I need to be willing to make some changes in how I think about “them.” It’s time for us to say “we,” not “we” and “them.”‘

Father Thomas Ryan,

The third annual National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue took place March 6-8 at the University of St. Mary of the Lake outside Chicago, and focused on the theme of “One God, One Humanity: Confronting Religious Prejudice.” In his opening remarks, the Muslim co-chair Dr. Sayyid Syeed observed how historically Catholics have ruled Muslims in different countries, or vice versa, but that “today, in North America, being neighbors is a reality, and it’s critical for us to develop a vision so that people in other countries can find hope for their future.”680x450_Box_Pilot_18163

In her opening address, Muslim educator Maria Khani from Orange County, California, said “We can do more than just have a meal together and talk. I need to be willing to make some changes in how I think about ‘them.’ It’s time for us to say ‘we,’ not ‘we’ and ‘them.'”

Khani observed that a statement of Dr. Martin Luther King fits Christians and Muslims today: “People fail to get along because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other. They don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

She noted that ignorance often leads to a deadly cycle: Ignorance to fear. Fear to hate. Hate to violence. Violence to war. War to isolation. “It all starts from ignorance,” she said; “let’s get to know one another. Peace is not just the absence of war, but the presence of harmony.”



A conversation on why Catholics need to dialogue with Muslims


“It is not possible to build bridges between people while forgetting God,” Pope Francis said early in his pontificate. “But the converse is also true: it is not possible to establish true links with God, while ignoring other people.”

Many U.S. Catholics have not only ignored their Muslim brothers and sisters but harbor discriminatory views about Muslims at alarming rates.

Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, “a multi-year research project that connects the academic study of Islamophobia with the public square,” released a report in 2016 that documented how U.S. Catholics view Muslims. America’s national correspondent, Michael O’Loughlin, reported then:

When asked, “What is your overall impression of Muslims?” 30 percent of those Catholics polled said they held unfavorable views, 14 percent said favorable and 45 percent said they held neither favorable nor unfavorable views… Forty-five percent of Catholics said that Islam encourages violence more than other religions while 24 percent said it encourages violence as much as other religions.

Jordan Denari Duffner, an associate at the Bridge Initiative and author of the new book, Finding Jesus Among Muslims: How Loving Islam Makes Me a Better Catholic, joins us on this week’s episode of Jesuitical. Jordan discusses why she felt called to work in Catholic-Islamic dialogue, and why it’s an essential part of the Christian vocation.


In Berkeley, Catholic, Muslim leaders seek common ground

A nine-point declaration emerged from an international gathering of Catholic and Muslim leaders in Berkeley Nov. 6-8.

Finding common ground between the faith traditions, emphasizing human dignity, rights and protection of others, the fourth Catholic-Muslim Forum ended on an optimistic note.

“We assert the equal dignity and value of all persons irrespective of their race, gender, religion or social status, and we categorically condemn any attempts to stereotype any people or attribute collective guilt to them for the actions of individuals among them,” was one of the nine points the participants made.

The Catholic-Muslim Forum was established in 2008 by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Signatories of the “Open Letter” (A Common Word) to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders. This gathering was hosted by Zaytuna College, the Muslim liberal arts college founded in 2009 in Berkeley.

This year’s topic was “Integral Human Development: Growing in Dignity, Catholic and Muslim Perspectives.” Participants included 12 delegates each from the Catholic and Muslim traditions. Additionally, there were six observers from each side. They came from as far away as Rome and Jordan; Argentina and Zambia.



‘A Common Word’ 10 years on: Christians and Muslims must work together for peace

CNS-Catholic Islam CPeople today still need to hear document’s message that Christians, Muslims share two great commandments

On Oct. 13, 2007, 138 Muslim leaders signed “A Common Word Between Us and You,” a document stating that Christians and Muslims share two great commandments — love of God and love of neighbor — and should work for peace together.

Now 10 years later, the influence of the document continues through the projects and relationships it inspired, but experts on Muslim-Christian relations say many people still need to hear its message.


“When Catholics in the U.S. are hearing about Islam and Muslims, they’re not hearing about the heart and soul of the tradition,” said Scott Alexander, director of the Catholic-Muslim studies program at the Catholic Theological Union. “They’re hearing about different events in which there was conflict or if ISIS sponsored some sort of terrorist attack.”

“A Common Word” “gives people a way to see that Muslims are taking action all the time on the local and global stage for the good of humanity,” Alexander said. “The actions of a relatively small minority get so much more publicity that it leads to people having a distorted image of Islam and Muslims.”

Prior to the publication of “A Common Word,” Pope Benedict XVI exacerbated interfaith tensions during a 2006 address at the University of Regensburg by quoting a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who said that Mohammed only contributed “things evil and inhuman,” such as spreading his faith by violence.

While the pope did not endorse the emperor’s view, the Regensburg address provoked outrage from Muslims around the world. Amir Hussain, professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University, says it was also the “impetus” for “A Common Word.”

The authors of “A Common Word” could have written about how offensive and concerning the pope’s words were, said Hussain, but instead they took a positive approach and wrote about the connections between Muslims and Christians.



Islamophobia & the Catholic Media


When I went to Catholic elementary school in the 1960s, the Crusades were taught as a glorious fight against the “Mohammedans.” One teacher said the next great war would be about religion, which presumably meant that we boys needed to be ready when called on to storm the bastions of atheistic communism.

That strain of the faith lingers in the anti-Muslim, Steve Bannon-style Catholicism found among some Baby Boomers and their elders, notwithstanding the new direction the Second Vatican Council charted in 1965 with Nostra Aetate, its document on relations with non-Christian religions. And, according to a study issued last week [.pdf] by Georgetown University’s Prince Alaweed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and its Bridge Initiative, anti-Islam polemics find friendly platforms across substantial segments of the Catholic media. Meanwhile, the study reports, nine out of ten Catholics have never heard of Nostra Aetate, and only 16 percent surveyed in a poll said they knew about church teaching on Islam.

In Nostra Aetate the council stated that the Church “has a high regard for the Muslims” and expressed appreciation for the religiosity of Islam’s faithful. “Over the centuries many quarrels and dissensions have arisen between Christians and Muslims,” the document reads. “The sacred council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding.”

Anti-Islam polemics find friendly platforms across substantial segments of the Catholic media

Since then, popes and others in the Catholic world, such as the Franciscan order, have steadily sought dialogue and cooperation with Muslims. Pope John Paul II, in particular, worked tirelessly at it. Pope Francis has too, while challenging the claims of anti-Islam polemicists that Islam encourages violence.

The Georgetown study covers a lot of ground, so I’ll focus on just one aspect: The attention it gives to the prolific author Robert Spencer, who runs the hardline website Jihad Watch. Spencer’s argument is essentially that Islam is inherently violent. He saysPope Francis was wrong for saying, “It’s not fair to identify Islam with violence. It’s not fair and it’s not true.” Spencer argues that the pope was also wrong when he wrote in Evangelii Gaudium that “faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (No. 253). Further, Spencer counters John Paul II—who said Christians and Muslims worship the same God—by insisting that Vatican II’s call for dialogue must be qualified in light of earlier Church tradition, such as the teachings of Pope Callixtus III, whom he says pledged in 1455 to “exalt the true Faith, and to extirpate the diabolical sect of the reprobate and faithless Mahomet in the East.”



Muslims and Christians unite to call for bridges not walls

ap3841919_articolo(Vatican Radio) US President Donald Trump’s Executive Order to tighten restrictions on arrivals to the United States has been widely condemned, although polls suggest that US public opinion is sharply divided on the policy.

Amongst other restrictions, the Order issued on January 25, bans nationals from seven mainly Muslim countries from entering the US, it places a temporary ban on all refugee admissions and prioritizes refugee claims by religious minorities (Christians in mainly Muslim countries).

Faith-based organizations and human rights groups have called for a re-think of the Executive Order and have urged governments to address the structural causes of forced displacement and share the responsibility of providing for refugees.

Amongst them, the Jesuit Refugee Service – JRS – that has released a joint interfaith statement with the Italian Islamic Religious Community – COREIS- calling for bridges, not walls.

Linda Bordoni spoke to COREIS President, Imam Yahya Sergio Yahe Pallavicini and JRS Advocacy Officer, Amaya Valcarcel about their appeal.

Imam Yahya Sergio Yahe Pallavicini explained that a common sensitivity and Christian and Muslim shared values are at the roots of a continuing collaboration and cooperation between the Italian Islamic Religious Community and the Jesuit Refugee Service that goes back in time over the past 12 months or so.

“Unfortunately what is happening in the US, through the statements of President Trump, somehow pushed us to increase our brotherhood and react – or pro act – giving a joint brotherly interreligious Islamic-Christian response on the need to be much more consistent and honest on humanity, on refugees and migrants, and even on politics” he said.

Amaya Valcarcel pointed out that JRS is very glad to be able to speak out together with the Islamic Community in Italy and said that theirs is first of all a message of faith.

“Christians and Muslims inhabit religious traditions that are rooted in the experience of exile and in the hospitality of God and of God’s own, so hostile attitudes towards displaced persons have no place in our religious traditions and manifest a grave moral failure” she said.

In line with their faith, Valcarcel said, all people of goodwill should promote a more generous culture of hospitality.

She points out that within the Christian tradition, in the Old Testament there are no less than 36  explicit invitations to ‘love the stranger’.

“Also Jesus tells us to love the stranger and care for the stranger. He himself puts himself as a stranger” she said.



Cardinal joins interfaith leaders in ‘Faith Over Fear’ walk to promote unity

walk-1-webCardinal Donald Wuerl joined Washington-area religious leaders Dec. 18 in leading an interfaith walk that organizers said was designed “to express our solidarity and our commitment to unity, understanding, and inclusion.”

The interfaith pilgrimage walk, dubbed “Faith Over Fear: Choosing Unity Over Extremism,” began at Washington Hebrew Congregation in Northwest Washington, and included stops at the National Cathedral and the Islamic Center. At each site, there was a call to prayer, a scripture reading, and a brief reflection.

“We leaders are united in our concern at the rise in hate speech, the increase in violence against racial, ethnic and religious minorities, and the ugly consequences that ensue when people’s actions are informed by inflammatory rhetoric, misinformation and careless slander,” Cardinal Wuerl said, reading from a statement at the beginning of the walk.

Also participating in the walk were the Right Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington; Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig, senior rabbi of Washington Hebrew Congregation; Imam Johari Abdul Malik of Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center; and about 200 others who came to pray and show solidarity with people of other faiths.

“We share the Abrahamic faith,” Bishop Curry said, “and the challenge before us is – out of our great diversity – to make a real tapestry.”

Cardinal Wuerl also lead the participants in reciting the prayer of St. Francis. Prior to leading the prayer, he told the gathering that during Pope Francis’s Sept. 22-24, 2015 visit to Washington, the pope “walked our streets and reminded us we have the power to make a better world – but we have to reach out to one another.”

Bishop Budde, also noting that “we belong to different branches of the Abrahamic family,” urged the participants to “come together to create a climate in which we practice hospitality, protect those who are vulnerable, defend religious freedom, engage in respectful dialogue about our disagreements, and love one another regardless of our differences.”

She added that “all have a welcome place in our land.”

Rabbi Lustig echoed that sentiment and said participants must strive to keep “America a place where people of all faiths are welcome.”