Last Thursday, the Archbishop Mounged El-Hachem (Apostolic Nuncio to the State of Kuwait) visited the Aware Center in Surra, Kuwait to present a "Dialogue between Christians & Muslims Today".
This was the third lecture in a series of lectures on tolerance held at the Aware Center this autumn. This was also fairly timely lecture as King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had recently visited the Vatican—the first rapprochement ever from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the head of the Catholic Church in the World.
In introducing the Archbishop that November 12 evening, Dr. Theresa Lesher, who is Muslim, made three main comments about Islam.
First, she stated that according to Mohammed, the prophet, "God honors his churches and synagogues." Second, Islam recognizes Jesus as one of the greatest prophets of the faith. Finally, both Islam and Christianity are institutions of peace.
A poem was then read and the Holy See's Archbishop Mounged El-Hachem stood up to speak.The ARCHBISHOP'S SPEECH
The Ambassador of the Holy See began by clarifying as follows: "Regardless of race, gender or culture, people and information are moving around the globe very fast these days. This occurs with such speed that we often don't know each other well enough before we react. This means we need to have multicultural dialogues and inter-religious dialogue."
Archbishop El-Hachem indicated that this was why the Pope had asked him and others to become more proactive in promoting dialogue, especially now important in the wake of what has occurred in recent years between East and West.
Archbishop Mounged El-Hachem, who had served prior to this as Archbishop to Lebanon, explained that his speech had three foci: (1) Introduce the broad history of relations among these two faiths, (2) Elaborate on the Vatican II documents of 1965 concerning the relationship between the Church and other faiths around the world, and finally (3) Review the status of interfaith dialogue today.
The archbishop then began, "Muslims are the majority in many countries in Africa and Asia. Christianity makes up the majority in the West. In some countries, Christians and Muslims live in harmony with their various religious practices—i.e., living out their religious lives without restrictions."
"However, in some other countries, there are many restrictions." The Monsignor continued, "Christianity was present in Mecca and Medina in the time when of Mohammed lived. The relationships between Christians then and there with the Prophet—and in Jerusalem all the way to Ethiopia—were well known and good."
"During the Califate, churches were protected by and cooperated with the Califate. Meanwhile dialogues between East and West was initially strong. Books from Greece and Syria were translated into Arabic."
With somewhat an apology, the religious leader next lamented, "The Crusades led to conflict and persecution, but otherwise over a great period of centuries relationships were still often very good among many Muslims in the Middle East & Africa and various Christians in Europe and elsewhere—this was especially true during the more recent centuries. However, a renewed friction arose again in the 20th Century."
The Ambassador of the Holy See explained, "The disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, creation of the state of Israel and other new regional states, the discovery of oil, and the end to prolonged colonization of all sorts led to a New Balance among the faiths and faithful in and outside the Middle East."
"The good news was," according to the Archbishop "a new stage of mutual study has also begun. Nowadays, from Egypt to Lebanon, from Qatar to Europe, and in Kuwait at places, like the Aware Center, dialogues between Muslims and Christians has been carried out."This was the second visit to the Aware Center by the Archbishop in the past year.
Next, the Archbishop began to refer often to the 1965 document of the Second Vatican Council called "Nostra Etate, Dignitatis Humane, and Lumen Gentium", and he emphasized the documents important focus on having the church and Christians come to respect and grow closer to other faiths by focusing on the common grounds, rather than the differences among faiths.