Evolution of interfaith friendships led to powerful experience of ‘trialogue’

Interfaith6-web-696x472Elyse Goldstein, it seems, is a popular preacher at St. Anne’s Anglican Church, in central Toronto.

“My people love Elyse’s preaching,” Canon Gary van der Meer, incumbent at St. Anne’s, says with a wide grin. “Oh my goodness, if I could just have her fill in for me whenever I’m sick, the church would be full.”

You might say she’d be an unusual choice for a fill-in Anglican priest. Goldstein is in fact the founding and current rabbi of City Shul, a Reform Jewish synagogue a 45-minute walk away. Then again, you might also call van der Meer an unusual choice to preach at a synagogue. But to the congregation of City Shul, he’s become a familiar face.

“I now know people by sight who are from City Shul, and they know me—they make a mistake and call me ‘Rabbi Gary’ sometimes, and I think it’s a big compliment,” he says.

For about three years, Goldstein and van der Meer, who is also the diocese of Toronto’s interfaith officer, have been doing a preaching exchange; Goldstein has been preaching at St. Anne’s on Christmas, and van der Meer at City Shul for the Jewish holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The exchange was the natural evolution, they say, of an interfaith friendship they began more than five years ago, when van der Meer first approached Goldstein after his congregation had expressed a desire to learn more about other religions.

There are actually more than two members in this circle of spiritual friends. In early 2013, van der Meer met Ilyas Ally, the son of Shabir Ally—imam at the Islamic Information & Dawah Centre International, a nearby mosque, and former host of Let the Quran Speak, a Toronto-produced television show on Islam—and the two discovered they shared an interest in interfaith relationships.



Papal visit: Pope Francis in Abu Dhabi to mark a historic day for inter-faith relations – live updates


History was made on Sunday when the wheels of Pope Francis’s flight from Rome touched down in Abu Dhabi. The Pope’s first day in the UAE will be a moment for all faiths to meet and build strong relationships based on religious tolerance.

Here you will find live coverage of the Pope’s visit from The National’s reporters across the UAE, as it happens. All times UTC+4


5:12 Private meeting with Muslim Council of Elders begins

In a landmark moment for interfaith relations, Pope Francis will attend a private meeting of the members of the Muslim Council of Elders.

The meeting is expected to take between 30 to 45 minutes.

The National’s reporter, Sofia Barbarani, is at the Grand Mosque, at a uniquely quiet time.

Embedded video

Sofia Barbarani@SofiaBarbarani

Pope Francis is at the Grand mosque in Abu Dhabi meeting with members of the Muslim council of elders. His busy schedule will see him end the day at an interfaith meeting this evening where he is due to give a speech. @TheNationalUAE

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17:08 Pope Francis arrives at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

A convoy of cars, carrying Pope Francis in the Kia Soul has arrived at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Pope Francis was met by the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif University, Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, who welcomed him to the mosque.

John Dennehy@john_denn

Pope Francis. Sheikh Zayed Mosque.

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16:55 Pope Francis’ arrival is imminent

The live stream of Pope Francis’ visit to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has now begun and his arrival appears to be imminent.

The pontiff will attend a private meeting with the Muslim Concil of Elders.


Popes in the Middle East: Highlights of papal outreach in the region

.- Pope Francis is set to celebrate the first papal Mass on the Arabian peninsula next week during his Feb. 3-5 visit to Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.

The pope’s Mass at the Zayed sports stadium on Feb. 5 is expected to draw at least 135,000 people. Many in attendance will be migrant workers from Asia residing in the UAE, a country in which 89 percent of the population are not citizens. It will not only be the first papal Mass on the peninsula, but the first public Mass in the country.

Since the Second Vatican Council there have been significant milestones in Muslim-Catholic relations in the region. Here is a look at some of the highlights:

First pope on a plane

The first time a pope ever traveled on a plane was on a trip to the Middle East. Saint Paul VI flew from Italy to Jordan in January 1964, making history as the first pope to leave Europe. Paul VI met with King Hussein in Amman before continuing his journey to Jerusalem.

First pope in a mosque

Saint John Paul II made history as the first pope to enter a mosque during his visit to Syria in May 2001. John Paul II went to Damascus’ Umayyad Mosque, which had been built in 715 on top of a fourth-century Christian cathedral said to contain the head of John the Baptist.

In March 2003, days before US President George W. Bush announced the official start of the Iraq war, St. John Paul II called for a worldwide fast for peace in the Middle East.

The Polish pontiff, known for his extensive papal travels during his 27-year pontificate, was also the first pope to visit several Middle Eastern nations, including Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey.


Mixed-faith marriage as a way of life in Muslim-majority Dubai

mixed-faith-marriageUnusually for a couple in Dubai, theirs is a mixed-faith marriage, with Mina – born a Catholic – choosing not to follow standard practice by converting to Islam when they tied the knot.

She is excited to be on the waiting list for the mass that Pope Francis is expected to hold on Feb 5, during the first ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula.

If she gets a ticket, Ali has promised to take over the child-care duties for their 14-month-old twin boys to make it easier for her to attend.

“It takes time to understand that every ritual and every habit is personal,” he told Reuters. “So adapting to each other’s rituals is really about giving the other person space to do what they need to do.”

Living in a Muslim-majority country, Ali has faced pressure for Mina to convert. “A lot of people ask so when is she going to be Muslim. It’s one of those things like, so when are you going to come over to our house.”

But he is mindful that even the Prophet Mohammad failed to convert his uncle, so “this is something that I cannot force onto somebody.”


He and Mina started off as business partners when they founded Dubomedy, a Dubai-based arts and comedy school, in 2008.

She remembers their wedding seven years ago as a fond occasion on which both their cultures came together.

“His family came out with the (ululation), Khaleeji (Gulf) music, and my family came out with the O Sole Mio, (Luciano) Pavarotti, you know we had a singer singing Arabic songs and an Italian song,” Mina said.

The couple also celebrate Christmas and fast together for Ramadan.


Pakistan: Christians and Muslims commemorate 800th anniversary of meeting between St Francis and Sultan

1547598434YEbClpnGgPjD1Vh9X3S6oFazi7wtHs.pngTo commemorate the historic encounter between St Francis of Assisi with the Sultan of Egypt, AL-Kamil in the year 1219, Christians and Muslims held a special ceremony launch a year of events to promote tolerance, dialogue and a common commitment to peace.

The National Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism, of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Pakistan, organised the meeting with eminent Muslim scholars to inaugurate the activities that, in 2019, will commemorate the event in Pakistan 800 years ago, in the name of Islamic-Christian dialogue.

Franciscan Sebastian Shaw, Archbishop of Lahore and President of the Commission, presided over the ceremony, held on January 12 in Lahore. Fr Francis Nadeem, Custodian of the Capuchin Friars in Pakistan, Executive Secretary of the Commission also lead the event. Franciscans, nuns, priests, lay people and eminent Muslim scholars from Sialkot, Gujranwala and Islamabad came Lahore for the occasion.

Fr Nadeem said, the two great leaders, Francis and Al-kamil, “spoke up for peace and tolerance amid the atmosphere of war and conflict during the crusades. They gave an example of interreligious dialogue and mutual understanding.”

At the beginning of the ceremony a painting was unveiled that depicts the encounter between St Francis of Assisi and Al-Kamil, while the doves were released, symbolizing the hope of spreading the message of peace in Pakistan and especially in the areas in which there are religious and political conflicts.

Capuchin Friar Shahzad Khokher OFM Cap then presented the background, the historical context and the significance of this historical meeting, and Archbishop Shaw encouraged everyone present to “be ambassadors of peace, inspired by the example shown by these great leaders”. “I admire the passion and courage of Francis of Assisi, who wanted to go to the Sultan during the war”, he said, reiterating that “this event drives us all to live in peace, harmony, tolerance and solidarity.”


Interfaith Dialogue: Another Perspective

downloadWhile perusing the online December 31, 2018, issue of the Fillmore County Journal, I read the commentary by Aaron Schwartzentruber in which he contends that interfaith dialogue compromises the Gospels of the New Testament, especially if dialogue is between Christians and Muslims.

My personal experience with interfaith dialogue began very early in life when, growing up in Fillmore County, I was a Catholic in a predominantly Protestant community. Our interfaith community was one of neighborliness and of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11). These formative experiences have been helpful in my interfaith dialogues with Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Zorastrians, and Baha’i. I’ve learned that meaningful interfaith dialogue is based on mutual respect, healthy curiosity, and sincere desire to learn and understand. It is not proselytizing. It does not condone, in any way, denigration of any faith tradition or followers. It is not a contest in righteousness, nor right vs wrong. In these days of Islamophobia, too little effort is made to become informed about Islam with sources other than mainstream media.

For anyone who chooses to move beyond ignorance and the fear that ensues, I suggest starting with What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam, an easily readable book by John Esposito, a Christian professor at Georgetown University. A source that specifically addresses the commonalities between Islam and Christianity is A Common Word, Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighbor, which is available as a book and online: http://www.acommonword.com. It has become part of religious studies curricula and has served as the basis for multiple international interfaith conferences to study and expand its content. It is enthusiastically endorsed by hundreds of religious and governmental leaders from every part of the globe. The foundational principle of “A Common Word” is that Muslims and Christians (and Jews) believe in the commandments: 1) Love of God and 2) Love of Neighbor (Mark 12:28-31; Matthew 22:35-39; Luke 10:25-27). Muslims and Christians (and Jews) share not only these two great commandments but also the same God. Yes, they worship the same God. These three monotheistic Abrahamic religions refer to God as Yahweh (Jews), Arabic name of Allah (Islam), and Trinitarian God (Christian). Jesus (Isa in Arabic) is among the greatest of prophets in Islam. Muslims, like Christians, believe in His virgin birth.


Lamin Sanneh, Scholar of Islam and Christianity, Dies at 76

11sanneh1-superjumboLamin Sanneh, who was born into poverty in a tiny river town in Gambia and became a world-renowned scholar of Christianity and Islam, providing key insights into how each religion took hold in West Africa, died on Jan. 6 in New Haven. He was 76.

His son, Kelefa, said the cause was complications of a stroke.

Dr. Sanneh was born a Muslim but converted to Christianity as a teenager and became a practicing Roman Catholic, giving him experience in both Islam and Christianity and an unusual perspective for a scholar of religion.

Even more striking, he alone of his large rural family managed to migrate across continents and attend prominent universities. He ended up as a professor at Yale University, where he taught for 30 years. He was the D. Willis James professor of missions and world Christianity at Yale Divinity School and a professor of history at Yale.

His memoir, “Summoned From the Margin: Homecoming of an African”(2012), relates how, even as a youth, he was consumed with theological questions about the nature of God and human suffering; that passion led to his religious conversion and academic career.