By James Martone
Catholic News Service
CAIRO (CNS) — On a recent afternoon in Cairo, Comboni Father Giuseppe Scattolin was delving into 13th-century Sufi poems at his desk in the single room he inhabits, on an upper floor of a building that also houses an Arabic language school and its related administrative offices.
The ancient odes he studied were written by Sufi Arab poet Umar Ibn al-Farid, who lived in Egypt eight centuries ago, leaving behind a trove of verse in Cairo when he died there in 1235.
They are little known in the Arab and Muslim world and even less so in the Christian West. Bringing such Muslim texts to a wider audience is not only Father Scattolin’s passion, but his duty as a Christian, he said from behind his open laptop and piles of books in Arabic, French, Italian and English.
“What does it mean to be Christian? To know the other! What is the identity of Christ … to put on those stupid garments of the cardinals? What does St. Paul say of Christ? ‘He emptied himself,’” Father Scattolin told Catholic News Service.
And so “emptying” himself is what the missionary has been doing for almost four decades now, in the form of numerous publications and studies, in multiple languages, on Islam’s different literatures and schools, and through dialogue and other interfaith activities with Muslims, aimed at furthering understanding among Muslim and Christian communities.