A Praying Body of Christians, Muslims Overcomes Tragedy in Morocco

By Carolina McCabe

Monastery-Catholic-church-Notre-Dame-AtlasRabat – Behind massive walls in Midelt, central Morocco, lies the small Catholic community of Notre Dame de L’Atlas. The walls enclose a large courtyard, a small chapel, and a memorial for the seven brothers of Tibhirine who were killed in Algeria.

The community, belonging to the Cistercian order, was originally from the Atlas Abbey of Tibhirine near Medea, Algeria. During the Algerian Civil War, seven monks from the order were kidnapped, held for two months, and found decapitated in May of 1996. The Algerian government announced later that month that the heads of the clergymen had been discovered.

Two monks, Father Jean-Pierre and Father Amedee, managed to escape the kidnapping and survived the deadly attack.

In 2010, a film about the tragedy, “Des Hommes et des Dieux” (Of Gods and Men), won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

The two surviving monks left Algeria and traveled to the current Notre Dame de l’Atlas monastery in Midelt, Morocco. The new order, which began in 2001, was formed by a community of monks who joined the two survivors of Tibhirine. Inside the compound, the monks work, pray, live, and welcome visitors. Father Amedee died in 2008, and Father Jean Pierre Schumacher is the only living survivor of the 1996 tragedy.

Read also: Rabat’s Cathedral: From a French Past to a Sub-Saharan Future

Living within the monastery are six brothers from France, Spain, Ireland, and Portugal. The brothers follow the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, also called Trappists, a Roman Catholic contemplative order dedicated to prayer.

Brother Anthony McNamara, a monk from Ireland, came to the monastery after recognizing the increasing anti-Muslim sentiment in the aftermath of ISIS killings. McNamara became invested in the Syrian crisis and learned about the devastation that Muslim people experience attributed to ISIS.

It was after McNamara saw powerful images and news stories about victims in Syria that he came to the realization that the violence was affecting everyone. “This brought home to me how we are all, Christian and Muslim, caught up in this terrible violence,” said McNamara. “We all believe in the same God, and here are these terrible murders being carried out in His name.”

As he celebrated midnight mass on Christmas Eve of 2015, McNamara decided to go to Notre Dame de L’Atlas to become a member of what he calls “a praying community amongst a praying community.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM MOROCCO WORLD NEWS 

In central Africa, a cathedral shelters Muslims amid sectarian violence

St_peters_church_likoma_island_malawiBANGUI, Central African Republic (RNS) — Hundreds of Muslims are trapped on the grounds of a Roman Catholic cathedral in the southern city of Bangassou, unable to leave the compound for fear of being attacked by a Christian militia.

Muslims have been attacked and murdered in the area around Bangassou, a small market city on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as a nearly five-year-old civil war between the Christian majority and Muslims has divided the southeastern part of the country.

In July, a self-styled Church Defense Group for Christians called on all Christians in the country to carry out revenge attacks on Muslims for killing Christians.

The leader of the group, François Nzapakéyé, said “priests and pastors are systematically assassinated.” He cited Father Paul Emile Nzalé, murdered in an attack by 200 armed men in May at Notre Dame of Fatima in the capital, Bangui.

“We will avenge the killings of the many church leaders and men of God, killed in the exercise of their functions. Muslims or Christians, we shall see,” Nzapakéyé said in his communique to followers.

Yet in Bangassou, St. Peter Claver Cathedral has opened its doors to some 2,000 Muslims. And three hours east, hundreds of students and residents have taken refuge in a local parish in Zemio. In both places, Muslims and their protectors live in constant fear of attack amid threats from Christian militia.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS 

Christians should not be second-class citizens, cardinal tells Saudi Arabia

1689484-cardinal-1524118709-380-640x480French cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran’s trip, the first by such a senior Catholic figure, raised hopes of more openness in the kingdom, which is home to Islam’s holiest sites but bans the practice of other faiths. It included a meeting with King Salman, his first with a Catholic official.

“I think all religions are faced with two dangers: terrorism and ignorance,” Tauran, who is head of the Vatican’s Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, told Vatican Radio.

“During my meetings, I insisted very much on this point, that Christians and non-Muslims are spoken of well in schools and that they are never considered second-class citizens,” he said.

Tauran, 75, who signed a cooperation accord with Saudi authorities, said he sensed that they wanted “to show that even in Saudi Arabia there is the possibility of discussion, and therefore of changing the country’s image”.

FULL ARTICLE FROM REUTERS

The Bridge Initiative: Catholic Islamophobia and Interreligious Dialogue

The Bridge Initiative, a Georgetown University research project on Islamophobia, based in the university’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, this week released a report that sheds light on American Catholics’ views of Islam, and the way Islam is discussed in Catholic publications.

hands-holdingThis report, “Danger & Dialogue: American Catholic Public Opinion and Portrayals of Islam,” finds that nearly half of Catholics can’t name any similarities between Catholicism and Islam, or say explicitly that there are no commonalities.

The report, which includes survey data on Catholics’ views of Muslims and interreligious dialogue, also reveals that only 14% of Catholics say they have a favorable impression of Muslims. The poll also shows that respondents who consume content from Catholic media have more unfavorable views of Muslims than those who don’t.

The report, authored by Jordan Denari Duffner, also analyzed nearly 800 articles about Islam in Catholic media outlets, finding that half of the time the word “Islamic” was used in nine prominent Catholic outlets, it was in reference to the Islamic State terrorist group. The headlines of Catholic articles on Islam had a negative sentiment overall, but the outlet that mentioned Pope Francis the most in its headlines on Islam had positive sentiment.

The report also explores the 100-plus books, audio programs, and DVDs sold by Catholic publishers about Islam. Interfaith dialogue is a prominent topic in these for-sale materials on Islam, but differences between Christians and Muslims are often stressed in introductory materials or those that attempt to compare Christianity and Islam. The most prolific authors on Islam for Catholics take varied approaches, with some focusing on dialogue and others on sharing the Christian faith with Muslims.

FULL ARTICLE FROM IGNATIAN SOLIDARITY NETWORK 

Christians, Muslims unite against terrorism, weapons of mass destruction

pope-francis-with-sheikh-ahmed-el-tayebAt a time when religion seems to be one of the causes of division in the world, it is always good to hear news about how people from different faiths are uniting for a common cause.

American Catholic bishops joined hands with Shia Muslim religious leaders as they recently released a joint statement condemning terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

The joint declaration, entitled “Gathered In The Name of God,” highlighted how both religions value life and aspire for peace. It was signed by Catholic Church officials such as Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington and Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

“Christianity and Islam share a commitment to love and respect for the life, dignity, and welfare of all members of the human community,” the religious leaders said in the joint declaration, as quoted by The Catholic News Agency.

“Peaceful coexistence is built on equity and justice. We call upon all to work toward developing a culture of encounter, tolerance, dialogue, and peace that respects the religious traditions of others,” they said.

The declaration also rejected “all acts of terrorism” and destructive weapons, encouraging countries around the world to shun these forms of warfare.

“Together we are working for a world without weapons of mass destruction. We call on all nations to reject acquiring such weapons and call on those who possess them to rid themselves of these indiscriminate weapons, including chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons,” the document stated.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIAN TODAY 

Killing of French priest was attack on ‘all of us’, says British imam

20160801T1351-211-CNS-HAMEL-REACTION-CATHOLIC_800-1-800x500Imam Qari Muhammad Asim, senior imam at the Makkah Mosque in Leeds said the murder of Fr Hamel was an attack on faith

Fr Jacques Hamel’s murder in northern France last week – by men claiming allegiance to ISIS – has prompted sorrow and outrage from Muslim leaders around the world.

“This attack in a place of worship and on innocent worshippers in particular demonstrates that there are no boundaries to the depravity of these murderers,” wrote Imam Qari Muhammad Asim, senior imam at the Makkah Mosque in Leeds, England.

The knife-yielding attackers slit the throat of 85-year-old Fr Hamel and also injured two others in the church, Eglise St-Etienne, before they were fatally shot by police. Fr Hamel’s funeral was held in Rouen cathedral on Tuesday.

“In this extremely difficult time for the Catholic community, we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of all faiths,” the English imam said in a statement. “An attack on any place of worship is an attack on a way of life of faith communities and therefore an attack on all of us.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CATHOLIC HERALD (UK)

Muslim-Christian peacemaking has a history we need to revive

ofgodsandmenTwenty years have passed since seven monks from the Trappist Priory of Our Lady of the Atlas at Tibhirine, Algeria, were kidnapped by members of the Armed Islamic Group, victims in the Algerian civil war. American moviegoers know the story of their vocation from the award-winning 2010 film “Of Gods and Men” (“Des hommes et des dieux”).

There is confusion over the conditions of their death. Two months after the kidnapping the monks were found, apparently executed and beheaded, but knowledgeable sources contend that they were killed not by their captors but in a failed rescue attempt by the Algerian Army.

The monks of Tibhirine and Christian De Chergé, their prior, belong to a tradition of French Catholic engagement with North African Islam. The earliest of these was Blessed Charles Eugène de la Foucauld, the early 20th-century hermit of Tamanrasset in the Algerian Sahara and the inspiration of the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus.

The others are the distinguished Islamist Louis Massignon and his disciple Mary Kahil, who initiated the badaliya, a movement of Christian-Muslim prayer-support groups.

Foucauld, a one-time soldier, fell under the spell of the Sahara after doing a cartographic exploration of Morocco for the French government. In1901, after ordination to the priesthood, he returned to the desert, first to Bene Abbès and then at Tamanrasset, where he lived as a hermit dedicated to prayer and adoration but also tirelessly served his Tuareg neighbors.

Originally hoping he might find converts among the Tuareg, Foucauld lived out his time with a life of presence and service to his Muslim neighbors. “God continues to come to us and live with us in a close and a familiar way, each day and at every hour, in the Holy Eucharist,” he wrote. “So, too, we must go and live among our brothers and sisters in a close and familiar way.”

To a Protestant visitor he said, “I am not here to convert the Tuareg at one go, but to try to understand them … . I am sure God will accept into heaven those who are good and virtuous … . You are a Prostestant, Tessière is a nonbeliever, the Tuareg are Muslims. I am convinced God will accept us all.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER