[Dr. Rita George-Tvrtković is associate professor of theology at Benedictine University, where she specializes in medieval and contemporary Christian-Muslim relations. Recent books include A Christian Pilgrim in Medieval Iraq: Riccoldo da Montecroce’s Encounter with Islam, and the forthcoming Christians, Muslims, and Mary: A History (Paulist Press, 2018). She is former associate director of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and currently lives in Chicago with her husband Zoran and their children, Luka and Anya Lucia. She spoke to Charles Camosy after participating in an interfaith discussion held Oct. 22 and 23 at Catholic University of America, which brought together five Christian and five Muslim scholars from around the United States.]
Camosy: How and why did you get involved in Catholic-Muslim dialogue more generally?
George-Tvrtković: I’ve been involved at the grassroots level in Chicago since 1997. From 1999-2002, including during the drama of 9/11, I was Associate Director of Archdiocese of Chicago’s Ecumenical & Interreligious office. Then I studied theology and medieval Catholic-Muslim relations at Notre Dame.
Now I’m associate professor of theology at Benedictine University in the suburbs of Chicago, where over 25 percent of our student body is Muslim. I’ve always combined scholarship and grassroots dialogue.
As a Catholic, I am exhorted by Nostra Aetate [the Vatican II document on the relation of the Church with non-Christian religions – Ed.] and other teachings to engage in dialogue with people of different religions. Furthermore, my institution, Benedictine University has a special calling to interreligious hospitality, which is rooted in Ch. 53 of the Rule of St. Benedict (On the Reception of Guests), which itself is rooted in Christ’s call to welcome the stranger.
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.”
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.”
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.”