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WASHINGTON—Leading Catholic and Muslim scholars and religious leaders convened a national plenary at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, October 3-5. Participants from the three regional Catholic-Muslim dialogues sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) celebrated the work and public impact of the dialogues, received formal updates on the status of regional projects, and voiced a future vision for the dialogues.
In his opening address, retired Archbishop Alexander Brunett of Seattle presented a narrative of the dialogues, praised the solidarity and friendship of the participants, especially following the events of 9/11, and urged his listeners to cooperate on projects of common concern in the public square. Referencing Pope John Paul II's address to Muslim youth in Morroco, he urged the audience never to lose sight of the fact that, despite the differences between religions, the unity of the human community is the more fundamental reality. In service to this unity, Catholic and Muslim leaders must advance dialogue by approaching it as a spiritual exercise that requires the cultivation of virtues, especially meekness, humility, and trust.
In response, Sayyid Syeed, Ph.D., of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) remarked that if the last millennium witnessed to the spilling of blood, this new period of emerging multiculturalism is an opportunity for the Catholic-Muslim dialogue in the United States to lead the way as a witness of harmony and peaceful coexistence.
A panel delivered commentary on the present status and future hopes of the dialogues. The co-chairs of the Mid-Atlantic dialogue, auxiliary Bishop Denis Madden of Baltimore (who also chairs the USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs) and Talat Sultan, Ph.D., of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) expressed gratitude to the dialogue participants for their work on the defense of family, marriage and interreligious education. Both leaders interpreted these works as important contributions to the formation of individual conscience, especially among the young.
Midwest co-chair Syeed remarked that the work of these regional dialogues is conveyed to the international Muslim community and thus serves to promote greater understanding and peace between Muslims and Christians around the world. His Catholic counterpart, auxiliary Bishop Francis Reiss of Detroit, emphasized this point by remarking that the reality of multiculturalism in society entails that "we live in a moment in history that is significantly and profoundly unique," to the extent that Muslims and Catholics can show the world how to live in peace and harmony with persons of different religious affiliation.
West Coast co-chair, retired Bishop Carlos Sevilla, S.J. of Yakima, Washington, encouraged dialogue participants to "cast our nets wider, so as to include in our work a wider audience, especially the youth." His Muslim co-chair, Muzammil Siddiqi, Ph.D., of the Fiqh Council of North America, urged the participants to consider publishing to a wider audience, generating more joint statements, and expanding the Catholic-Muslim network through the enhanced use of technology.
The plenary keynote addresses were delivered by scholars Jamal Badawi, Ph.D., and Jesuit Father Tom Michel, Ph.D. Speaking to the plenary theme of living our faiths together, Badawi drew attention to the role of language, specifically translation of religious texts and the dissemination of opinion based on particular translations, in determining the possibility and extent of harmony and/or tension between Muslims and Christians. Father Michel, whose address was highlighted by reflections from his experience living abroad in Muslim majority countries, argued that effective and truthful dialogue requires faithfulness to one's tradition. "Muslims must glory in the prophethood of Muhammad and the Qur'anic message that he brought," he said, "just as Christians must glory in the cross of Jesus Christ and our faith in what God has accomplished in him for all humankind." But, he continued, this faithfulness need not lead to enmity but rather mutual affection and encouragement since, "we worship and confess the same God."
Keywords: Catholic-Muslim dialogues, USCCB, Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, SEIA, U.S. bishops, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Alexander Brunett, Bishop Denis Madden, Sayyid Syeed, Ph.D., of the Islamic Society of North America
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