them experienced as students.
Islamic fundamentalism is better understood as a cultural and religious response to secular materialism.
Only the foolhardy expect Muslims to exchange the beliefs, practices, and traditions that are constitutive of Islamic communities for those of Western liberalism.
Thirty-five years ago the Catholic Church took a dramatic stand to promote constructive, peaceful and religious relations with Muslims by promulgating these words from the Second Vatican Council in 1965:"The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to people. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God's plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own.
Jesus is a prophet
"Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet, his virgin mother they also honour and even at times devoutly invoke. Further, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms deeds and fasting" (Nostra Aetate, 3).
Taking religion and culture seriously entails a commitment to form dialogues, and this can take place in many ways - living room dialogues in neighbourhoods and communities; dialogues that lead to cooperative efforts on particular projects to assist those in need; the dialogues of specialists where our religious beliefs are examined and the dialogue of religious experience, where we share more deeply of ourselves and our prayers and understanding of living a life devoted to God.
There are some who think interreligious dialogues are like other dialogues - for example, negotiations between countries, bargaining between labour and management, or any attempts to find middle ground between disputing parties. This is not the case.
Dialogue in society involves compromise, that's how we get things done, and that is good. But when people of faith talk to one another, they are not attempting any compromise. Our goal in interreligious dialogue is not to construct one religion for the whole world, but to share and learn from one another.
Interreligious dialogue is both a process of spiritual growth and a set of experiences that can have a transforming effect on those engaged in it. Interreligious dialogue is the art of spiritual communication. The participants maintain their religious practice, they invite their partners to be present with them when they pray and they seek to understand how each of them understands what one must do to be holy.
We seek to understand one another, to challenge one another to understand each of our beliefs most deeply and to grow in our understanding of the greatness, abundance and mercy of God.
Interreligious dialogue has certain characteristics: clarity, an outpouring of thought, meekness, humility, kindness, patience, generosity, prudence and trust. In interreligious dialogue we are compelled to make our language understandable, acceptable and well-chosen, so that we can be both truthful and charitable to one another.
The experience of the moral life rooted in the virtues, social practices, and the traditions of our respective religious communities, however imperfectly we may live them, is where genuine dialogue between civilizations can begin.
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