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Prelates speak about Islam as synod discussion concludes; Cardinal Pell rues decline of fasting

October 18, 2012

On the eleventh day of the Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, 25 synod fathers spoke on various aspects of the synod’s theme, “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” It was the final morning of formal interventions before Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the synod’s relator-general, delivered his relatio post disceptationem (report after the discussion).

Five prelates discussed Islam in their interventions. Bishop Raphaël Guilavogui of N'Zérékoré (Guinea) said that Islam “in certain places blocks the evolution of the Church by not allowing the construction of chapels or churches, for undisclosed reasons.” Bishop Matthew Kukah of Sokoto (Nigeria) said that “many Islamic scholars have often created the impression that somehow, missionary activities had a direct connection with western imperialism since both missionaries and the colonialists were seen as speaking the same language, having the same culture, coming from the same lands and so on. I believe that we need to redress these mistakes by re-reading and rewriting our common history.”

“Since the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in power, we are witnessing a new process of Islamization of state institutions,” added Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut. “As before, Christians continue to be considered second-class citizens,” and hatred of Christians continues to be sown in schools.

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney discussed Islam, fasting, and religious liberty:

Next year will be the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan, when Emperor Constantine promulgated religious freedom in the Roman Empire. In some European and English-speaking countries Christian religious liberties are being limited by the Courts, by regulations, sometimes by parliaments. Much more seriously we see examples of violent persecution of Catholics in the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia. Religious liberty, as a basic human right for all law-abiding religious followers, should be a topic in the final message and in the small group discussions.

Recently I hosted a dinner to celebrate the breaking of the Ramadan fast. The Sunni mufti was on my left, the head of the Shiites on my right, with Jewish representatives adjacent. The topic of the night became fasting and penance. It quickly emerged that the only group who fasted less than our Latin Church was some Protestants. It would be a break from Jewish and Christian tradition if this ancient practice disappeared. I commend the English bishops for reintroducing the traditional Friday abstinence.

It seems to me that we need a much more developed analysis and discussion of the consequences of the Islamic presence in the Western world for the Church and reevangelization. At a minimum the efforts to develop local and national interfaith dialogues and friendships should be continued and broadened.

In addition, an American nun, referring to the “prophetic” role of religious, denounced contemporary trends in the Church.

“Today there are people of our Catholic faith and tradition who are hurting,” said Sister Mary Lou Wirtz, president of the International Union of Superiors General. “Some have already left our institutional Church because they cannot find a place to belong; others remain within the Church but are struggling and searching for something that nourishes their soul. Families and individuals long to dialogue about their concerns in an atmosphere where they can share without judgment what is burdening their hearts.”

“When Blessed Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council he said that the Church was to become more ‘pastoral and merciful,’” she continued. “Yet today, some who when they turn to the Church in the midst of their pain, are alienated by judgmental attitudes or issues of power and control. This only pushes them further away. Can we allow ourselves to enter into the pain of our people?”

“I firmly believe religious are more than a resource,” she added. “For centuries, we religious have been a prophetic presence and witness in the Church. This recognition seems to be minimized in the current conversations on evangelization. The demographics of religious life are shifting, but religious life as a witness within the church is alive and well and will continue to be so.”


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