In Minnesota, Christian-Muslim dialogue turns strangers into neighbors

.- In the aftermath of the mall stabbing of nine people by a Somali-Muslim Sept. 17 in St. Cloud, Minnesota, Muslims called on their friends at the Greater St. Cloud Area Faith Leaders and others for support.

Leaders from various faiths came together to pray and strategize a sensible reaction to the violence. They emerged from their meeting ready to show a united front to a community whose racial-cultural stress points where under heavy pressure.

This wasn’t just a crisis response, but the fruit of almost two years of ongoing Muslim-Christian dialogue.

“It has allowed us to build bridges in the past, and it seemed natural that we would have conversations and stand in solidarity when this happened,” said Kathy Langer, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud and a member of the Greater St. Cloud Area Faith Leaders group. “We’re friends, so of course we could talk about next steps.”

Since 2014, Catholics in St. Cloud have been sitting down with their Muslim neighbors to talk about their respective religions and get to know each other as human persons. The importance of this dialogue became evident when the rural community, where racial tensions still run high, braced itself for the repercussions of the most recent violence. In addition to the work of the Greater St. Cloud Area Faith Leaders, a local Christian-Muslim dialogue group organizes gatherings with talks by Christians and Muslims and small-group discussions.

The St. Cloud Times has reported harassment of Somali businesses and a city on edge. The once-homogenous college town is still adjusting to the influx of Somali immigrants and refugees that started approximately 10 years ago.

“St. Cloud used to be called ‘white cloud,’ and they were proud of that,” said Sister Helen Rolfson, of the Sisters of St. Francis in Rochester, Minnesota, and chairwoman of the St. Cloud Diocese’s Ecumenical and Interreligious Commission.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CATHOLIC NEWS AGENCY 

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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 

Pope Francis: ‘Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters’

_86949825_86949824Pope Francis has told worshippers in a mosque in the Central African Republic that “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters”.

He was speaking to Muslims who had sought shelter in the capital Bangui after nearly three years of violence between Christians and Muslims.

The mosque visit was seen as perhaps the most difficult part of his Africa tour, a BBC correspondent says

Pope Francis then held the final Mass of his Africa trip in Bangui.

He was speaking in Latin, which was then translated into the local Sango language.

His message of reconciliation appeared to have an immediate impact, as a reporter from the AFP news agency spotted a group of Muslim rebels turn up at the Mass wearing t-shirts with the Pope’s image on them.

The Pope has now left the CAR at the end of his six-day visit to the continent.

More than 100,000 Muslims fled the capital as a result of the fighting but 15,000 are left in an area called PK5, according to the campaign group Human Rights Watch.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE BBC

Why Pope Francis Is Visiting a Hotbed of Christian-Muslim Violence

Vatican-Headline-News-Now-Pope-FrancisJust after his election in March 2013, Pope Francis told the world he wanted a “poor Church, for the poor,” and if his upcoming travel schedule is anything to go by, it would appear he has remained true to that promise.

On November 29, Francis will arrive in the Central African Republic (CAR) for a stay of just over 24 hours, the Vatican confirmed this week. In the United Nations (U.N.) Human Development Report 2014, CAR was ranked 185th out of 187 countries, ahead of only its neighbor the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Niger. The country has the lowest GDP per capita in the world and is riddled with sectarian tensions between the Seleka—a majority Muslim alliance of militias—and their Christian counterparts, the anti-Balaka. Since independence from France in 1960, the country has had no fewer than eight coups and mutinies.

In the capital of Bangui, a recent wave of violence has resulted in 77 deaths and more than 400 people being injured as Seleka and anti-Balaka militants hunted each other down in the capital. Civilians were caught up in the violence, with at least 31 civilians being shot point-blank, stabbed or having their throats slit in targeted killings, Human Rights Watch (HRW)said on Thursday. The latest clashes were sparked by the murder of a 17-year-old Muslim taxi driver, Amin Mahamat, whose corpse was found with his throat cut on September 26.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE

When Muslims and Christians Marry

Exchanging wedding ringsOn a blustery weekend this past February, 26 people met at the Cenacle Retreat House in Chicago to reflect on the religious dimensions of marriage. Nothing unusual about that. What was unusual about this gathering was that it brought together Christians and Muslims who are married, engaged or seriously considering marriage. Attendees hailed mostly from the Chicago area, but also from Valparaiso, Minneapolis, Rochester, Minn., and Seattle. One man even cut short a trip abroad, at his wife’s behest, to be present.

Mixed marriage, the canonical term for marriage between a Catholic and a member of another Christian church, is a fact of life in America’s religiously plural society. But many may not realize how prevalent it is among Catholics. A study by Creighton University’s Center for Marriage and Family in 1999 indicates that today roughly 40 percent of all Catholics marry non-Catholics. Most of these unions involve Catholics and other Christians (a more ecumenically sensitive term is interchurch marriage rather than mixed, which has some negative connotations).

However, increasing numbers of Catholics are marrying Jews, Muslims and adherents of other religions (the canonical term here is disparity of cult, but interfaith or interreligious marriage are more user-friendly terms). Catholic-Jewish couples, because of their greater number and longer history in American society, have a growing list of resources, including books, Web sites and support groups like the national Dovetail Institute and the Chicago-based Jewish Catholic Couples Group. But there are practically no pastoral resources for Christian-Muslim couples in the United States, despite the fact that according to many estimates, there are now more Muslims in this country than Jews. The few print resources available to pastors and couples are either outdated or written for a non-American context. (The Canadian Centre for Ecumenism has just published an exellent document, Pastoral Guidelines for Muslim-Christian Marriages. )

The dearth of resources, combined with the reluctance of many imams and pastors even to broach the subject, has left Christian-Muslim couples at a loss. To whom can they turn for advice about the unique issues they face? Where can priests and campus ministers go when called upon to counsel the small but growing number of such couples?

FULL ARTICLE FROM AMERICAN MAGAZINE 

Interfaith Dialogue With Iran Is Possible, Says Jesuit Scholar

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Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir speaking in June 2010 in Birmingham, England.

Following a number of under-the-radar visits with religious leaders of Iran’s Shiite Muslim community, Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir says religious leaders in the Islamic republic are open to improving relations with Christians.

The renowned scholar believes Iran is eager to engage in wider interfaith discussion. Father Samir’s optimistic assessment is based on unprecedented off-the-record visits and dialogue with Shiite leaders in the Middle-Eastern nation and bordering Iraq.

At last month’s three-day Communion and Liberation “New York Encounter” event, Father Samir confirmed that he traveled to Iran’s holiest city, Qom, just over a year ago for a weeklong conversation with some of the country’s leading clerics.

He also visited Najaf, Iraq, another holy city, to meet leaders of Iraq’s Shiite community.

Father Samir’s guide on his personal visit to Iran and Iraq was Sayed Wissam Tarhini, a former student at St. Joseph University in Beirut, Lebanon, where the Jesuit priest teaches Catholic theology and Islamic studies to Catholic, Muslim and Orthodox Christian students.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER