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September 29, 2016

How much do Catholics know about Muslim faith? --
Priests today, from independence to interdependence -
Remembering Shimon Peres

In this edition:
1. Do Catholics understand Islam?
2. A Muslim living in the West.
3. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Remembering Shimon Peres.
b) The interdependence of priests.
c) Human ecology.
4. Beyond interreligious distrust.
5. Assisi 2016: dialogue and justice.

1. How Much Do Catholics Know About Islam?

Half of U.S. Catholics cannot name any similarities between Catholicism and Islam, and three in 10 hold unfavorable views of Islam, according to a report just released by the Bridge Initiative, which studies Islamophobia, at Jesuit-run Georgetown University in Washington (www.bridge.georgetown.edu).

A survey the initiative conducted in April 2015 found that Catholics are less likely than U.S. citizens in general to know a Muslim personally. It noted that in the U.S. "Muslims make up a small yet growing religious group. Numbering at least 3 million, they reside in cities and towns across the country."

Chicago's Archbishop Blase Cupich, co-chairman of the National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, suggested Sept. 21 that the Georgetown report "raises serious questions about how Catholics view their Muslim brothers and sisters."

The survey findings highlight the "urgent need" for dialogue' with members of other faith traditions, "something that was strongly advocated" by the Second Vatican Council, he said.

Experience shows, he added, "that when people of different faith traditions build personal relationships and engage in dialogue to learn about one another, they develop the capacity to work together, and they come to appreciate the positive elements in one another's traditions."

However, "when there is no attempt to learn more about one another, we see an increase in the tendency to be negative about those who are different from ourselves," Archbishop Cupich said. That, he observed, "diminishes all of us, as we face increasing incidents of religious intolerance across the globe."

Archbishop Cupich said, "No one should dismiss the real threats that some Muslims who embrace a radical ideology, such as the members of the Islamic State, present to people of all faiths." That, he added, "is why it is now even more important to promote ongoing encounter, dialogue and education between our two great faith traditions."

The Bridge Initiative reported that U.S. Catholics "are largely unaware" of the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, which spoke of fostering relationships with Islam and other religions. Nine in 10 Catholics, the report said, "have never heard of" this council document.

The report said that "a majority of Catholics correctly identify prayer and fasting as important parts of Muslim life, but also incorrectly believe that Muslims worship the prophet Muhammed." It showed, too, that "Catholics place more of the blame for poor Catholic- Muslim relations on Muslims than on themselves."

Still, one-third of Catholics believe that "Catholics and Muslims worship the same God," and 55 percent "believe a Muslim can go to heaven," the study reported

The survey report said that "about half of Catholics (52 percent) agree that 'American Muslims today face prejudices similar to those American Catholics faced in the past.'"

It stated, moreover, that "Catholics who know a Muslim personally or who have participated in dialogue or community service with Muslims often have very different views about Islam and interfaith dialogue than those who haven't interacted with Muslims."

2. A Muslim Living in the West

"I was born in one nation (Morocco) speaking Arabic, came to my love of literature through a second language (French) and now live in a third country (America), where I write books and teach classes in yet another language (English)," a Muslim author named Laila Lalami writes in the fall 2016 edition of Portland, the magazine of the Holy Cross order's University of Portland in Portland, Ore.

"I have made my home in between all these cultures, all these languages, all these countries. And I have found it a glorious place to be," she attests. "My friends are atheists and Muslims, Jews and Christians, believers and doubters," she says. "Each one makes my life richer."

Lalami is the author of "The Moor's Account," a well-reviewed 2014 novel.

She refers to herself as a Muslim living in "the gray zone." The gray zone, she explains, is "the space inhabited by any Muslim" who neither has joined the ranks of the Islamic State (ISIS) nor its crusaders in the West.

There are "plenty of ordinary Muslims" in the U.S., she writes, adding: "We come in all races and ethnicities. Some of us are more visible by virtue of beards or head scarves. Others are less conspicuous, unless they give book talks, and it becomes clear that they, too, identify as Muslims."

Her "gray life," says Lalami, "is not unique." She shares it "with millions of people around the world."

She observes that "most of the time gray lives go unnoticed in America." But "other times, especially when people are scared, gray lives become targets. Hate crimes against Muslims spike after every major terrorist attack." Moreover, "politicians and pundits often stoke" this hatred.

Attacks by terrorists "affect all of us in the same way," Lalami comments. "We experience sorrow and anger at the loss of life."

However, for Muslims, "there is an additional layer of grief as we become subjects of suspicion," she says. "Muslims are called upon to condemn terrorism, but no matter how often or how loud or how clear the condemnations, the calls remain."

She urges readers to imagine a situation in which, "after every mass shooting" in the U.S., all the "young white men" around the country are "told that they must publicly denounce gun violence." Why does this not happen?

The reason, Lalami proposes, is "that we presume" that each of these young men is "solely responsible for his actions, whereas Muslims are held collectively responsible." Thus, she concludes, "to be a Muslim in the West is to be constantly on trial."

3. Current Quotes to Ponder

Remembering Shimon Peres: "Two peoples -- Israelis and Palestinians -- still are aching for peace. The tears of mothers over their children are still etched in our hearts. We must put an end to the cries, to the violence, to the conflict. We all need peace. Peace between equals. . . . On this moving occasion, brimming with hope and full of faith, let us all raise with you, Your Holiness, a call for peace between religions, between nations, between communities and between fellow men and women. Let true peace become our legacy soon and swiftly. . . . Peace does not come easy. We must toil with all our strengths to reach it. To reach it soon. Even if it requires sacrifice or compromise. . . . Even when peace seems distant, we must pursue it to bring it closer. And if we pursue peace with perseverance, with faith, we will reach it. . . . We can -- together and now, Israelis and Palestinians -- convert our noble vision to a reality of welfare and prosperity. It is within our power to bring peace to our children. This is our duty, the holy mission of parents. . . . I was young and became old. I experienced war, I tasted peace. Never will I forget the bereaved families -- parents and children -- who paid the cost of war. And all my life I shall never stop to act for peace, for the sake of the generations to come. Let us all join hands and make it happen." (Israeli President Shimon Peres, speaking during a June 8, 2014, invocation for peace ceremony convened by Pope Francis in the Vatican Gardens. The pope, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Peres participated in the event, which took place in the last month of Peres' presidency. Peres died Sept. 28. He was 93.)

Priests Today: From Independence to Interdependence: "I believe that what is required of us today is a genuine development of the independence of action that has served the pattern of priesthood well into a network of willing interdependencies such as we have not before fully achieved. . . . We are a church which flourishes on individual, courageous leadership, most often exercised at the local level. Yet we cannot pretend that in today's interdependent world such leadership is now sufficient. It is not. We have to be and to be seen as one body, coherent in vision, intent and knitted together in mutual cooperation and shared responsibility. And this spirit and pattern of interdependence should carry us beyond the Catholic community too -- in a willingness to pursue every good cooperation with those who share our social concerns. As Catholics we should be skilled and alert in recognizing the marks of the 'seeds of the Word' wherever they are to be found and ready to work with others." (From a Sept. 13 address by Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, to priests of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England.)

The Environment's Human Dimensions: "Over 4,500 people in India and Pakistan died during last summer's heat wave. Rising temperatures are making droughts more severe and floods more intense. The poor always suffer most. On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis published his environmental encyclical Laudato Si' (Praise Be). . . . The pope reminded us powerfully that we are one human family sharing a common home, dependent upon one another and the whole of creation. . . . When we recognize and grow in wonder that we are all brothers and sisters living in one common home, it will not only affect how we care for the environment, but also how we care for one another, and how we welcome and accept those with different needs and abilities, refugees, the elderly, the unborn, the forgotten and the abandoned." (From a Sept. 29 message of the Irish Catholic bishops for their country's 2016 Day of Life.)

4. Beyond the Burden of Interreligious Distrust

The world's religious leaders "are duty-bound to be strong bridges of dialogue," as well as "creative mediators of peace," Pope Francis said Sept. 20 when he addressed the Sept. 18-20 World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, Italy. The international gathering marked the 30th anniversary of the first such gathering - the day of prayer for peace called in Assisi by St. John Paul II.

The mood of the Assisi gathering contrasted remarkably with the distrust and contempt of one world religion for another that frequently characterizes discussions of "other" religions in public and political discourse today. "Our future consists in living together," Pope Francis told the gathering.

Thus, he said, "we are called to free ourselves from the heavy burdens of distrust, fundamentalism and hate. Believers should be artisans of peace in their prayers to God and in their actions for humanity."

Participants in this year's Assisi gathering included Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and other religious leaders. The Rome-based Community of Sant'Egidio sponsored the gathering, whose theme was "Thirst for Peace: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue."

With the first interreligious gathering for peace 30 years ago, "a long pilgrimage" got under way, the participants in this year's gathering said in an appeal for peace. This pilgrimage "brought people together without denying their differences, giving life to real interreligious friendships and contributing to the resolution of more than a few conflicts."

The appeal affirmed that "nothing is lost when we effectively enter into dialogue. Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace."

Pope Francis pointed out that many religious leaders who participated in the Assisi gathering "traveled a great distance to reach this holy place." They undertook their journeys, he commented, in order "to overcome what is closed and become open to God and to our brothers and sisters."

If "our religious traditions are diverse," it is nonetheless true that "our differences are not the cause of conflict and provocation or a cold distance between us," the pope remarked. He said, "We have not prayed against one another today as has unfortunately sometimes occurred in history. Without syncretism or relativism, we have rather prayed side by side and for each other."

5. Assisi 2016: Dialogue and Justice

"By gathering us all together, this international meeting has given us the chance to look into each other's eyes, to speak honestly, to listen to each other, to enjoy each other's riches and, essentially, to be 'friends,'" the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said as the Sept. 18-20 Assisi international and interreligious gathering for peace concluded.

The patriarch said that "in this friendship, true unconditional love for each other, our thirst for peace is quenched."

He pointed toward "a few cornerstones" needed to hold peace up. "There can be no peace without mutual respect and acknowledgment," he said. Furthermore, "there can be no peace without fruitful cooperation among" all peoples.

But this is a challenge today, he suggested, alluding to the relationship between majority and minority populations around the world and to the world's displaced people.

"In these years we can again see ethnic, religious and cultural majorities sense their respective minorities as alien bodies, dangerous for their integrity, as something to be marginalized, expelled and sometimes, unfortunately, annihilated," the patriarch said.

Peace also needs justice, he insisted. He viewed justice as "consistency with what we profess and believe, while being capable of dialogue with the other, capable of seeing the riches of the other, capable of not overpowering the other, of not feeling above or below our neighbor."

It is essential, he said, both "to commit ourselves jointly to the safeguarding of every human being from conception to natural end" and to "commit ourselves to the preservation of our common home and all that is in it."

For, in creating this common home "God did not want to have one plant, one animal, one single person, one planet, one star. He wanted many of them, all different, each with its own specificity and peculiarity; all interconnected with a common purpose and love."