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Final session of A Christian Study of Islam: An Introduction features reflection by Fr. de Margerie and reaction from three panelists Nov. 15, 2016

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A panel discussion concluded the five-part series A Christian Study of Islam: an Introduction held Nov. 15 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon. Participants and organizers included (left to right): Sarah Donnelly, Sr. Phyllis Kapucinski, NDS, Elaine Zakreski, Bishop Allan Grundahl, Imam Sheikh Ilyas Sidyot, Rev. Bernard de Margerie, Rev. Colin Clay, and Rita Taylor. 

Rev. Bernard de Margerie, one of organizers of A Christian Study of Islam series, reflects on inter-faith dialogue at final session

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Diocesan Communications Office

SASKATOON – A concluding reflection on Christian-Islamic relations by Rev. Bernard de Margerie was presented at the final session of A Christian Study of Islam: An Introduction Nov. 15 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon.

The last session of the five-week diocesan Foundations program also included insights from three panelists: Sarah Donnelly, retired Lutheran Bishop Allan Grundahl and Elaine Zakreski (see related article below.)

De Margerie, a priest for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, was one of the series organizers, along with Sr. Phyllis Kapucinski, NDS, and Anglican priest Rev. Colin Clay. 

“I want to remind us of (finding) a pathway for Christians to approach our Muslim brothers and sisters and Islam in a way blessed by God,” said de Margerie, reviewing the goals for the well-attended Christian Study of Islam series. “In mulling this over, praying this over, we also listened to adherents of Islamic faith and we learned a lot – but all of this was introduction.”

He acknowledged that not everyone’s questions about Islam have been answered, saying: “that is the shortcoming of trying to do too much in five evenings.” 

Reflecting on the purpose of inter-faith dialogue, de Margerie said that the first call offered to Christians is to seize their own faith and live their commitment to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in a deeper way.

“The main reason for Christians to get to know and approach people of other religions is to give greater glory to God,” he stressed. “We give greater glory to God when we become aware of – and grateful for – the grace and good he accomplishes also in people of other religions.”

Not every Christian is called to inter-religious engagement or dialogue, de Margerie said. “However, some will be called in the name of our faith, which holds that God loves everyone on earth and works salvation to everyone,” he said. 

“We say ‘in and through Jesus’ – that is our faith – but we must not live so hermetically sealed in the Christian silo and the Muslim silo that we never learn to see and give thanks to Almighty God, to Allah, for the good that is done in other religions. That is what Vatican II says: there are ‘rays of the gospel’ in other religions.” De Margerie stressed that for Catholic Christians, the Second Vatican Council is “the most authoritative and the most impelling teaching of the 20th century.”

According to the teaching offices of the Roman Catholic Church, members of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths worship the same God – even though there are major differences, he said. “It is true that our Muslim brothers and sisters don’t recognize the divinity of Jesus. For us, that is a major tenet of faith. Our Jewish brothers and sisters also do not recognize the divinity of Jesus, but they are part of our roots – we pray the Jewish prayer of the Psalms, and we are not afraid of that.”

After 50 years of ecumenical dialogue between Christians there are still fears about Christians of different traditions praying together, let alone praying with those of different faiths, he admitted.

“But if we worship the same God, surely that should draw us together. This is not to change our religion…the key to authentic inter-religious prayer is a sense of being rooted in one’s own tradition (the Christian) and openness to the workings of the Spirit in other traditions.”

Vatican II teachings express the conviction that the Holy Spirit and grace are at work in the hearts of all human beings of all generations, opening up for them access to salvation in Christ, de Margerie noted.

“In the Catholic Church, recent popes have in their words and teaching, prudently and unmistakably opened new pathways of spiritual awareness, of faith and hope, relating Christians to sisters and brothers of other religions, including Islam.” 

He cited the words of Saint Pope John Paul II, who said in Ankara, Turkey in 1979: "I cannot help thinking that it is urgent, especially today, when Christians and Muslims have entered into a new phase of history, to recognize and develop the spiritual bonds that unite them." 

It is not betraying the Christian faith to pray for our Muslim brothers and sisters, de Margerie said. For instance, Christians are called to pray that Muslims may “be more and more faithful to what God, the entirely merciful, the especially merciful, asks or demands of them.”

Christians are also invited to pray for both Christians and Muslims to persevere in reforming their own religious institutions, he added. “These are always in need of renewal and reform inasmuch as they are made up of human beings.”

He continued: “As Christians we are also invited and urged to pray for both Muslims and Christians, that we may learn to interact and live with each other in the manner the Holy Spirit wants to lead us.” 

And finally, some Christians will be called to explore praying together -- not just for Muslims, but with Muslims. 

De Margerie posed two questions for reflection: “Can Christians pray with Muslims and be faithful to their Christian tradition? And if so, how would they best enter into this kind of prayer?” He described how such prayer might unfold and his hope of creating a small group of Christians and Muslims to explore praying together in the weeks and months ahead.

In the meantime, de Margerie encouraged Christians to build friendships with Muslims in this multi-faith society: “Seek social justice, reconciliation, peace, and genuine human development together.”

As for “all the heavy, negative stuff” – such as terrorism and violence, Western frustrations and apprehensions about huge migrations and stereotyping on both sides – de Margerie said: “all this calls for, on the part of Christians, responses that are truly shaped and influenced by Christian faith, hope and love. This is a key principle.”

A Christian Study of Islam was held over five weeks from Oct. 18 to Nov. 15, and included presentations by scholars, Christian and Islamic leaders, as well as a guided visit to a local mosque.

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Christian panelists reflect on Study of Islam series

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Diocesan Communications Office

Three Christian panelists offered reflections on Christian-Islamic relations during the final session of A Christian Study of Islam: An Introduction Nov. 15 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon.

The five-week diocesan Foundations series included presentations by scholars and faith leaders, as well as a guided visit to a local mosque. The final session opened with a presentation by Rev. Bernard de Margerie, one of the organizers of the ground-breaking series (see related article above). Panelists then offered reactions and insights.

Sarah Donnelly – who offers spiritual direction, retreats, workshops and grief support groups to the ecumenical Christian community – began her reflection by recalling the five pillars of Islam described in the Oct. 25 presentation by Imam Sheikh Illyas Sidyot: faith, prayer, charity, fasting and pilgrimage. 

She connected these five pillars of Islam with four non-negotiable pillars of Christian life outlined by Rev. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, in his book The Holy Longing. These Christian “non-negotiables” include nurturing a personal prayer life, worshiping in community, charitable and social justice actions, and cultivating a grateful and generous heart.

“We see that we share so much in common with our Muslim sisters and brothers,” Donnelly said. “The three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism – teach that we must nurture this balance between praying as individuals and praying in community.”

There is also a shared commitment to charity and social justice across both faith traditions, she stressed. “This pillar is our commitment to care for the poor.”

She said that it is essential to Christian spirituality to live out of a spirit of gratitude and generosity. “The people who are true agents of transformation in our world are those who hold a lovely balance of truth and energy, and their graciousness, humour, humility, wisdom and courage draw people to them.”

Gathering together over the five weeks of the series has been a time of great learning, listening and prayer, Donnelly said. “This has been a precious and privileged time for us, and it is my hope that this is the beginning of an annual event here in Saskatoon, and that gatherings like this can spread.”

“We commit ourselves to the practices and traditions of our own spiritual tradition, and at the same time we intentionally walk alongside and learn from those of different practices and traditions,” she concluded. 

Ponder and prayer were the two words offered by the second panelist, retired Lutheran Bishop Allan Grundahl. In reaction to the Christian Study of Islam series, he described how he has been pondering and praying on the extravagance of God’s love for all, and on the words of Jesus about “other sheep that I have who are not of this fold,” as well as “in my Father’s house are many rooms.” 

He posed some of the questions this has raised: “Can we really think that our God of love could possibly exclude any of God’s created beings? Or do we Christians believe that only Christians are included in God’s family?” 

He also observed that in his daily Bible readings, he has increasingly noticed the little word “all.”

“God repeats it over and over again: ‘I will gather all peoples to myself,’ ‘I will gather all nations to myself,’ and variations of that... What does that mean then for all religions around the world?”

Grundahl said he also prays and ponders about the tantalizing words near the end of John’s gospel where Jesus promises the coming of the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. “Obviously there is more for us Christians to learn,” he said, reflecting on how Christians are challenged by “new stuff.”

“One of the great temptations of all human beings, including us Christians, is the temptation to limit the guiding of God’s Holy Spirit,” he said. “Certainly we Christians are centred in the fullest revelation of God in Christ Jesus -- that remains and must remain, it is the very core of the Christian faith -- but we must also be ready to learn much more from God’s Spirit guiding today as well.”

Grundahl concluded with a call for Christians and Muslims to continue to walk together. “Let us keep on being friendly with one another, and at the same time freely express to each other what are the most meaningful aspects of our own faith, and then trust that God’s Holy Spirit will continue to work through our pondering and praying.”

The third panelist was Elaine Zakreski, a retired early childhood educator, author and parishioner at St. Anne parish in Saskatoon, who along with her husband Peter founded the Hope for Malawi foundation to provide outreach and support for communities in Africa. 

“We have heard so many stories about hate and violence and fear,” she said. “I think we need some love stories.” She described profound and welcoming experiences and encounters among Christians and Muslims in Jordan and in the Malawi communities she has visited in Africa. 

This included praying and meditating together with women raising their grandchildren, relating words that resonated across cultures and faith traditions: “the light within me is the same as the light within you, and together we are one.”

“Last year when we returned again we were joined by Muslim men, and people who didn’t look old enough to be grandmas. I’m told that it has expanded in the village and I asked them why they are doing this, and they said ‘because we feel good together, we feel at peace, because we feel happier and calmer, and we feel more unity.’”

Rita Taylor, coordinator of the Foundations: Exploring Our Faith Together program in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, concluded the evening with words of thanks for the “amazing response” from the hundreds that have attended the series, and noted that many of the supporting documents and resources have been posted on the diocesan website at: www.saskatoonrcdiocese.com/foundations  

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