Canada's bishops commit to better relations with Muslims

By  Catholic Register Staff
  • September 12, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - When Christians in Toronto sit down at sunset to break the fast of Ramadan with their Muslim neighbours they have the backing of Canada’s Catholic bishops. The bishops have written to Canada’s Muslim community seeking “new stepping stones” of dialogue.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ episcopal commission for interfaith dialogue released its response to “A Common Word Between Us” on the first day of Ramadan, Sept. 1. “A Common Word Between Us” was a 2007 open letter from 138 Muslim scholars and leaders which called for a renewed relationship between the world’s two largest religious communities.

“Together they make up more than 55 per cent of the world’s population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the  world,” said the Muslim scholars. “If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace.”

The scholars’ letter to Christian leaders arose out of the riots and denunciations which followed Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensberg University address in 2006.

Canada’s Catholic bishops commit themselves to improving the relationship between Catholics and Muslims in their response to “A Common Word Between Us.”

“We humbly acknowledge the serious stumbling blocks of the past. Today, our commission is committed to turning such stumbling blocks into new stepping stones, so as to forge a path that eliminates adversity and promotes understanding,” the bishops said.

One of the easiest ways for Catholics to act on their bishops’ commitment is to accept invitations from Muslims to take part in iftar meals, at which Muslims break their Ramadan fast at sunset, said Fr. Damian MacPherson, the archdiocese of Toronto’s ecumenical and interfaith officer. MacPherson has written to every parish in Toronto, where more than half of Canada’s Muslims live, urging Catholic communities to take part in iftar meals if they have the chance.

Muslim organizations and mosques, particularly in the Turkish community organized by the Canadian Interfaith Dialogue Centre (www.canadianinterfaith.org), have organized interfaith iftar meals throughout Ramadan, which lasts until Oct. 1 this year.

The National Muslim-Christian Liaison Committee was very happy with the bishops’ emphasis on the preferential option for the poor, said Muslim representative Ibrahim Hayani.

“To promote a more peaceful world, we have to address this issue,” said the Ryerson University economics professor.

The bishops’ response to “A Common Word Between Us” called the option for the poor “a strong bond of  solidarity with Muslims, for whom also almsgiving, forgiveness, repentance and mercy are imperative.”

Muslim-Catholic collaboration on social justice is already a reality, with Muslim communities participating more and more in Out of the Cold programs, said Jesuit Father J.P. Horrigan. Horrigan is director of the Assisi Interfaith Program based at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in downtown Toronto and an official Catholic representative on the National Muslim-Christian Liaison Committee.

The Toronto-based official national dialogue between Muslims and Christians is planning an Oct. 8 conference at the University of Toronto.

The Muslim community looks forward to seeing interfaith dialogue trickle down from the leadership level to the grassroots, said Imam Abdul Hai Patel, who heads the interfaith relations committee of the Toronto Council of Imams.

“We need more interactions at the community level,” Patel wrote in an e-mail to The Catholic Register.

There’s a lot to admire in Muslim dedication to their faith, said Bishop John Boissonneau, chair of the CCCB interfaith commission.

“There’s a demand for recognizing the importance of God on a daily basis, even an hour-by-hour basis, in the times of prayer and the focus on prayer,” said the Toronto auxiliary bishop. “Their faith is not secularized or pigeonholed to Friday. They allow their prayer to permeate their day.”

Officials at the CCCB expect the Canadian response to “A Common Word Between Us” will soon be posted to the international web site which promotes the Muslim scholars’ initiative, www.acommonword.com.

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