Meeting of the Continental Reflection Group of Dialogue with Islam
Cairo - 16-22 February 2009.

The Continental Reflection Group of Dialogue with Islam met in Cairo from 16th to 22nd February for the 3rd time (the first was also in Cairo in 2005, the second was in Ndjamena in 2007). These meetings were started as in implementation of one the recommendations of the XVI General Chapter that called for a greater attention to dialogue with Islam. Islam has in fact and for long a central issue for our missionary work, particularly in Africa where Islam is now the first religion of the Continent.
Fourteen participants took part in the meeting, half of them from Egypt while others came from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Khartoum, Tchad, and Togo.

The Continental Reflection Group of Dialogue with Islam met in Cairo from
16th to 22nd February for the 3rd time (the first was also in Cairo in 2005, the second was in Ndjamena in 2007). These meetings were started as in implementation of one the recommendations of the XVI General Chapter that called for a greater attention to dialogue with Islam. Islam has in fact and for long a central issue for our missionary work, particularly in Africa where Islam is now the first religion of the Continent.
Fourteen participants took part in the meeting, half of them from Egypt while others came from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Khartoum, Tchad, and Togo.
The theme for this year had a clear theological tone, “Theme: “Some Aspects of the Theology of Dialogue” (with special attention to the dialogue with Islam). It must be noted that interreligious dialogue in general, and that with Islam in particular, is often times proposed without a solid theological foundation. In this way, for many missionaries interreligious dialogue becomes just a free option, and it is not seen as an integral part of the missionary methodology. In order to help in the reflection, well prepared papers were presented by Msgr. Michael Fitzgerald (the Apostolic Nunzio to Egypt: Forty years after Nostra Aetate), Frs. Achilles Kiwanuka, (History of Interreligious Dialogue),  Giuseppe Scattolin (Theological Principles of Dialogue and Spirituality as a concrete field of dialogue with Islam), Luciano Verdoscia (Possibilities of Dialogue between Christians and Muslims) and Fr. Felix Phiri, M.Afr. (Meeting of the Reperesentaives of the 138Muslim Scholars  with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue: perspectives and prospects for the future of dialogue).

 



Besides the theological input, there was also time dedicated to listening to the experiences of the different participants as they shared the situations of their provinces in this field. The discussion carried with it the usual rigor of our missionary presence but also revealed the challenge we encounter when we come face to face with the problem of dialogue with Islam. There is still the “traditional” feeling of being “under threat” in some circles. But on the other hand, there also those who feel that the challenge we face calls for a renewed and updated methodology as far as dialogue is concerned.

In the meeting, we were also helped to come in touch with the Egyptian reality, i.e., that of a Church that has lived for centuries inside an Islamic society. We had inputs from some outstanding persons involved in this field: Fr. Henry Boulad (a well known Jesuit), Rev. Henrik Hansen Linderberg (a pastor-scholar of the Danish Lutheran Church), and concrete experiences were presented by Sr. Samiha Ragheb (a Combonian sister head of St. Joseph Girl’s School, Zamalek, Cairo), Br. Amir (a Little Brother of Jesus working in a firm in a popular area of Cairo) and Nabil Abdul Fattah (a well known journalist of the al-Ahram, the most important newspaper of Egypt).

The presentation of the papers, the inputs from concrete experiences and the sharing of the confreres of their different experiences gave a comprehensive picture of some important issues concerning Islam as intended by the organizers.

In the end, the meeting concluded with an evaluation of the work done, and some proposals for the coming meeting(s) were put forward. The participants remarked that this meeting was prepared in a better way than the previous two. However, some suggestions for improvement were presented.

The Provincials of the English Speaking Africa and Mozambique proposed in their recent meeting two types of meetings of Reflection: one more academic done by those who have got some qualifications in Islamic studies and another more pastoral for those who work in areas with a significant Islamic presence. However, the participants in the Cairo meeting were of the view that the two groups should not be separated but instead meet together in such a way that the first part of the meeting is dedicated to theological formation while the second deals with pastoral issues related to the subject.

The next meeting will be held in Addis Abeba (Ethiopia) in September 2010. The topic for the next meeting will be “The Personal Status Law” in Islam. The participating provinces were called upon to start work now, doing some research on the topic within their own countries of missionary service.

REFLECTION GROUP ON ISLAM MUQATTAM 16-20 FEBRUARY 2009

Theme: Theological Foundations of Interreligious Dialogue,
with special attention to Islam

 
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS:


No.

Name

Province/
delegation

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

Fr. Cosimo Spadavecchia
Fr. J. Richard Kyankaaga
Fr. Achilles Kasozi Kiwanuka
Fr. Joseph Scattolin
Fr. Simon Mbuthia
Fr. Luciano Verdoscia

Egypt

7.

Fr. Austin Adhiambo Radol

Eritrea

8.

Fr. Melaku Tafesse Amente

Ethiopia

9.

Fr. J. Baptist Antonini

Kenya

10.
11.

Fr. Luigi Cignolini
Fr. Davide Ferraboschi

Khartoum

12.
13.

P. Amaxsandro Feitosa Da Silva
P. Renzo Piazza

Tchad

14.

P. Juan José Tenias

Togo


Program

February 16th: 6.00 p.m

  • Assembling at Mokhattam
  • Introduction and presentation of participants

February 17th

  • Morning: Reports from different provinces; people should be encouraged to share some concrete experiences of dialogue in their respective provinces
  • Afternoon: Muslim Christian Relationship in Egypt (Fr. Henri Boulad. sj)

February 18th:

  • Morning with two sessions:
    1. History of Interreligious Dialogue (Achilles Kiwanuka)
    2. Theological Principles of Dialogue (Giuseppe Scattolin)
    3. Afternoon: Meeting of the 138 with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue  (perspectives and prospects for the future of dialogue) (Felix Phiri, M.Afr.)

February 19th

  • Morning with two sessions:
    1. Spirituality as a concrete field of dialogue with Islam (Giuseppe Scattolin)
    2. Possibilities of Dialogue between Christians and Muslims (Luciano Verdoscia)
  • Afternoon: Concrete experiences of Dialogue between Christians and Muslims

(we are getting people to come and share their experiences in the field).

February 20th

  • Morning with two sessions:
    1. Forty years after Nostra Aetate (Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald. M.Afr.).
    2. Open Forum (presentation of some useful bibliographical references etc…Moderator: Simon Mbuthia)
  • Afternoon: Evaluation and final communiqué

February 21st

  • Some excursions to be prepared for those interested!

February 22nd Departures!

Daily Timetable:

Monday:  Feb 16th:    6.00 p.m         Assembling at Mokhattam!
Introduction and presentation of participants
7.30 p.m         Supper

Tuesday to Friday (17th to 20th):
7.00 a.m                      Lauds/Mass
8.00 a.m                      Breakfast
9.00 a.m                      1st Session
10.30 a.m                   Break
11.00 a.m                   2nd Session
1.00 p.m                     Lunch and rest
3.30 p.m                     3rd Session
5.00 p.m                     Break
5.30 p.m                     4th Session
7.15 p.m                     Vespers
7.30 p.m                     Supper and free time!
Saturday Feb. 21st:    Excursions for those interested

February 16th
Introduction and presentation of the participants:

Fr. Cosimo Spadavecchia the superior of the Egypt delegation welcomes the participants and invited each one to introduce him/her and voice their expectations of the meeting.
After this presentation Fr. Richard Kyankaaga went through the daily time table and the topics of the conference. Both were approved. A question was raised about the meaning of this meeting. After a short discussion, fr. Cosimo pointed out the following:

  • The meeting is not a short course on Islam.
  • It is a reflection: so it must give some ideas
  • the meeting is a practical reflection, in the sense that it starts from the practical situations in which we live and work with Muslims.

February 17th Morning:
Reports from the different Provinces and Delegations:

  • Kenya 

Fr. J.B. Antonini presents his paper about Islam in Kenya, (see the paper with the full report). Islam interests the 10% of Kenya’s population (15% according to Muslims), and it is present in the country in all its sects, namely, Sunni, Shia, Ahmadiyya, Ismailiyya etc. Muslims feel that they are marginalized in the society and strive to recover the old supremacy they had on society. Their aim is to establish a Muslim state where they are the majority.
As for the Comboni Missionaries, the father observed that Islam is not relevant in both the zone Charters of the Province and ill the Six year plan. One happy exception is Korogocho where Christians and Muslims for a while joined forces in organizing with other religious leaders, the social activities in the slums. He concluded suggesting that young Combonis in formation should gain a better knowledge of Islam and the social teaching of the Catholic Church.
Someone remarked from the floor that the field of human rights is also a field of common action for both Christians and Muslims in the country. However, there is a strong division between the official Islam of the Mufti and the Islam of the confraternity of preachers which are always at logger heads with each other.

  • Sudan, Khartoum,

The report was presented by Fr. Luigi Cignolini (see the paper with the full report), and his point of departure was a book recently published by a Southerner, who converted from Christianity to Islam. Islam, the father said, is becoming more and more attractive to Southerners. For a long time Islam has been present in the South without a visible success. But now it seems that it is going to succeed. The Church schools, one of the strong holds of evangelization, are loosing weight and personnel, thus easing the way to the new phase of Islamization already on the move in the south. The Comboni province of Khartoum makes sure that the new confreres coming to Sudan are introduced to African Islam by attending a course at the African Islamic University. Moreover, Comboni College, has received a particular attention both in terms of renewing the personnel and expanding it to the level of university.

  • TCHAD

Fr. Renzo Piazza presented a report on Islam in Chad. The Combonis arepresent in the South of the country, where most of the Christian communities live, since 1971. Years back they accepted the call of the former Archbishop of Ndjamena, Msgr. Charles Vandame, to open a house in the capital city for the purpose of dialogue with Muslims; the house had to be established in a Muslim environment. The library was established for university students, both Muslims and Christians. The missionaries were also asked to run the diocesan office for dialogue.
The project, ambitious as it was, found soon some difficulties when the new Archbishop was not so keen on dialogue and consequently the project lost some support from the Comboni province Fr. Renzo ended by remarking that dialogue is a vocation and needs courage and identification, and needs structures -diocesan or provincial--  to back it up.

  • TOGO/GHANA/BENIN

Fr. Juan Jose Tenias of Togo-Ghana-Benin, presented the work of the Combonis with regard to Islam. This work was not intended at first. After 45 years of presence in the region, the province has started a new presence in the North of the country, in a Muslim milieu, in the parish of Toko-toko, diocese of Djoujou. The Province has sent a member of the community to study Islamology at Bamako,-Mali. At a diocesan level, there is a commission for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue. A Comboni father is one of the members.

 

  • ETHIOPIA

Fr Melaku Tafese Amente. presented the Islam in Ethiopia. This Muslim presence according to the recent statistics is 32% of the total population, found mainly along the coast that spreads towards Mombasa, and in the East. Muslims do not hold dominant posts in the society, families can be found in which members are Christians or Muslims or Protestants, there are priests who Come from a Muslim families. At present, under the pretext of freedom, Mus1ims are asking that sharia law be introduced, together with the Arabic language. The government asks that each religious group respects the other. So far Islam is not greatly feared or seen as a threat. The dialogue lived by the Comboni missionaries in Ethiopia is the life dialogue, through schools and social works. There is also a movement of conversion to Christianity. At the national level, the interfaith group is also active in the promotion of dialogue of life.

  • EGYPT

Fr G. Scattolin presented Islam in Egypt. Undoubtedly Egypt throughout history has had a leading role in the Middle East and in the Arab and Islamic World. It wants to keep such leadership even today. Islam seems to have been the main component of this leadership. After the failure of its socialist nationalism of Nasser, there is a religious nationalism coming up that wants to take the flag, by bringing Islam to its former splendour. The first modern Islamic movement, the Muslim Brothers, started in Egypt. In the Islamic world it seems that there is a basic competition for its leadership between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Egypt stands as the third way. Will it succeed?
Just as the presence of Islam in Egypt is old, so is the dialogue between Christians and Muslims or between Christianity and Islam. For the sake of inspiration we can mention St Francis of Assisi. Many religious congregations are present in Egypt today, and are involved in the dialogue with the Muslims at many levels: life, social work, studies and libraries.
The Comboni Missionaries share in this dialogue with the:

  • schools, other educational activities carried out with Christians and Muslims together such as 'fraternity day',
  • Institute of Dar Comboni for Arabic Studies in Zamalek, for the training of church personnel who will work among the Muslims,
  • Social work, with many places, among them Foundation of Christians and Muslims that work among the poor the "zabbaleen",
  • Scientific research and teaching, at the level of universities, especially the Philosophical Society, and other international meetings on Islam,
  • Publishing books on Islam, giving conferences, assisting students in their research
  • ERITREA

Fr Austine presented the Islam in Eritrea, which has many historical similarities with the Islam in Ethiopia. He sees that the current religious affiliation can be examined without exaggeration along ethnic groups In Eritrea there are nine ethnic groups. These are the Tigrinya who are Orthodox with a strong minority of Catholics. The Bilens are either Catholics or Muslims, The Kunama are Catholics, protestants, Muslims and some among them still follow traditional religion. The other ethnic groups are: the Tigre, Saho, Afar, Nara, Beja, Rashaida and the tenth one Hausa of Nigeria who are Muslims. From this we can conclude that the general harmony experienced in the country and the lack of interest in the interreligious dialogue, could be because of the thinking that religion is determined b)' God in the same way as ethnicity is. The government recognizes four religious groups: orthodox, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims. The Catholic Church is small, but influential, with its schools, hospitals and other development projects it is the most powerful institution after the government.. At present the government is trying to limit the activities of the Churches. The Comboni missionaries are presenting in the low lands of Gash Baraka since 2005. The activities of dialogue include: Christian formation, dialogue of life, tolerance, acceptance to be questioned (one question asked by the Muslims is: why do Christians pray so little?) Personal experience of God, leads people to dialogue

  • COMBONI SISTERS

Sr Annamaria presented the activities of the Commission for Dialogue of the Comboni Missionaries Sisters. (see the paper with the full report) This Commission is made up of representatives from the provinces of Egypt, Sudan" Middle East, Eritrea and Ethiopia. A questionnaire was sent to all the sisters of the congregation, with questions about dialogue, obstacles to dialogue, and obstacles to adopt dialogue. Those who answered were 60%. After going through the answers, Sr. Annamaria presented the job description of the Commission for Dialogue: information about dialogue and ecumenism, facilitate dialogue, provide material on dialogue, formation to dialogue, seminars on dialogue.

AFTERNOON

Muslim Christian Relationship in Egypt.

(Fr. Henry Boulad, SJ)

Fr. Henry developed the theme in two separate papers (text in appendix): Islamism and Islam, Les six “Islams” et le dialogue. It is said that Islamism is a deviation, a perversion of the real Islam which has a strictly spiritual and religious orientation. Fr. Boulad holds the position that ISLAMIMS IS ISLAM. This position is coherent with history and geography, with the Kuran and the Sunna, with Muhammad’s life, with Islam evolution and with what Islam says about itself.
Attempts have been made on how to Islamise modernity on the assumption that modernity is compatible with Islam. In reality the mainstream of Islam speaks of “how to Islamise modernity”.
The official Islam rejects all the intellectuals who try to give an interpretation of Islam in the light of modernity. They are accused as heretics, apostates or madman.
ISLAMISM is the political Islam, whose aim is to establish a theocratic State based on the Sharia. Religion and politics are united: “Islam is political or it is nothing” (Khomeini).
Its cohesion, simplicity and flexibility are the roots of its enormous diffusion in Africa and Asia. Jihad, holy war, is one of the obligations of the faithful. Islam bears in itself the idea of power and dominion. It is planetary, universal, like Christianity. “The Muslim is convinced of his rightness, he possess the truth. This conviction leads to a cold determination to conquer the world, some day and at all costs”
What about dialogue. There are six different forms of Islam: 1) Open Islam: liberal, moderate and lay, 2) Mystic Islam “Sufism”, 3) Popular, brotherhood Islam, 4) Official Islam, 5 & 6) Political Islam – Islamism, Integralism, Fondamentalism.
Dialogue is possible with the lay and moderate Islam and with Sufism. With the brotherhood Islam there is the dialogue of everyday, communal life, while with the official, hierarchical Islam only a formal, superficial form of dialogue is possible. The various forms of political Islam seem unwilling to dialogue.

The exposition was followed by a long exchange of opinions. Fr. Boulad cast some light on the situation of various countries.
It was asked “If the recourse to violence is connatural to Islam, why the strong reaction of the Muslims to the Pope’s lectio magistralis at the university of Regensburg?
Turkey in Europe? Should Turkey be accepted? Should it be kept out? The admission would oblige Turkey to “Christianise” its legal system: welcome it! The admission would open the gate to the rapid Islamisation of Europe. Keep it out.
Conversions? In the past Egypt had an average of 20.000 converts from Christianity to Islam per year. No figures were released of Muslims converted to Christianity. Now the converts to Islam are around 300 and the Muslims converted to Christianity are around 1300 per year.
What about the TV programme of Abuna Zakaria? We need speakers like abuna Zakaria. The strength of Islam is guaranteed by the protection of its isolationism. Today TV stations and even more Internet are perceived a major thread by the Islamists and they answer with the recourse to violence, a clear sign of weakness. Islamists make great use of internet, but they would like to deny access to it to the “opposition”.
Indonesia: RADICAL Islam has taken over the country, even if constitutionally it is still a secular State.
Lebanon: Demography has changed the balance of power. Now the population is 2/3 Muslim and 1/3 Christian.
Algeria: Conversion to Christianity is possible. Only proselytising is forbidden.
The Algerians who convert to Christianity are mainly the Berbers who are attracted by some evangelical movements. They are giving birth to a Muslim-Christian Church.
Egypt: With Sadat a sort of ambiguity was introduced into the constitution. President Anwar Sadat, with the insertion of article 2, made Islam a de facto Islamic State: “Islam is the main source of inspiration of the legislation of the country”. But he left article 46, which guarantees the FREEDON OF BELIEF and consequently of conversion, untouched. The position of the government is a practical one: nothing against conversion on condition that the event is not brought to the public attention. 

February 18th

1. History of Inter-religious Dialogue
(by Fr. Achilles Kiwanuka)

Dialogue is part of evangelisation. Along the history of the Church the concept of dialogue has been replaced by the one of “Extra Ecclesia nulla salus”.
Only recently we have gone from “extra Ecclesia nulla salus” to the salvific values of the non Christian Religions and to the concept of “Anonymous Christians”.
As for the Islamo-Christian relations the history started with the Prophet and the Qur’an and still goes on in search of its own identity and method.

2. “Theological Principles of Dialogue”
(by Giuseppe Scattolin)

Fr. Giuseppe Scattolin presented the result of his reflections as written in the booklet “At the roots of Inter-religious Dialogue”.

Taking the lead from LOGOS (the word) and DIA-LOGOS (a word in between), fr. Giuseppe explains that every human being is connected with the others and the rest of the universe. Nobody exists in isolation, without any relationship with other beings. Unfortunately this relationship is often marred by wars and violence aimed at the elimination of the “diverse”. Dialogue requires “purification”. Our modern age is marked by the coming together of the whole humanity (ONU) but also by dramatic threats (wars and terrorism). Our anthropological dialogue is oriented towards the theological dialogue, the relationship with the Absolute Other, the foundation of being itself, God. God has communicated himself in various ways along human history (religious pluralism). But finally he communicated himself through his own Son, Christ. The history of humankind is the history of dialogue between God and humans, between the Word, the work of the Spirit and the loving will of God the Father who wants the salvation of all.  “The participation in the Trinitarian communion appears to be the origin and ultimate goal of the whole history of the cosmos and of humankind, and particularly its religious history”. The communion with the Divine Mystery must be the basis, the purpose and the goal of any true inter religious dialogue.

The Church document “Dialogue and Proclamation (1991) suggests four forms or level of dialogue: a. Dialogue of life, b. Dialogue of works, c. Dialogue of theological exchange, d. Dialogue of religious experience.

In the new age, in which human history is now entering, dialogue at all levels has become a necessary and vital dimension of the human being. Only religions and cultures open in true dialogue to the others will be able of giving a positive contribution to the new contemporary situation of humankind. Cannot be peace among peoples and cultures, if there is not first peace among religions. This is our present, most urgent and vital challenge and task.

 3. “Meeting of the 138 with the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. Perspectives and prospects for the future of dialogue”.
By Felix Phiri, M.Afr.

Fr. Felix gave an account of the events set into motion by the Regensburg lectio magistralis by Pope Benedict 16th, of September 12th, 2006 to the Catholic Muslims Forum created by the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious dialogue and a delegation of the 138 Muslim Scholars signatories of the Open Letter A Common Word and the seminar held in Vatican between November  4th-6th, 2008.

A delegation of A Common Word, shorthand for the group of 138 Muslim signatories of the document thus entitled, held a forum with Vatican officials between the 4th and the 6th of November in a remedial effort to bridge the gap caused by the Popes lecture at Regensburg in what was termed as the First Seminar of the Catholic-Muslim Forum. It would be difficult to fully appreciate the significance of this forum outside a retrospective overview. The events that preceded it not only characterized the nature and the scope of the meeting itself but also offered fundamental points of reflection and interrogation. In this regard, Pope Benedict XVI’s lecture on 12th September 2006 at the University of Regensburg in Germany and the reactions it provoked constitute an inevitable starting point. To immediately remedy to the situation, on 16th September Secretary of State, Card. Tarcisio Bertone, made an official statement reiterating the Pope’s commitment to inter-religious dialogue, in line with Nosta Aetate. The day after, the Pope himself, during the Angelus, expressed how sorry he was for the violence and the negative reactions provoked by his lecture. On the 25th of September he addressed a high-levelled meeting with Muslim leaders in Italy and diplomatic representatives of Muslim-majority countries.
Among the many reactions to the lecture of the Pope – some more harsh than others – was the Open Letter of the 38 Muslim scholars and leaders to the Pope and to other Christian leaders, on the 13th October 2006, a month after the lecture, stands out as unique and extra-ordinary. Different from enraged criticisms and condemnations – not to talk of outright violence - the letter sought to respond ‘reasonably’, point by point, to what the authors saw as discrepancies in the way the Pope referred to Islam in his lecture. Such a collective response from Muslims across-the-board is an unprecedented and laudable achievement worth reflecting upon.
The initiative undertaken by the 38 gained unstoppable momentum such that at the time of its first anniversary – 13th October 2007 - the number of the signatories had hit 138 and was set for further expansion. The document produced on the occasion, A Common Word Between Us and You, consolidated the Muslims resolution to establish a durable dialogue with the Christian world. In line with the first Open Letter of the previous year, the unimaginable variety of Muslim representation lying behind the production of the new document offered Christians the so much missed formal body of Muslim interlocutors. Henceforth, a series of high level encounters with specific significant Christian denominations saw their day.
On  27th November 2007 Card. Bertone wrote a letter on behalf of the Pope to A Common Word members through the president of Aal al-Bayt, Prince Ghazi b. Muhammad b. Talal, in response to the Muslim initiative. In his letter he acknowledged the goodwill of the Muslims to dialogue and expressed the Holy Father’s wish to organize a meeting with them. On 12th December 2007, Prince Ghazi b. Muhammad b. Talal responded to Card. Bertone’s letter on behalf of the 138, indicating their willingness to hold such a meeting with the Vatican. To oversee the actualization of the agreed upon meeting, the World Muslim-Catholic Forum was formed on 6th March 2008 and a forum to be held within a few months was projected. It is thus that the First Seminar of the Catholic-Muslim Forum saw its day in Rome between the 4th and the 6th November 2008. The Pope partially participate in the Forum by formally addressing the participants on the final day. [for complimentary information on see attached report by Fr Miguel Ayuso (MCCJ), Rector of PISAI and participant of the preparative meetings and the forum].

Felix J. Phiri (MAfr.)
Rome, 1st February 2009

REPORT ON THE CATHOLIC-MUSLIM FORUM
by
Fr. Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, M.C.C.J.
Director of PISAI

 As Director of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) of Rome, I would like to submit to the members of The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation the following short report on the Catholic-Muslim Forum.

The Catholic-Muslim Forum was created in March 2008 by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) and a delegation of the 138 Muslim scholars signatories of the Open Letter A Common Word sent to the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, and other Christian Leaders, in the light of that document and the response of the Pope through His Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

The first seminar was held in the Vatican between the 4th and the 6th of November 2008. The delegations was formed by 24 participants (12 religious authorities and 12 experts) and 5 advisors from each delegation. The two topics of sharing and joint reflexion has been the following: First, "Love of God, love of neighbour. Theological and Spiritual Foundation"; second, "Human Dignity and Mutual Respect". [All major texts in: www.acommonword.org].

In general, the mass-media has underlined positively the success of this first seminar. According to the Oasis Centre of Venice (Italy), two are the innovations in the field of Christian-Muslim dialogue in this Forum: Its methodology and its contents. In fact, the Forum has been organized thanks to the general consensus of a good group of Muslim scholars from different trends and origins. The contents has been of spiritual and theological character, through a sincere and friendly exchange of views, starting  from our different perspectives. There has not been a political, but rather a religious representation. Therefore, the Forum in itself had no official authority. However, the outcome of the Forum, through the Final Declaration, should be taken into consideration by all, since its aims at bettering our intercultural and interreligious relations in our global world.

In fact, the Final Declaration of 15 points, are presented, on one hand, the recognition that both religions have of the Love of God, as a common source; on the other hand, the call to work together to honour and defend life, hence supporting all rights necessary to live our own religious values that allow us to work together for the good of humanity, witnessing, through reciprocal solidarity and respect, that we are members of the one human family to promote a genuine respect of the human person and the fundamental human rights.

The participants to the Forum were received in audience by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI. In the audience, Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, President of the PCID, underlined the importance of the reciprocal listening to each other in the respect of our respective identities. Then, Professor Sayyed Hossein Nasr, in his address to the Holy Father, underlined the necessity of awareness of our differences and of our common convictions; while Mustafa Cerić, Gran Mufti of Bosnia- Herzegovina, stressed in his discourse to the Pope, the historical inevitability of the encounter between Muslims and Christians, through which our mutual love and respect is being reinforced to work together to overcome conflicts.

The Holy Father, in His Address, underlined that the name of God can only be a name of peace and fraternity. I was impressed by the report given by the Osservatore Romano, in the aftermath of the Forum. In the Vatican Daily, the dialogue according to Benedict XVI was presented in the following way: starting point: the objective recognition of our different theological and anthropological visions; the methodology: listening to each other with esteem and mutual respect; the essential attitude: a sincere will of mutual knowledge and understanding; the objective: to offer to women and men of our time "a true service of peace and reconciliation".

And this has been our experience during the Forum: feeling and acknowledging that we are different, but recognizing that we have a common project: to serve humankind, through the intercultural and interreligious dialogue, by proposing to the world our common and shared values as our contribution for creating a better world.

February 19th: MORNING

1. “Spirituality as a concrete field of dialogue with Islam”,
(by Giuseppe Scattolin)

Summary

Religions are presented in the Second Vatican Council document Nostra Aetate as answers to the fundamental questions about human existence and its meaning that ‘deeply disturb the human heart’. Human being appears to be, in his ‘essence’, one could say, the 'questioning being', the being that is always in search for the meaning of his existence and that of the beings around him. This is his essential dimension, but in the same time is also a Divine call.
Humankind in our time is facing tremendous challenges: the present situation of globalization aiming at the creation of a global marketing entails as a consequence the creation of a mass culture, or the ‘massification’ of culture all over the world, accompanied by the fragmentation of all religious-ethical values and at the same time by the rise of new ‘ religious-cultural tribalisms’. All this happens in the context of religious pluralism and its issues.
In the present cultural context, there are four basic issues, in my view, that all religions of our time have to face so as to give an satisfactory answer to the needs of our present humankind:
> Revisiting the original message means that every religion must recover its original, essential message, overcoming a lot of historical compromises.
> Confronting modernity means finding a true balance between faith and reason, between community and personal freedom of conscience is another important issue for all religions.
> Entering in dialogue with the other religions means to open one’s self to all positive values found in all and be able to cooperate with them all.
> Committing itself to justice in the world means working for justice to all and every single human being in the present context of globalization.

Mysticism is seen here as the core of all religious experience, and therefore also of human experience. It is the expression of the radical quest of human being for his deepest identity and in the same time the fulfillment of his endless journey towards the Absolute Mystery. It is at the level of spiritual experience that interreligious dialogue finds its deepest dimension.
There are, in my view, three main areas in which mysticisms and spiritualities of all religions, here particularly Sufism and Christian mysticism, can and should meet and cooperate:
> human being and the search of his identity
> human being and his environment: the universe
> human being and his journey towards his ultimate ground: God

Sufism, together with the other mystical traditions, can and should offer its positive contribution to answer to the urgent questions of humankind in our time. The spiritual traditions of all religions are called on in the first to save the 'human' reality of the human being of the present globalization, i.e., from the fall into a mass 'robotism', from all ethic-religious fragmentation and from any cultural-religious 'tribalism'. These are the deadly dangers of humankind in our time. Moreover, religions should become evermore active factors in creating new relationships in our humankind, relationships of fraternity, justice and collaboration at all levels.
In conclusion, the mystical traditions of all religions are called on to become evermore agents of peace among human beings of all cultures and religions.

 2. “Possibilities of Dialogue between Christians and Muslims”
(by Luciano Verdoscia)

AFTERNOON

3. CONCRETE EXPERIENCES OF DIALOGUE BETWEEN CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS.

1. The Catholic School as a Field for Interreligious Dialogue
(by Sr. Samiha Ragheb)

*******

2. Six Types of dialogue
By Henrik Lindberg Hansen
(Pastor and scholar of the Danish Lutheran Church)

*******
3. Dialogue in Life through Work
By Amir is a ‘little brother of Jesus’ of Charles De Foucauld
.

Amir is from al-Minya, a town of Upper Egypt. He lives with other two little brothers in Shrubra al-Kheima, a popular and industrial quarter of Northern Cairo, working in a manufacturer of printed tissues. He spoke about his experience as an ordinary worker in a environment in which Muslims are the absolute majority.
His presence is based on personal, sincere relationships with people of all sorts. This has created friendship, very sincere in many cases. His presence has made also Christ present among people, even if there is non explicit announcement. The values preached by Christ, especially love, justice and forgiveness, are now known to many people, and they refer to them in many cases of life. Amir has brought us a very impressive example of ‘dialogue of life’, that should be known and practiced by everybody, especially by Christians living the same life of ‘an ordinary worker’.
*******

4. The situation of Dialogue in Egypt.
by Nabil  Abdel Fattah

There was no dialogue in Egypt before the coming of extremism. Till the seventies nobody spoke of inter religious dialogue. The only known form of dialogue was the dialogue of life. A sense of integration among the different sections of the population prevailed. The inter-religious dialogue was something left to the specialists.

Now, violence has created a religious crisis and the need to dialogue. Clearly we have a problem. Do we search for a religious dialogue or a political one? The inter-religious dialogue is part of a rather vast process. But as a matter of fact, there is no dialogue at the level of ideas and of religion. Political dialogue is nothing but polemical attacks, “verbal violence”, and reciprocal rejection among the sectors of the society.
The violence arises from the reciprocal ignorance of the radical Islamic movements and from the faulty educational system, which reflects the prejudices and the world view of the ones in power.

The “leaders” give a religious cover and motivation to their ideas. The West is presented as a threatening power, the crusaders! The school programs are very limited in their scopes. Fear of the outside world: there is fear of the development that is happening outside. It is presented, erroneously, as a danger for Egypt and its rejection is viewed as a form of self-defense. Fear in the relationship between Christian and Muslims, relationships presented in a distorted way.
The language of the dialogue is hypocrite. There is no honesty in presenting ideas and projects. The language is chosen to impress and to gain grounds.

School formation is based on “memorizing”, not on reasoning.   
The language creates serious difficulties, retaining fidelity to the traditions and developing objectivity of concepts. The religious language imposed on the school programs creates concepts that are absolute and violent both in politics and in everyday life. There might be various kinds of languages, but all of them are dualistic by nature.

The teachers are ill equipped (not prepared) to be mediators between the programs and the students. They reduce everything to a sterile dualism: the licit and the illicit; faith and atheism.  The teachers impose their own points of view more than the school programs.

The media too make large use of clichés.
Politics rejects dialogue, makes use of “impositions”, tricks and deceit, all in opposition to dialogue.  It has its roots in the cultural background left us by the pharaohs and by Islam: the ruler gets his authority from God, somehow he is divine. It favors the creation of a sycophant culture and the establishment of a politics of exploitation that affects the whole human existence. 

Fortunately a change is happening with the strong march of the information revolution. The young generation rejects the whole sycophantic system. Internet is the way to freedom. Now there are free persons who navigate freely from the “virtual” to the “real”, threatening the totalitarian culture that denies dialogue and exploits religion.

We speak of religious dialogue. What do we mean? The term could be taken in different ways and meanings. What do we aim at? What is its target? Conversion? Spreading religion? Evangelization? Keeping tabs on the other? Making statements or being open to the opinions of the other? Who speaks on behalf of whom?  Is it question of politics or of religion? Dialogue becomes a political expedient.

The Inter-religious dialogue is too important to be left in the hands of the political leaders. Dialogue requires freedom, one of the highest conquests of humanity, freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

Today he prefers to speak of dialogue of life, with all the repercussion on the social life, on the real problems the people are to face in their everyday life. This is the dialogue Egypt needs today.
Religious dialogue, with its implications with faith and law is better left to the specialists who search for the common elements and grounds such as love, life, peace, friendship, living together, justice….  Then dialogue becomes communion and sharing of values.
Such a dialogue will affects both politics and religious institutions. Time will come when it is no more possible and profitable to speak of politics in a religious language. It will deal with the real problems of the people.

The new generations are introducing a form of “soft revolution”. Some religious practices are criticized; on questions of law criticism and diversity of opinions are gaining ground; some religious opinion, expressed by important officials, have been ridiculed; tradition and religious values do not go hand in hand any more. Even fashion is playing a role:  “put on the veil, but then do what you want”. 

Many are the openings. But the political system will react and nobody can foresee the difficulties it will create against the change.

February 20th

The first part of the morning session was dedicated to presenting some bibliographical information to confreres of some books and texts that could be useful for research and guides in the field of dialogue with Islam.

“FORTY YEARS AFTER NOSTRA AETATE”- RELEVANCE OF N.A. IN CHANGING TIMES”,
(by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, M.Afr.)

SUMMARY: The years following the promulgation of the Declaration Nostra Aetate (1965) have been marked by important developments in the world. What has been the effect of these on interreligious dialogue, especially the dialogue between Christians and Muslims? The A. reviews the changes that have taken place in the political, social and cultural fields, but also in the perceptions of believers –and in particular of Catholics – with regard to “others”. Both lights and shadows become apparent in a process which is still developing. At the present time it could be affirmed that official religious leaders have made much progress along the path of dialogue, whereas the communities of believers are often prey to ignorance, suspicion and prejudices which political, social and cultural conditions – and above all the rise of international terrorism – have only reinforced. Christians and Muslims have the not easy task of discovering the seeds of fraternity and peace within their respective religious traditions. This is possible on condition that they are willing to attempt to defuse the accumulated tension of past history, to purify memories, and to overcome the temptation of fundamentalism. They need to resist being manipulated by political forces, but rather propose which safeguards and promotes human dignity. In this respect the contents of the Declaration Nostra Aetate are still very relevant today. 

**************************************

Conclusions: Evaluation and Proposals

1. Evaluation 

  1. On the whole there was a general satisfaction on the contents and the organization of the meeting.
  1. We should know better the history of dialogue with Islam in our Congregation. We have a poor historical memory.
  1. We should know the meetings of the past in order not to repeat the same things again. The minutes of the meeting held in Chad have not yet been given.
  1. The language to be used must be made clear from the beginning and means of translations must be foreseen and not improvised at the last moment.
  1. The usual problem of continuity:  it seems that every time we have the meetings, there are more new faces than the old ones and this makes a follow-up very difficult.
  1. Someone felt that he was not prepared for the reflection because he was not told in time and did not have the full information about the meeting.
  1. Many opposed the decision taken by the Provincials of Africa to put the Reflection group under the On-going formation. The original idea was to make it a pastoral and not an academic reflection group, and if we are to keep the original idea, then the preferred secretariat should be one of Evangelization.
  1. Once again the point was raised as to the people who take part in the Reflection group. While we maintain the fact that it should be pastorally oriented and keep a close relationship with “African Islam”, people who take part should have a basic idea on Islam and at best be working in an environment where Islam is present.

7. The members appreciated the idea of having two reflection groups as proposed by the Anglo-African Provincials; one purely academic with people qualified in the subject, and the other pastoral, with people representing the provinces and delegations and are involved in the field of dialogue in their respective provinces or delegations. However, the participants felt that there is no need to divide the two groups because they are complementary to one another. The idea would be to have two days of academic formation and then two days of pastoral reflection, all done at the same time. To facilitate this, it was proposed to meet every 18 months.

2. Some Proposals.

  • The Continental Group should continue but open to all the provinces of Africa
  • That all the provinces be represented in these meetings
  • That all people with specializations in the field take part in these meeting
  • It would be very beneficial if each province has someone with the basic qualifications in the field and can help others. Dar Comboni would be ready to assist in organizing courses of the kind for small groups of people willing to come to Cairo for a period. The people in-charge of this sector need to be given “tools” for the job
  • The Courses of Introduction to Islam done is some provinces should be done everywhere and a follow up should be done where such courses have already been conducted.
  • Conclusions of the meeting should be published in our bulletin for knowledge of all.
  • In the Theological centers where our scholastics go, if a course on World religions is offered, it must be a must for our students and in this case, a study of Islam should be seen as a priority
  • The people that have finished PISAI and Dar Comboni are often not stimulated to continue in this field. Besides coming together for the pastoral reflections, the idea of networking proposed three years ago should be revisited in order to facilitate an exchange of ideas and to stimulate an on-going formation process.
  • In the last meeting in Ndjamena (2007) Fr. Paul Annis presented a Catechesis for MuslimsThere was a general appreciation of his wonderful attempt and work done. He was unanimously encouraged to continue the work already started and that if he needed help on various aspects, he could contact the staff of Dar Comboni or any other person he deemed helpful to look at the material he had already put together during the lessons with the university students in Khartoum. A proposal for a change of the title was made, i.e. A Manual for Christian Formation in an Islamic context. This text was supposed to be revisited in the current meeting in Cairo, Feb. 2009. Not having enough material prepared, the organizers chose to dwell only on one of the subjects proposed in the Ndjamena’s meeting, namely “Some Aspects of the Theology of Dialogue”. With regard to the manual, the Cairo meeting observed that there are already some useful booklets on this topic, starting with the booklet (Answering Questions ….), composed by the White Fathers of Tunis in 1964, headed by Fr. Robert Casper. This booklet has been appreciated by everybody where it has been used. The suggestion is to complement this material which the manual of Fr. Paul Annis could achieve in this respect. Once again, Fr. Anis is asked and encouraged to continue with the project and he is free to ask the collaboration of those he thinks could be of help to him.
  • The old issue of a Scolasticate in an Arabic country or a in order to make students more acquainted with the Arabic-Muslim world, has been raised again. There are positive and negative sides of it. The issue has come up several times and it is still under study. Our hope is that someday this will be possible.
  • Cooperation with the Comboni Sisters is highly encouraged.
  • Cases of non Comboni wanting to join us when we have our reflection group meetings will be studied at individual basis.
  •  It was decided that the next meeting will be held in Addis Abeba (Ethiopia) in September 2010

The topic for the next meeting will be “The Personal Status Law” in Islam. Members of the participating provinces are asked to start studying this aspect with regard to their own countries and this will form the basis for our reflection in the next meeting. Fr. Simon Mbuthia will try to elaborate the different aspects of this theme and make them available to the provinces for a more focused study and research.


http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/15_09_06_pope.pdf

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/secretariat_state/card-bertone/2006/documents/rc_seg-st_20060916_dichiarazione_en.html

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/angelus/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_ang_20060917_en.html

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2006/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20060925_ambasciatori-paesi-arabi_en.html

http://www.islamicamagazine.com/media/pdf/open/b/openletter-8238DA.pdf

http://www.acommonword.com/index.php?lang=en&page=downloads

See Major Common Word Events on official web-site: http://www.acommonword.com

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/secretariat_state/card-bertone/2007/documents/rc_seg-st_20071119_muslim-leaders_en.html

http://www.acommonword.com/lib/downloads/Letter-to-Cardinal-Bertone-13-12-07.pdf

http://inthylight.wordpress.com/2008/03/10/catholic-muslim-forum-scheduled-for-november-2008/

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2008/november/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20081106_cath-islamic-leaders_en.html