More interfaith dialogue opportunities needed

Categories: Editorial

As people of faith, we are called to do more than simply tolerate each other

There are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and 2.2 billion Christians.

It should be obvious by the numbers alone that peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims requires tolerance. As people of faith, however, we are called to do more than simply tolerate each other.

At various times during his pontificate, Pope Francis has urged the cultivation of mutual respect and dialogue between Catholics and Muslims. Dialogue begins by recognizing that every person is a child of God, and it can lead to the overcoming of fear and the building of friendships that enrich the whole community.

joetowalsk

Editorial Joe Towalski

Such fear is very real, particularly in the St. Cloud area, a predominantly Christian community that is now home to a growing number of new arrivals, many of whom practice different faiths, including Islam.

It is unfortunate that what many Christians know about Islam is limited to media reports of violent actions perpetrated overseas by militant groups that distort the faith to support their own malevolent ideologies. These groups do not represent authentic Islam.

The fears also are very real for St. Cloud’s immigrant communities, such as Somalis, who live under the shadow of false stereotypes and — sadly — sometimes words and actions that fuel intolerance and personal safety concerns.

Moving forward

This is why more opportunities for relationship-building and dialogue are necessary — opportunities like last week’s St. Cloud Interfaith Dialogue Group panel discussion, which focused on “Living with our Muslim Sisters and Brothers as One Community.”

The event featured a panel discussion with two Muslims and a Catholic priest followed by a question-and-answer session.

Crosier Father Virgil Petermeier, who spent many years as a missioner in Indonesia — the country with the largest number of Muslims in the world — offered practical tips about how to build positive

relationships and dispel fears.

His suggestions can serve as a guide for both Christians and Muslims:

n Meet and visit: Keep an open mind. Invite people to visit your place of worship to learn more about your faith and traditions. Initiate a dialogue that acknowledges differences but focuses on things we share in common. Work together for justice and peace.

n Seek to understand: No religion is portrayed accurately by sweeping generalizations and stereotypes. Make sure you’re getting accurate information from reliable sources.

n Pray: Pray for one another. Pray alongside one another. Pray for victims of violence in the Middle East.

Working together

The violence we have been hearing so much about in recent months perpetrated by fundamentalist militants against innocent Christians, minorities and other Muslims in the Middle East is abhorrent and must be condemned by all. Pope Francis has said that respect and the freedom to worship must be extended to all people no matter where they live. These matters require new levels of international dialogue, diplomacy and action.

Here in central Minnesota there are challenges of a different sort, but we can do much to build community and build bridges among different faiths and cultures by following Father Petermeier’s advice.

A final note: Hospitality is a rich part of the Benedictine heritage that has been rooted in this area for more than 150 years. As Catholic Christians, we would do well to heed St. Benedict’s advice to welcome and receive all as Christ. Our faith demands no less, and our communities deserve no less.