GARRISON, N.Y. (CNS) — During Advent, Catholics are called to “put on the armor of light, to be peacemakers beating swords of war and anger into plowshares, and to poke holes of light into the darkness which often seems to permeate our lives,” according to Dominican Sister Anne Tahaney.
“The common themes of Advent, expectation and waiting in joyful hope call us to reflection and peace, yet tension and stress surround us in our own personal lives, and war and death and destruction loom daily before us in newscasts,” she said.
Sister Tahaney spoke Dec. 2 at an Advent vespers service at Graymoor, headquarters of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. Others were scheduled to speak Dec. 9, 16 and 23.
This year’s speakers were asked to reflect on “A Common Word Between Us and You,” an October 2007 letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders signed by 138 senior Muslim leaders and later endorsed by dozens of others.
The letter highlights two theological similarities found in both the Quran and the New Testament: belief in one God and love of neighbor. The letter also proposes theological dialogue to find common ground.
“Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders,” the Muslims wrote. “Christianity and Islam … together make up more than 55 percent of the world’s population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world.
“If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace,” they continued. “With the terrible weaponry of the modern world, with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world’s inhabitants. Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.”
Sister Tahaney is a 20-year member of the Catholic-Muslim dialogue of the Archdiocese of New York. She taught in Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country, for 29 years as part of the first group of Dominican sisters to be invited there.
“We were not allowed to proselytize,” she said, “but we like to think that we taught by example. In doing social work, teaching in schools and ministering in hospitals, we shared our lives with Muslim people. Many of the country’s leaders were born in Christian hospitals and educated in our schools.”
Sister Tahaney said the Muslims’ letter is “one very significant ray of hope. It seems to pick up on Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est” — “God is Love.”
She noted that the pope recently invited Muslim scholars to meet at the Vatican, saying, “Without ignoring or downplaying our differences as Christians and Muslims, we can and therefore should look to what unites us, namely our belief in one God.”
The invitation came Nov. 29 and was the pope’s response to the letter.
Sister Tahaney said that Egyptian Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir, an Islamic scholar, said of “A Common Word” that “the argument that love of God and neighbor represents the common care of the two faiths is a new Islamic understanding which seems to be the real novelty, never before said by the Islamic world.”
An introduction to the letter says, “Never before have Muslims delivered this kind of definitive consensus statement on Christianity. Rather than engage in polemics, the signatories have adopted the traditional and mainstream Islamic position of respecting the Christian Scripture and calling Christians to be more, not less, faithful to it.”
The letter-writers conclude, “So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual good will.”
Sister Tahaney said, “Dialogue concerning the letter is the work of scholars and theologians. Yet we, by the witness of our very lives, must be responsible agents in letting the light of Christ shine through our being.”