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’

By 
  • 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.

Comments (1)

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God be praised! Some truth is "hard to hear" and for many "harder to speak." I am grateful for those persons who, now and then, show themselves to be up to the task. Thank the good Lord for the Egyptian Jesuit Fr. Henri Boulad.

As Christians,...

God be praised! Some truth is "hard to hear" and for many "harder to speak." I am grateful for those persons who, now and then, show themselves to be up to the task. Thank the good Lord for the Egyptian Jesuit Fr. Henri Boulad.

As Christians, beginning with their Founder himself, has not God already revealed himself and his will through his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

What makes people (erroneously, I say) think, and feel so sure, that the Jesus of Christianity, as revealed through the gospels and new testament writings, is the one and same Jesus as spoke of in Islam and the Qur'an.

For any authentic dialogue to take place it must be founded upon truth. Jesus teaches us that it is the truth which has the power to set us free from our own as well as other's deception, delusion, and illusion. However if we are to hope that such may have its desired effect, the truth must be made known, without apology. And even truth spoken with the utmost love for the other will not always be welcomed, accepted, or well received; however, the truth will have been made known. All freedoms and blessings come at a price, and God in Christ has paid the greatest of all.

Without the incarnated, crucified, and resurrected God in Jesus Christ, (to gravely understate it) we are all "the worse for wear" in this life and in the life to come. As Christian scriptures teach and remind us, today is the day, and now is the time. . . time for what one may ask - for one thing, time to recognize the truth and erroneous falsehoods. And, relying on the Spirit of Truth, be courageous enough to privately and publicly acknowledge each for what they are.

The orthodoxy found within Islam and the Qur'an does not lead anyone to the fullness of truth, a way of love for all, or salvation. From past ages to the present age, sensory input and data collected tells us otherwise: It leads away.

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