gyptian Jesuit Fr. Henri Boulad was in Toronto on Oct. 28 for the Fr. Boulad Dinner to raise funds for projects supported by the priest and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association in Syria and Iraq. Register file photo

Egyptian Jesuit looks for dialogue ‘based on truth’

  • October 30, 2017
Catholic-Muslim dialogue is a blind alley, says a prominent Egyptian Jesuit priest who headlined an Oct. 28 dinner in Toronto to support Christians in the Middle East.

“Since 50 years we are having a dialogue with Islam. Tell me what progress we have made in these 50 years?” asked Fr. Henri Boulad.

“What kind of progress did you make except nice smiles and declarations and meetings? I want to get out of this.”

In the past, the scholar-priest has called Islam an inherently violent religion and stated that Muslims are trying to take over Europe. Following the Pope’s April visit to Cairo, he disagreed with the Pope’s approach to dialogue with the Muslim world.

“Christians are expecting something from you other than vague and harmless declarations that may obscure reality,” Boulad wrote in a letter to Pope Francis after the Pope visited Cairo’s Al Azhar University.

Boulad said he would not go so far as to say Nostra Aetate, an important Vatican II document on the relationship between the Church and non-Christian religions, was a mistake.

“I want a dialogue based on truth,” said the 85-year-old Melkite cleric. “If love and truth don’t work together it’s not a dialogue. It’s hypocrisy.”

Muslims are trying to take over Europe and the West, said Boulad.

“As long as we have Islam supported by the West, by the Pope himself — I would not say it bluntly that way, but the Pope is not aware that Islam is trying to conquer Europe and the whole world — this type of dialogue, opening himself to Islam, the Catholic Church I mean, is unrealistic.”

Boulad said it is not true dialogue “when you avoid some hard questions about freedom of religion, freedom of faith.”

“It’s trying to please the other side only,” he said. “We have to not conceal the hard issues we are facing.”

But Hanny Hassan, the past co-chair of Canada’s National Muslim-Christian Liaison Committee, believes it is wrong to “cherry-pick” from the Qur’an and attribute the extreme rhetoric and behaviour of a few to the vast majority of peaceful Muslims. He told The Catholic Register the basis for dialogue is shared, human values found among ordinary Christians and Muslims.

“Muslims and Christians share two fundamental values — love of God and love of neighbour,” said Hassan, whose work in interfaith dialogue and community building brought him into the Order of Canada. 

“While we may have differences in our theology, we have a common mission to care for those who are marginalized in society. We see this in the life of Jesus, as told to us in the Gospels and in the Islamic prophetic tradition. Both Muslims and Christians are called on to care for and respect those who are different.”

The work of dialogue begun at the Second Vatican Council cannot be abandoned or reversed, he said. 

“Our work is based on mutual trust that will be unaffected by hurtful statements,” said Hassan. 

While in Cairo, Pope Francis told a gathering of seminarians and priests they should not be the source of negative speech in an already divided society.

“Although there are many reasons to be discouraged, amid many prophets of destruction and condemnation, and so many negative and despairing voices, may you be a positive force — salt and light for this society,” said Pope Francis. “Like the engine of a train, may you be the driving force leading all towards their destination. May you be sowers of hope, builders of bridges and agents of dialogue and harmony.”

Boulad is particularly incensed by Egyptian textbooks, written from a conservative Muslim viewpoint, that define Christians and Jews as infidels. Popular preaching in Egyptian media often warns Muslims to keep their distance from Christians and that Christians are the enemies of their faith.

“How can you speak about dialogue and refuse to mention these dark issues and be kind to the other?” asked Boulad. “This makes me mad. You want just to be kind? You have to be truthful. Kindness is not enough. This is what makes me crazy.”

The third annual Fr. Boulad Dinner kicked off with a 5:30 p.m. Mass at Transfiguration of Our Lord Parish in Etobicoke. The Oct. 28 event, endorsed by the Archdiocese of Toronto, raised funds for projects supported by Boulad and by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association in Syria and Iraq.

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