Religion part and parcel of human existence: Papal Nuncio
KUWAIT : “If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace,” says the Papal Nuncio Sunday during a talk he delivered at the AWARE Center in Surra. HE Archbishop Mounged El Hachem, the Vatican Ambas-sador to Kuwait, was quoting from a common letter sent by Muslim leaders to the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, as he spoke on the themo” Dialogue between Christians and Muslims Today,” before a mixed audience of diplomats, expatriates and members of the local media. Christianity and Islam are both universal faiths not meant for any particular race or ethnicity, but for all humanity, according to Archbishop El Hachem who went on to say that this important principle encapsulates the goals and opportunities for constructive dialogue as well as the obstacles that make it difficult, if not virtually impossible to achieve.
Both traditions, he said, recognize God’s love for all for humakind and His providential acts in human history, but both claim to be God’s final message of salvation and eternal bliss for the world. The advances in technology makes the task of dialogue seem easy with anything happening anywhere around the world immediately brought to the attention of people even in remote areas. But, it can also be a double edged sword, according to the Papal Nuncio who said that modern technology can also stir up immediate and impulsive actions and reactions even before the realities are fully known. Religion, according to him, is part and parcel of human existence and any sensational news about religion attracts attention, and if people are not well founded in their religious beliefs and adequately trained to make an objective analysis of situations, they tend to exacerbate matters; sparking misunderstanding in the delicate world of interreligious dialogue.
Today, he said, there is harmony among followers of various religions around the world to engage in dialogue to attain a much desired peace, citing three important aspects that form the basis of such initiative. He cited the historical setting for Christian and Muslim dialogue; the presentation of the “Nustra e Tati,” the latter the document of the Second Vatican Council for Non-Christian religions, which contains the golden rule in the quest for dialogue; and the situation of dialogue today. Christians and Muslims, according to Archbishop El Hachem, comprise 55 percent of the world’s population with Christians the majority in the west and some eastern countries, while Muslims predominate in many countries in Asia, many countries in Africa, the Middle East, the Gulf region and the Arab world.
“Regardless of the ratio of the majority or minority — Christians or Muslims, the globalized world of today brings people of different religions and culture under the same roof, to meet the demands of their social and professional lives,” he said. Christians and Muslims, he said, work together in the same companies, their children study in the same schools, people of both creeds live in the same condominium, stay at the same hotel or eat in the same restaurants. In some countries, Christians and Muslims live together in complete harmony not only socially but in a climate of total respect for their respective religious beliefs. They practice their religion without any restriction and religious freedom is guaranteed in the constitution and lived out in practice.
But in other countries, there are restrictions especially with regards to religious freedom, he added.
“Christianity,” he said, “was present in Makkah and Medina and the time of the emergency of Islam. The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) himself had direct contact with Christians,” he went on. From its inception, Islam grew in an environment permeated with Eastern Christians spiritual and moral values. It is like that it was this spiritual heritage of Eastern Christianity that the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) referred when he declared “I sense the breath of the All Merciful (nafas al rabman) from the Yaman.”
The breath of the All-Merciful is the divine spirit of holiness which Jesus (PBUH) manifested as the victorious Savior over demonic powers. The Holy Quran, he said, contains many references to Christianity.
He also mentioned of the excellent relations between Christians the first Caliph with the latter’s meeting with Bishop Sofronius a classical example of such relations and their considerable contributions to the Arab culture like translating books in Greek and Syrian to Arabic. He spoke of the numerous conflicts between the two religions during the 15th century but stressed what happened was more on the political, economic and social realm than in the religious. The 20th century, he said, marked an important change in Christian-Muslim relationship particularly after the end of WW2 especially in many Muslim countries like: the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire; the creation of many independent states and the end of colonialism; the creation of the United Nations; the formation of independent states in Africa; the creation of the state of Israel; the Palestinian question; and the discovery of oil; and the creation of the Arab League.
Over the years, he said, many Islamic and Christian scholars contributed a lot to make a meaningful dialogue between their two religions. Likewise, many social and religious organizations in different countries in the Arab world also contributed their share in the effort by organizing discussion groups, seminars and symposiums and many other initiatives for the same purpose. The Second Vatican Council, he said, drew up the “Nustra e Tati” considered the most important document ever drawn up to serve as the “golden rule” for dialogue entitled “A Declaration of the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions,” which was approved by the Ecumenical Council composed of Bishops and Cardinals from all over the world on Nov 28, 1965. One of the declarations says that “the Catholic church rejects nothing of what is true and Holy in these religions. It has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, precepts, and doctrines although it differs in many ways from their own teachings.”
The Catholic church urges its sons and daughters to enter with prudence and charity into discussions and collaborations with members of other religions. The Church has a high regard for Muslims because they worship God who is one living, subsistent, Merciful and Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth who has also spoken to humanity. They submit themselves without reservation to God and His decrees just as Abraham (PBUH) submitted himself to God’s plan to whose faith Muslims link their own. He also said that although they do not acknowledge Him as God, they venerate Jesus (PBUH) as a Prophet, His Virgin Mother who they honor and even at times, devotedly invoke. Further, they also await the day of judgment, the reward of God following resurrection of the dead and for this reason hold in high esteem and praise and worship God especially by way of prayer, alms, deeds and fasting. The document also calls on Christians and Muslims to forget the past and work together for the benefit of all mankind through sincere efforts to achieve goodwill and understanding and to gather together to promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.
The influence of Vatican II and the atmosphere it created, he said, has played a great influence on the Catholic Church at all levels; the call for dialogue present in all documents emanating from the Council like its constitution, decrees and declarations. Every year since the creation of the Pontifical Council in 1954, it has addressed messages on the important holidays in Islam such as Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr to all Muslims. The Pope, during the presentation of credentials by Ambassadors from Muslim countries makes it a highlight of his message the call for dialogue-likewise, during their international travels where they always call for a special meeting with Muslim religious authorities. The Vatican, he said, has diplomatic relations with 179 countries and maintains close ties with almost all Arab countries. “Violence and terrorism has incompatible with authentic religions and violence in the name of God is an offence against God,” said the Vatican declaration during the 62nd session of the United Nations on the 5th of October 2007.
“If religions want peace, they must teach forgiveness. There can be no peace without justice and there is no justice without forgiveness,” Archbishop Mounged El Hachem said. Religious communities, he said, can also make a positive contribution to peace by dedicating their teachings to achieving peace and solidarity. “Never, in the name of God can we justify violence,” he said, adding with a call for Christians and Muslims to engage in continuous dialogue and teaching their children peace, tolerance, and understanding. He mentioned the common letter written by 138 Muslim leaders from every sect in an attempt to improve Christian-Muslim relations which contained text from the Holy Bible to argue the fact that both worship the same one God, and believes in the primacy of total love and devotion to the Almighty; both stressing the value of love of neighbor. The letter, he said, is the first letter written with text taken from the Holy Bible and not from the Holy Koran.
It states: “Muslims and Christians are indispensable for peace. World peace is a specially important thing where good relations between one another is a vital and very important factor in contributing to a meaningful peace around the world.” “If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. As Muslims, we have to say to Christians that we are not against them and Islam is not against them so long as they do not wage war on us on account of our religion, oppress and drive us from out homes,” the letter says. The letter also invites Christians to an inter-faith dialogue. As Muslims, in obedience to the Holy Koran, ask Christians to come together to lay common foundation as the basis for all future inter faith dialogue. The letter ended with the creed “God is one. God loves us and we must love Him. God calls on us to love our neighbors.”
Archbishop Mounged El Hachem also mentioned that the meeting between the Pontiff and the King of Saudi Arabia was a landmark event that could herald meaningful dialogue between Christians and Muslims. “Man,” he said, “is the enemy of what he ignores. It is imperative and vitally important that Christians and Muslims know each other. Knowledge, dialogue and understanding are important. But dialogue is a necessity and not a choice. But we cannot forget the other side of the coin: that Christian and Muslims also ignore each other and sometimes avoid each other,” he said. He concluded with a prayer by the late Pope John Paul II: “Violence, never again! War, never again! Terrorism, never again! In the name of god, may every religion bring on the earth justice and peace, forgiveness and light.”
By Boie Conrad Dublin
Arab Times Staff