Respecting differences, celebrating similarities

Categories: Around the Diocese

Dialogue group helps St. Cloud Christians and Muslims connect on a human level

Oct. 11, 2013, edition
By Jennifer Janikula

No matter where one lives or to whom one prays, most people want the same things — food on the table, a feeling of safety, opportunities for children, a welcoming community and happiness.

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Father Tony Kroll, left, a retired priest of the St. Cloud Diocese, is part of a Christian-Muslim dialogue group with Ayan Omar. The group meets at
various homes and locations with the purpose of becoming better Christians and better Muslims. Photo by Paul Middlestaedt / For The Visitor

The fundamentals of humanity emphasize sameness, not differences.

But today’s contentious culture, fear-based media and power-hungry politicians thrive on magnifying people’s differences. It’s easy to get lost in this negativity — to forget about the good (but not-so-newsworthy) person-to-person happenings in daily life.

So, how do we reconnect with our humanness and sameness?

St. Cloud’s Christian-Muslim dialogue group makes connections with education, conversation and food.

Growing in faith together

“We can help each other become better Catholics and Muslims,” said Father Tony Kroll, a retired priest of the St. Cloud Diocese.

Father Kroll joined the group in response to church teachings calling all Catholics to enter into dialogue with people of other faiths.

He explained that Christian-Muslim dialogue groups across the world move past media and Internet mis-information by sharing the truth of their faiths.

“We do not proselytize,” Father Krollsaid. “We don’t want to change each other but instead help each other be better. We hope to gain knowledge of history with a spirit of reconciliation, rather than pride and nationalism.”

Ayan Omar, a Muslim member of the Christian-Muslim dialogue group, enjoys learning about Catholicism and teaching other members about Islam.

“The group allows me to put a face on the Christian religion — to humanize it in a way,” said Omar, a language arts teacher at Apollo High School in St. Cloud. “I misunderstood the faith for a very long time; now I have a sense of understanding. The people in the group are so welcoming and interested in me and learning from me.”

Before Khadija Hussein joined the dialogue group in June, her only exposure to Catholicism came from movies — exorcism scenes with gold chalices and idols of Mary.

She jokes that she joined the group because they feed her all the time. “Anybody who says no to free food is crazy!” Hussein teased. But she has been pleasantly surprised by curiosity of the Christian members of the group: “They very wholeheartedly want to learn. They sincerely want to know more.”

Terrorism is heartbreaking

Though the dialogue group focuses on religious similarities and differences, world events float to the surface of their discussions. Civil war, terrorist attacks and United States military intervention on the African continent spur interesting but respectful conversation.

Hussein called the recent events in Kenya “heartbreaking,” and, like most people, she struggles to understand terrorism.

“How can they believe that is God’s calling?” Hussein asked. “In Islam, God says if you kill one soul it’s as if you have killed humanity itself.”

She thinks terrorism stems from ignorance and is frustrated that horrific acts in the name of Islam tarnish her religion. “The terrorists are hijacking my beautiful faith,” she explained.

But much like a Christian, Hussein tries to refrain from judgment, saying, “Only God knows their motives. I pray for all of my Muslim brothers and sisters — ‘Dear God, give them understanding.’ ”

Church teachings on Islam

Though there have been many conflicts between Catholics and Muslims throughout history, including numerous wars for access to the Holy Land, the church has made a great strides in the past century to strengthen the relationship with our spiritual cousins.

The most prominent writings about Catholic-Muslim relations come from the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions in 1965. The declaration calls members of the church to “collaborate with members of other religions” and to “preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians.”

Blessed Pope John Paul II, who regularly promoted dialogue between Catholics and non-Catholics, addressed a group of young Muslims in Morrocco in 1985:

“Christians and Muslims have many things in common, as believers and as human beings. We live in the same world, marked by many signs of hope, but also by multiple signs of anguish. For us, Abraham is a model of faith in God, of submission to his will and of confidence in his goodness. We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection . . .

“We believe in the importance of prayer, of fasting, of almsgiving, of repentance and of pardon; we believe that God will be a merciful judge to us all at the end of time. . . . We must respect each other, and we must stimulate each other in good works on the path of God.”

Franciscan Sister Tonie Rausch and Brianda Cediel co-founded the Christian-Muslim dialogue group in 2006 to help people learn about other religions and share common values.

The dialogue group currently meets on the second Tuesday of each month and welcomes people of all faith traditions.

For more information about the Christian-Muslim dialogue group, contact Father Tony Kroll at tonykroll@hotmail.com or Brianda Cediel at 320-260-1072.