The Vatican and al-Azhar… at the same table

The Vatican and al-Azhar… at the same table

By Fr. Rifat Bader

Thanks be to God that the dialogue has resumed between the Holy See and al-Azhar Al-Sharif. This kind of dialogue is important since both sides have wide-ranging religious and educational leverage. The past week witnessed the first panel discussion at Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, held over the course of two days. Its topic was, “The role of Al Azhar Al Sharif and of the Vatican in confronting the phenomena of fanaticism, extremism and violence.”

I was a member of the Vatican delegation. Each delegation included 15 qualified people who have daily experience in interfaith dialogue. A relaxed atmosphere prevailed. The conference revealed five facts which can be summarized as follows:

First: The date, February 24,was chosen, because it is reminiscent of the historic visit undertaken by Pope John Paul II to Cairo, Egypt in 2000 where he also made a private visit to Al-Azhar and met with late Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi. These historical relations had the potential to surmount all the obstacles that stood in the way of establishing relations among followers of religions particularly at our present time. An idea has also surfaced calling for the convening of another symposium in May 2017 in memory of the historic visit undertaken by Sheikh Ahmad Al Tayyib to the Vatican during which he met with Pope Francis.

Second: The participation of President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, was impressive for, despite being advanced in age and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, his determination remained strong. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran has been a leading figure in interfaith dialogue worldwide. He concluded his short speech in a beautiful sentence stating: “The continuation of dialogue is a gift and enrichment to humanity, while freezing or terminating the dialogue is a gift to violence and terrorism.”

Third: Al-Azhar delegation included several young educated and academic men and women versed in several different religions. This is thanks to the development of discourse and expansion of its scope, which includes training young people to sit at the negotiating table with followers of other religions in atmospheres of sincerity and explicit desire for cooperation.

Fourth: The symposium focused on three points, namely fanaticism, extremism, and violence. The final statement stressed the necessity to address the causes of “the phenomena of extremism, violence, poverty, ignorance, the political abuse of religion, and the incorrect understanding of religious texts.” That is why the conferees stressed in every working paper the need to pay attention to education curricula that establish common human values, taking into consideration bearing the responsibility of caring for children.

Fifth: Do these conferences make changes on the ground? There are no magical solutions, and no one has the staff of Moses to make changes and miracles; yet Muslims and Christians make up at least 58 per cent of the world’s population. When they stand together, think together, and view the world’s issues together, they can undoubtedly effect the most beautiful change, particularly in the areas of love and cooperation, which in turn lead to the creation of atmospheres of justice and peace.

Comment through the site Comment through facebook


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.