05/02/2011, 00.00
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John Paul II and the Muslims (Part II)

by Samir Khalil Samir S.J.
Pope John Paul II, beatified by Pope Benedict XVI yesterday, had a profound dialogue with Islam. We continue the analysis of this relationship that the Catholic Church established, and that continues today.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - The examination of the relationship between Islam and the Catholic Church during the pontificate of John Paul. The first part of the study by Fr. Samir Khalil Samir S.J. appeared on April 30.

5. Apostolic Exhortation on Lebanon (May 10, 1997)[1]

The Apostolic Exhortation on Lebanon, titled by the pope "A New Hope for Lebanon", launched in 1995 after 15 years of civil war, proposed a hope, based on conviviality, solidarity and forgiveness to Lebanon and the Arab world . John Paul II deliberately involved Muslims as active members the Synod and in the preparation of its text, as Dr. Mohammed al-Sammak, one of three Muslim participants in the Synod for Lebanon recently recalled. From this ample text (194 pages in the official French edition) I will cite some passages.

13. The Catholic Church carefully considers the spiritual quest of men and willingly accepts the part of truth which comes in their religious persons and peoples, stating, however, that the truth is perfect in Christ, who is the beginning and the end of history and thanks to him, reaches its fullness ...

14. For constructive dialogue and mutual recognition, beyond major differences between religions, we need to discern right away and first of all what unites the Lebanese as one people, in the same fraternity that, in Lebanon, is manifested every day, especially in conviviality. In addition, Christians and Muslims in Lebanon are considered each other as partners in building the country.

Secularization and the modern world

15. It is important that the country and the region do not allow themselves to be overcome by the phenomenon of secularization. (...). A permissive way of life seems to progress which contaminates customs, especially social communication and distances people from their cultural reference points, altering their moral and spiritual traditions and beliefs. Many people, both Christians and Muslims, are concerned about this development.

The Islamic-Christian dialogue [2]

90. Having lived side by side for centuries both in peace and cooperation, as well as in confrontation and conflict, Christians and Muslims in Lebanon must find respectful dialogue in the sensitivities of people of different communities and the indispensable path to conviviality and the building of society.

91. This dialogue must be sought at different levels. To begin with, in everyday life, in city and working life, people and families must learn to appreciate each other. Practical experiences of solidarity are a treasure for all people and an important step forward in the path of reconciliation of minds and hearts, without which no common long-term work is possible. (...) religious dialogue can not be neglected. It must help everyone to regard each other with respect, to discern and recognize the greatness of the spiritual quests of their brothers, quests that lead us to walk the path of divine will, which permits individuals to progress in collective and spiritual, moral and socio-cultural life.

92. (...)Christian-Islamic dialogue is not only a dialogue of intellectuals. It aims primarily to encourage Christians and Muslims live together in a spirit of openness and collaboration, which is essential so that each can develop freely and determine choices dictated by an upright conscience. Learning to know each other better and fully opening up to pluralism, the Lebanese will equip themselves with the essential conditions for a genuine dialogue of respect for individuals, families and spiritual communities.

Solidarity with the Arab world

93. Open to dialogue and cooperation with Muslims in Lebanon, the Catholic Church wants to be open to dialogue and cooperation with Muslims in other Arab countries, of which Lebanon is an integral part. It is 'in fact the same fate that binds Christians and Muslims in Lebanon and other countries in the region. (...) The Christians of Lebanon and of the entire Arab world, proud of their heritage, contribute actively to the improvement of culture. (...)

I would like to stress the need for Christians of Lebanon to maintain and strengthen their ties of solidarity with the Arab world. I invite them to consider their inclusion in the Arab culture, which has contributed so much as a privileged place to conduct, together with other Christians in Arab countries, to a deep and authentic dialogue with believers of Islam. Living in the same region, having met in their history hours of glory and times of suffering, Christians and Muslims in the Middle East are called to build together a future of coexistence and cooperation for the sake of human development and moral development of their peoples.

94. The Lebanese are called to take care of their country, to maintain relations of brotherhood and to tirelessly build a political and social system that is fair, equitable and respectful of individuals and all currents that make it up, to build together at last their common home. (...). This requires them to constantly overcome selfish attitudes, so as to live in a disinterested state even arriving at abnegation, so as to lead the entire people to happiness, with the right conduct in the res publica.

97. The Gospel of Peace is a standing invitation to forgiveness and reconciliation. Peace through the assiduous practice of human brotherhood, the fundamental requirement that arises from our common likeness of God and thus stems from a requirement linked to creation and redemption.

98. A true education of the conscience to peace, reconciliation and harmony must urgently be developed and promoted among all the members of the Lebanese nation. (...). The commitment to the peace of all men of good will lead to a final reconciliation of all Lebanese and between different human groups in the country. Reconciliation is the starting point for the hope of a new future for Lebanon.

6. Speech in Damascus, the Omayyad Great Mosque, May 6, 2001 [3]

1. Dear Muslim Friends, As-salámu ‘aláikum!

2. We are meeting close to what both Christians and Muslims regard as the tomb of John the Baptist, known as Yahya in the Muslim tradition. The son of Zechariah is a figure of prime importance in the history of Christianity, for he was the Precursor who prepared the way for Christ. John’s life, wholly dedicated to God, was crowned by martyrdom. May his witness enlighten all who venerate his memory here, so that they – and we too – may understand that life’s great task is to seek God’s truth and justice!.

The fact that we are meeting in this renowned place of prayer reminds us that man is a spiritual being, called to acknowledge and respect the absolute priority of God in all things. Christians and Muslims agree that the encounter with God in prayer is the necessary nourishment of our souls, without which our hearts wither and our will no longer strives for good but succumbs to evil.

3. Both Muslims and Christians prize their places of prayer, as oases where they meet the All Merciful God on the journey to eternal life, and where they meet their brothers and sisters in the bond of religion. When, on the occasion of weddings or funerals or other celebrations, Christians and Muslims remain in silent respect at the other’s prayer, they bear witness to what unites them, without disguising or denying the things that separate.

It is in mosques and churches that the Muslim and Christian communities shape their religious identity, and it is there that the young receive a significant part of their religious education. What sense of identity is instilled in young Christians and young Muslims in our churches and mosques?(...).

4. (...)It is important that Muslims and Christians continue to explore philosophical and theological questions together, in order to come to a more objective and comprehensive knowledge of each others’ religious beliefs. Better mutual understanding will surely lead, at the practical level, to a new way of presenting our two religions not in opposition, as has happened too often in the past, but in partnership for the good of the human family. Interreligious dialogue is most effective when it springs from the experience of "living with each other" from day to day within the same community and culture. In Syria, Christians and Muslims have lived side by side for centuries, and a rich dialogue of life has gone on unceasingly.

Every individual and every family knows moments of harmony, and other moments when dialogue has broken down. The positive experiences must strengthen our communities in the hope of peace; and the negative experiences should not be allowed to undermine that hope. For all the times that Muslims and Christians have offended one another, we need to seek forgiveness from the Almighty and to offer each other forgiveness. Jesus teaches us that we must pardon others’ offences if God is to pardon us our sins (Mt 6, 14). (...).

Extract from the prayer for peace delivered in the Greek-orthodox church of Quneitra (Syria)

Lord of heaven and earth, Creator of the one human family,we pray for the followers of all religions. May they seek your will in prayer and purity of heart; may they adore you and worship your holy name.Lead them to find in you the strength to overcome fear and distrust, to grow in friendship and to live together in harmony. Merciful Father,may all believers find the courage to forgive one another, so that the wounds of the past may be healed, and not be a pretext for further suffering in the present.

7. XXXVth Message of World Peace Day (1st January 2002)

(...) In the name of God, I renew my urgent appeal to all, believers and unbelievers, so that the combination of 'justice and forgiveness' increasingly characterizes relations between people, between social groups and between peoples.  This appeal is addressed primarily to those who believe in God, and in particular to the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, to always reject violence in the strongest and most decided manner,that no one, for no reason, may kill in the name of God, the one and merciful. God is the source of Life. Believing in him means to bear witness to his mercy and his forgiveness, refusing to use his holy name as a tool (...).


8. Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europa "(28 June 2003)

For some decades now, Europe has been faced with the Muslim world. This could be an opportunity for encounter, but all too often it has become an opportunity to ignore each other or enter into conflict. It is understandable that the bishops, reflecting on the situation of the Church in Europe, have approached (rather incidentally) the issue of relations with Islam and Muslims. I will simply indicate to passages N. 55 and 57, although in reality, this entire area deserves further study.

55. As is the case with the overall commitment to the “new evangelization”, so too proclaiming the Gospel of hope calls for the establishment of a profound and perceptive interreligious dialogue, particularly with Judaism and with Islam. “Understood as a method and means of mutual knowledge and enrichment, dialogue is not in opposition to the mission ad gentes; indeed, it has special links with that mission and is one of its expressions”.

Engagement in this dialogue must avoid yielding to a “widespread indifferentism, which sad to say, is found also among Christians. It is often based on incorrect theological perspectives and is characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that 'one religion is as good as another”.

57. (…)A proper relationship with Islam is particularly important. As has often become evident in recent years to the Bishops of Europe, this “needs to be conducted prudently, with clear ideas about possibilities and limits, and with confidence in God's saving plan for all his children”. It is also necessary to take into account the notable gap between European culture, with its profound Christian roots, and Muslim thought.

In this regard, Christians living in daily contact with Muslims should be properly trained in an objective knowledge of Islam and enabled to draw comparisons with their own faith. Such training should be provided particularly to seminarians, priests and all pastoral workers. It is on the other hand understandable that the Church, even as she asks the European institutions to ensure the promotion of religious freedom in Europe, should feel the need to insist that reciprocity in guaranteeing religious freedom also be observed in countries of different religious traditions, where Christians are a minority.

In this context, “one can understand the astonishment and the feeling of frustration of Christians who welcome, for example in Europe, believers of other religions, giving them the possibility of exercising their worship, and who see themselves forbidden all exercise of Christian worship” in countries where those believers are in the majority and have made their own religion the only one admitted and promoted. The human person has a right to religious freedom, and all people, in every part of the world, “should be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups and every human power”.


[1] the title of the Exortation: “A New Hope for Lebanon” http://www.opuslibani.org.lb/exh/main.html


[2] Ref. pro position 39.  

[3] La Documentation catholique, n°2248, 20 mai 2001.

[4]  http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_20030628_ecclesia-in-europa_it.html



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