TORONTO, Canada (The Catholic Register) – While Muslims marched through the streets of Cairo, Ramallah and Tehran to protest Pope Benedict XVI's speech in Bavaria, in Toronto Muslims and Catholics were handing out awards to one another and vowing to continue the dialogue.
At the annual National Muslim Christian Liaison Committee dinner Sept. 19, author and activist Raheel Raza and Scarboro Missions interfaith desk director Paul McKenna were honored for promoting interfaith understanding.
The official dialogue between Christians and Muslims in Canada also unanimously passed a resolution calling for continued dialogue, "whatever the subsequent apologies have achieved or failed to achieve."
At the dinner for about 70 representatives of the largest Christian churches and largest Islamic organizations in Canada, Pope Benedict XVI's Sept. 12 speech was rarely mentioned, and keynote speaker Raffi Mustafa concentrated on questioning the moral correctness of Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan.
The committee's statement worked out at its Sept. 18 board meeting "came in almost as a footnote, and a positive one at that," said Father Damian MacPherson, Catholic representative to the organization.
"We discussed it for about 10 minutes," he said.
The only official statement on the issue from the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) was a press release deploring the shooting of 60-year-old aid worker Sister Leonolla Sgorbati in Mogadishu, Somalia. It's not that the Muslim congress approves of Pope Benedict XVI's use of a 14th-century quote from Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologos, just that there are more important issues, said MCC president Farzana Hassan.
"I would also say that the reaction in the Muslim world is always extremely frenzied. The masses are illiterate. This is how they respond," Hassan said. "However, among the educated classes in Canada, for instance, the response has been extremely tempered."
Canadian Islamic Congress president Mohamed Elmasry told The Catholic Register he did not believe the pope's words would have any lasting impact on Catholic-Muslim relations.
"We still have a capital from the former pope, who did an excellent job in an outreach effort," Elmasry said. "This pope has made a few mistakes, but the net result is still positive."
"We always need dialogue. It doesn't matter what happens," said Abdulkadir Bulsen, president of the Canadian Interfaith Dialogue Centre.
Bulsen said it was the responsibility of the educated and privileged few who are involved in interfaith dialogue to reach out and involve ordinary Muslims and Catholics in dialogue.
"If we cannot widen this, it won't mean so much. If only a few people – educated, polite people – get together and talk and go home, that's not the purpose (of dialogue)," Bulsen said.
Ramadan and Lent are excellent opportunities for Catholics and Muslims to learn more about each other, and the religious values they hold in common, said MacPherson, director of the archdiocese of Toronto's ecumenism and interfaith dialogue office. MacPherson would like to see Catholic pastors invite local imams to speak at their churches during Lent. While the priest could present the pillars of Lent (prayer, fasting and almsgiving) the imam would present the pillars of Islam (which also include prayer, fasting and almsgiving).
The Canadian Islamic Congress already runs a program during Ramadan (Sept. 24-Oct. 23 this year) encouraging mosques to open up to local Christian communities for tours and talks on the basics of Islam.
"This is now the time to focus on the positive elements of each one of our faiths," said the MCC's Hassan.
"Both faiths exhort adherence to generosity, forgiveness, kindness and understanding, and compassion, and universal human value,” Hassan said. “I would urge both of them to concentrate on those precepts of their faith rather than anything else, rather than the antagonism, the recrimination, the anger. That's the only way we can overcome these problems."
Republished with permission by Catholic Online from The Catholic Register (www.catholicregister.org ), the largest circulation national Catholic newspaper in Canada, a Catholic Online Preferred Publishing Partner. To subscribe to The Catholic Register, click here.