Twenty 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.”
Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego and Muslim leader Sayyid M. Syeed discuss the “ugly tide of anti-Islamic bigotry” in keynote speeches at the University of San Diego Feb. 17. Facilitating the discussion was Ami Carpenter, center, who is an associate professor at the Catholic university’s Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies. (CNS photo/Denis Grasska, The Southern Cross) See MCELROY-SYEED-LECTURES Feb. 22, 2016.
SAN DIEGO (CNS) — San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy is challenging U.S. Catholics to take an active role in combating “the scourge of anti-Islamic prejudice.”
“We are witnessing in the United States a new nativism, which the American Catholic community must reject and label for the religious bigotry which it is,” he said in a keynote address delivered Feb. 17 in the University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice.
The evening event took place against the backdrop of the first national Catholic-Muslim dialogue, which was held Feb. 17-18 at the Catholic university.
Last May, after more than 20 years of regional dialogues with representatives of the U.S. Muslim community, the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops established a national Catholic-Muslim dialogue.
Motivated by the call of “Nostra Aetate,” the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on the relationship between the Catholic Church and non-Catholic faiths, the dialogue seeks to foster understanding and collaboration between Catholics and Muslims. Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich has been named its first Catholic co-chairman.
In addition to Bishop McElroy’s speech, the evening also featured a keynote speech by Sayyid M. Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances, who reflected on the state of Catholic-Muslim relations from the Muslim perspective.
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Pope Francis told Christian and Muslim leaders in Kenya on Thursday that they have little choice but to engage in dialogue to guard against the “barbarous” Islamic extremist attacks that have struck Kenya, saying they need to be “prophets of peace.”
Francis met with a small group of Kenya’s faith leaders before celebrating his first public Mass on the continent, a joyful, rain-soaked celebration of an estimated 300,000 faithful, including Kenya’s president. The Argentine pope, who has never been to Africa before, was treated to ululating Swahili singers, swaying nuns, Maasai tribesmen and traditional dancers at the Mass on the grounds of the University of Nairobi.
On his first full day in Kenya, Francis received a raucous welcome from the crowd as he zoomed around in his open-sided popemobile, some 10,000 police providing security. Some people had been at the university since 3 a.m., braving heavy showers that turned the grounds into thick puddles of mud. Others waited in queues 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) deep to get close to the venue.
But the size of the crowd — estimated by both police and the Vatican — was far smaller than the 1.4 million that Kenyan authorities had expected after declaring Thursday a national holiday. Vatican officials had predicted a maximum of a half-million people, and the lower number was likely due in large part to the weather.
As a 12-year-old Catholic boy growing up in England, Michael Fitzgerald decided he wanted to be a missionary in Africa. Eight years later, he was studying theology and learning Arabic in Tunisia.
He went on to devote his priestly ministry to the promotion of interfaith understanding between Muslims and Christians, and became one of the top Roman Catholic experts on Islam. He has served as the archbishop of Tunisia, the papal nuncio — effectively a Vatican ambassador — in Cairo, and the Vatican’s delegate to the Arab League.
For years, Fitzgerald has been urging his fellow Christians to acquaint themselves with Islam and its holy book, the Quran. It has been a challenging mission at a time when many non-Muslims associate Islam with violence and when many Muslims think the West has declared war on their faith.
Vatican City, Jan 8, 2015 / 11:43 am (CNA/EWTN News).- French imams visiting the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue released Thursday a joint communique condemning the attack on Charlie Hebdo and calling for freedom of expression.
“Without freedom of expression, the world is in danger,” the Jan 8. statement reads.
It also asked that the media provide information which is “respectful of religions.”
Signed by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the release comes at the end of a two-day visit to the Vatican of a delegation of French imams, accompanied by representatives of the French bishops conference.
Cardinal Tauran and the imams write they are “shocked” by the attack on Charlie Hebdo, and back Pope Francis’ words, underscoring their “closeness and human and spiritual solidarity to the victims and their families.”
Considering the impact of media on public opinion, the Vatican and the imams also invited “responsible media to provide information that is respectful of religions, of their followers and of their practices, thus fostering a culture of encounter.”
The release also asked religious leaders to “always promote a culture of peace and hope, able to win over fear and to build bridges among men,” and stressed that interreligious dialogue “is the only path to walk together in order to dissipate prejudices.”
Before the meeting at the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the four imams launched the idea of a mobilization of all religions in France to testify that “no religion is violent.”
On 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?