Dialogue for Peace

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

June 10, 2003

 

            Peace.

In every age there is no more urgent need and no more elusive goal.

Peace is the greeting of the three great monotheist religions. We each say “Peace be with you.” “Pax te cum.” “Shalom Aleichem” “Salam aleckem.”

Nevertheless Christians, Moslems and Jews have often not lived in peace with each other. Oceans of blood have been shed in the name of God. Often religious people give God a bad name.

This past April, in an attempt to overcome the recent and distant past, more than 250 “children of Abraham” assembled in a Washington, D.C. parish hall, to start a dialogue of peace. In attendance were two Cardinals of the Catholic Church, several Imams from various Moslem traditions, Catholic priests and nuns and some Protestant ministers.

Despite the presence of a lot of “official” representatives of religion, it was basically a lay group. It was just ordinary folks with an extraordinary concern.

The lecture was sponsored by lay people. The Lay Centre of Foyer Unitas a Catholic residence for lay students of theology in Rome, Italy, had organized the evening.

This year the Lay Centre is living the dialogue as well. Their Rome house includes not only Catholics, but also two Moslem students who are studying in Rome on scholarships given by the Vatican.

The title of the evening was  Christians and Moslems Together, Creating a Culture of Peace.” There were two presenters were soft-spoken men of good humor.

The first speaker was Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, M. Afr., an Englishman who heads the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue. He was followed by Prof. Abdulaziz Sachedina , an Iranian Imam of the Shiite branch of Islam who is a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia.

Archbishop Fitzgerald described the extensive and on going dialogue between the Vatican and various Moslem groups, especially in North Africa.

            Professor Sachedina welcomed these high level talks but noted that talking had to go beyond elites. He suggested that ordinary believers should get together to talk about their faith and become friends. 

            One lady from our parish took this suggestion to heart. She decided to do something right where we live in rural Southern Maryland.

A few days after the lecture in Washington, Mrs. Marijka Ulanowicz of our parish, called the Southern Maryland Islamic Center, a mosque which is just a mile away from our church. She suggested a dialogue between Catholic and Moslem women. It seemed the best way to start. Often women are able to find a common ground that eludes men.

            The women of the Mosque were very willing. Their community has often felt threatened and isolated in recent months. During the Iraq war there were ominous threats made against their Mosque which as been a peaceful part of our community for more than 20 years.

            For now the dialogue is small. There are about half dozen women from each or our communities getting together once a month. They share a meal. They tour our houses of worship. They learn about each other’s faith. 

            It is not much, but it is a start. If peace is to come between nations and religions, it has to be built on a foundation of trust. Maybe it has to start in an out of the way place were there is already some peace.

The Catholic and Moslem women of our communities are discovering that we share a common desire, expressed in the prayer of a Jewish priest, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who is mentioned in both the Koran and the New Testament. He prayed, “In the tender compassion of our God, may the dawn from on high break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”