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Friday, February 20, 2009

Speeches from the Oct 03 event, Bishop Kevin Manning

It is with great pleasure that I join you this evening to discuss some values which Muslims and Christians hold in common. Thanks to my fellow organisers who have so ably demonstrated that Muslims and Christians can work together.

Basis for Dialogue
Common Humanity
The primary basis for our dialogue is our common humanity: we are brothers and sisters on this planet. As human beings we share certain values about life, family, education, peace. After all, according to the Book of Genesis, we are all made in God’s image, sons and daughters of God and we have Abraham as a common (spiritual) Father.

Earlier this month, the Pope, the Leader of the Catholic Church, said in his message to a UNESCO Conference in Paris “ all considerations must put human beings at the centre, as well as the dignity of their biological and spiritual being, the sacred character of their life,” and the value of the marriage and family bond”.[1]

Culture and Religion determine our way of being
We all recognise that human beings belong to specific cultures so that, frequently, inter-religious dialogue is also an inter-cultural dialogue. To understand another culture can be difficult especially when we want to go beyond the external expressions of culture such as food and music which we have enjoyed this evening. These are representations of a much deeper phenomenon: a way of thinking and a way of being in the world. For us, Muslims and Christians, this way of being is derived from our respective religious beliefs and commitment.

Basis of Respect
These two elements – our common humanity and the acknowledgment of one another’s religious beliefs– provide the basis for the mutual respect, which must, and does, characterise our dialogue.

Faith Content of our Dialogue
When I examine the Five Pillars of Islam, I can see immediately that elements of these Five Pillars are present in Christianity.

First Pillar: Confession of Faith
Christians also believe in one God. The profession of faith, which is recited on Sundays in Catholic Church services, begins, “ I believe in One God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth”. The prayer which Jesus taught us begins “ Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name … thy will be done”.

Second Pillar: Prayer
Prayer to the all- powerful God is at the heart of the Christian life. Private prayer daily and community prayer in the Eucharist each week is a basic action for the Christian.

Third Pillar: Almsgiving
This is a very ancient tradition in the Christian Church. Catholic social justice teaching is very strong on this point. We must give, not from our abundance, but from our necessity. In fact, one of our leaders, Pope Paul VI taught that the poor have a right to take what they need for basic sustenance.

Fourth Pillar: Fasting
Again fasting has a long tradition in Christianity, dating back to its Founder. Today periods of fasting throughout the year are more visible in Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches than in western Christian churches and I regard this as a loss.

It is interesting to note that in the Irish language, the word for
Friday is the “day of the Fast”
Wednesday means the first day of the fast
Thursday means the day between the fasts

Fifth Pillar: Pilgrimage
Some of you may be surprised to hear that pilgrimage is very deeply rooted in Christianity. It was very much practised by holy men and women in medieval times and is still a very large part of the practice of the Catholic Church.
There is another sense in which pilgrimage is foundational to Christianity. We believe that ‘we have not here a lasting city” that our whole life is a pilgrimage. A very old prayer in which we ask Mary, the mother of Jesus, to help us refers to this world as the ‘vale of tears”. That does not mean that we have a gloomy view of the world but it is simply reminding ourselves of the reality that we are a pilgrim people.

We see death as the end of the pilgrimage, the gate through which we must pass. It is interesting that one of the Latin words for dying was “migravit”: he migrated!!

In this brief review of the Five Pillars of Islam and Christianity, it can be seen that there is much we have in common.

Social Justice
I would like to return to one point and introduce another before moving to my final comments.

The point to which I wish to return is social justice and specifically the connection between justice and peace which both religions seek. Times without number has the present Pope, John Paul II, spoken about justice as the foundation for peace. On 4th October, through his representative, the same message was heard at UNESCO. Let me quote it for you because I think you will agree that it is a powerful statement:

(the international community) “ must do everything possible so that all peoples have land and autonomy of existence, and so that they may be able to make decisions in internal matters so that inhabitants of a nation may be the first to benefit from their country’s riches.”[2]
This has been the constant teaching of the Catholic Church.

It was a great joy for me to learn that Muslims honour Mary as the mother of Jesus and, although our respective beliefs about the status of Jesus differ, the honour given in Islam to Mary, as His mother, finds a warm resonance in the hearts of Catholics.
With these, we have a solid foundation to move forward together, in peace, harmony, and mutual respect.

I want to finish by quoting some key teachings of the Catholic Church with regard to inter-faith dialogue. In 1965, the Second Vatican Council agreed:

“Upon the Muslims, the Catholic Church looks with esteem. They adore One God living and enduring, merciful and all-powerful Maker of heaven and earth, and Speaker to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as did Abraham, with whom the Islamic faith is pleased to associate itself. Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a Prophet. They also honour Mary, his virgin mother. At times they call on her, too, with devotion. Further, they await the Day of judgment when God will give each man his due after raising him up. Consequently, they prize the moral life and give worship to God, especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting” (Nostra Aetate, 3).

And so, the Catholic Church encourages its members to dialogue with Muslims, and such dialogues can take place in many ways: living room dialogues in neighbourhoods and communities; dialogues that lead to cooperative efforts, in particular, projects to assist the needy; and dialogues of specialists where religious beliefs are examined and compared; the dialogue of religious experience where we share more deeply of ourselves, our prayers and our understanding of living a life devoted to God, with Whom, one day, we hope live in Peace.

[1] Msgr Francesco Follo, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to UNESCO, speech 4 October.
[2] Msgr Francesco Follo, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to UNESCO, speech 4 October.

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