09/20/2006, 00.00
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Sincere faith and dialogue are the only ways to peace between Christians and Muslims

From Zamboanga, where he heads the Muslim-Christian Silsilah Dialogue Movement, a PIME missionary sends AsiaNews his thoughts about the recent criticism in the Muslim world directed at the Pope's Regensburg speech. He urges everyone to bring God back into their everyday life.

Zamboanga (AsiaNews) – Hatred and misunderstandings between Christians and Muslims comes from society's fringes, from people who do not practice their religion with a sincere heart, but try instead to remove God from everyday life. The solution lies in a sincere dialogue that seeks peace and is not afraid of the final judgement, a belief that is shared by both Islam and Christianity. This sums up Fr Sebastiano D'Ambra's thoughts.

Fr D'Ambra is a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME). He is also the director of the Muslim-Christian Silsilah Dialogue Movement.

Here is the full text of his thoughts he sent to AsiaNews.

I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the controversy surrounding the lecture the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, gave on September 12 at Regensburg University and I wish to be the voice of the many silent Christians and Muslims who have followed this issue with great concern.

My voice is not meant to add new arguments in favour or against the Pope. It is clear that the Pope maintains his position of respect for the Muslim Ummah as was clearly indicated in the speech in which he expressed his "sincere regrets" for the wrong interpretation given to his remarks, an interpretation that led so many people to believe the opposite of what he said.

In fact the statement refers to his August 20, 2005, meeting with representatives of Muslim communities in Cologne, Germany, in which he said that the "lessons of the past must help us avoid repeating the same mistakes. We must seek paths of reconciliation and learn to live with respect for each other's identity." This is something everyone ought to keep in mind.

On many occasions, but especially on March 12, 2000, during the great Jubilee (a great event of renewal in the lives of Catholics), the Church expressed its solemn apologies to the world for its major sins in history. Over the centuries we can also find statements of "sorrow" by respected Muslim leaders.

In light of this introduction my thoughts revolve around my experience. I arrived in the Philippines in January 1977 and after a few weeks I flew from Manila to Zamboanga City on the way to my first mission in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte.

It was in Zamboanga City that I started to realise how deep Christian prejudice towards Muslims was and vice versa. Soon I understood that the conflict that had festered for years had widened the gap between the two communities. Both sides, Muslims and Christians, had painful charges against each other. Yet, I also heard beautiful stories of friendship involving Muslims and Christians.

The pain of these accusations was a challenge tome. It meant making friends with the Muslim community, taking some concrete steps in direction of the Muslim community in Siocon, helping people in critical moments of conflict, risking my life on their behalf, etc.

I know that some Christians criticised me, but I am convinced that my understanding dialogue as an experience of love begins with God and brings people back to God.

That initial experience of life in Siocon led me to create the Silsilah Dialogue Movement in 1984 in Zamboanga City with the help of some Muslim and Christian friends.

I believe that in a difficult situation there are basically two ways to react: revenge or love. What will be our choice in this moment? I believe that the majority of Muslims and Christians will choose love, reconciliation, and compassion, guided by the basic principles of the Holy Bible and the Holy Qur'an.

I am convinced that at this critical moment in history—when sectors of society on both sides are encouraging violence—we, the people of the silent majority, have to stand together and join hands for peace. It is time to put in place strategies to win over the other and work together for the common good.

We have to take more concrete steps to overcome the temptation to resort to violence. We have to stand against sectors of society that have tried to remove God from their hearts, proposing a materialistic society as a model to achieve.

It is wrong to accuse Christianity for the sins of Western society; it is equally wrong to accuse Islam for the violence coming from some parts of the Muslim world.

I believe this is the worst of times in terms of relations between cultures and religions, but it can become the best of the times if we, the silent voices of Islam, Christianity and other faiths, do not allow ourselves to be used, but instead reaffirm our own faith, dignity and the basic ethics of the common good.

This is the time to make every possible effort to call the peoples represented by the two brothers—Isaac and Ishmael, both sons of Abraham—to reconcile and believe that they have a common mission in today's world: a mission of peace, through dialogue based on the experience of our own faith that encourages us to contribute to the future peace of the world.

The enemies of Islam and Christianity are in our midst, no matter whether they claim to be Muslim or Christian, or members of other religions. The great problems today come not from those who practice their religion with a sincere heart, but from those who try to remove God from our life and from society.

Christians and Muslims have in common a belief about the end of life. The Holy Qur'an and the Gospels say that at the end of our life judgement awaits us. Are we ready for that day? How can we help each other to prepare ourselves?

Perhaps we should start addressing each other, sincerely and with respect for each other's religion, by using Jesus' expression "Peace be with you",  which in Arabic is "Assalam Alaikum", and answering "And also with you", or " 'Alaikum Assalam".

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