05/28/2018, 20.10
VATICAN – ISLAM
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A symposium in honour of Fr Samir Khalil: wisdom and humility

by Maddalena Tomassini

The occasion was his 80th birthday. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Eastern patriarchs sent congratulatory letters. At the centre of his studies were Islam and the Arab Christian heritage. For Mgr Mina, he taught us “what brotherly love means, brotherly charity, humility, and a life truly worth living as a priest.”

Rome (AsiaNews) – A symposium on the "Christian Arab Heritage and Muslim-Christian Dialogue" was held last Friday in Rome, at the Pontifical Oriental Institute (PIO), dedicated to Egyptian Jesuit Fr Samir Khalil Samir, one of the greatest specialists of Islam and a great contributor to AsiaNews, for his 80th birthday.

One of the many experts and prominent figures who intervened on this occasion was Benedict XVI who sent a message. In it, the Pope Emeritus writes, "I remember one occasion – it was at Castel Gandolfo – where he explained to us the problems of Islam, with great realism and giving us the right direction. It is clear that all you want to do is serve the truth, which alone can help us ".

Other experts and Church figures also spoke about the issues dearest to Fr Samir, such as dialogue with the slam and the Arab-Christian cultural heritage. In the morning, the conference focused on the Muslim-Christian dialogue, and on the urgent need to reform of Islam, so that it can shed its political aspect in favour of a spiritual one.

Card Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, also addressed the issue in a lecture titled ‘Inter-religious dialogue: challenges and certainties’. The prelate, who could not be present in person, was represented by Mgr Kkaled Akasheh, head of the Office for Relations with Islam.

The second part of the symposium focused on the Christian Arab heritage, and the third on the contribution made to it by the Jesuit order. The meeting ended with an academic act in honour of Fr Samir, an "act of love", as Jesuit and dean of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Fr Massimo Pampaloni, described it, as well as the presentation of book with the collected studies dedicated to Fr Samir, titled Between the Cross and the Crescent.

Card Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, who spoke in the morning and gave his blessing to Fr Samir (pictured), referred to him as abouna (father in Arabic).

In his message, he writes: "Among the many images that came to mind when I thought of my dear father Samir Khalil, I chose the one that came up during some of our private conversations in the Congregation: a now emeritus professor, recognised at the international level as one of the leading experts and specialists of Islam and of ancient and contemporary Arab Christianity, who gets down on his knees and asks to be blessed!"

"This should not sound as discordant note, nor should anyone feel upset and feel that the maximum of human wisdom cannot walk together with humility, but this is certainly one of the most beautiful and key traits of Abouna Samir".

The Chaldean Patriarch, the newly created Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, as did Maronite Patriarch, Card Bechara al-Rahi, also sent their best wishes.

After Mgr Sako’s letter was read, Mgr Antonios Aziz Mina, Coptic bishop emeritus of Giza, added an emotional thanksgiving as one of the Jesuit’s "many students". The bishop emeritus recalled Fr Samir’s "other work": the "army that follows him in thought" and the love for Arab Christian culture.

"You have been an example to us as a priest,” he said, moved, “a human example that shows us what brotherly love means, brotherly charity, humility, and a life truly worth living as a priest. [. . .] Today I tell you: thank you professor". Fr Samir responded with an affectionate hug.

At the symposium, Fr Samir himself thanked the Pope for the initiative in his honour. "I am very touched by such affection," he said, and then joked: "It encourages me to continue, who knows, even for decades".

"Thank you. Today you have moved me so many times. For your love, for your goodness, I have not given anything in particular. As the teacher Father taught me on the first day – he was very strict, and I thank him – as they teach me today, [I] pass on [. . .] only one line: live and practise the Gospel, asking humbly 'Lord help me live this, and pass this on'. Thank you. I am not deserving; the only one who deserves is the one who taught it to us."

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