Catholics and Shiites facing the future, days of dialogue in Rome

Shiite authorities from different countries of the Middle East met in Rome together with scholars and representatives of the Catholic Church in a meeting organized by the Community of Sant'Egidio.

Antonino Piccione-July 19, 2022-Reading time: 5 minutes

Pope Francis speaks with a religious leader during an interfaith meeting on the plain of Ur near Nasiriyah, Iraq, March 6, 2021. (CNS Photo/Paul Haring)

Shiite authorities from different Middle Eastern countries together with scholars and representatives of the Catholic Church, such as Cardinals Louis Raphaël I Sako, Patriarch of Baghdad of the Chaldeans, and José Tolentino De Mendonça, Archivist and Librarian of the Holy Roman Church.

The conference on July 13-14, which opened with presentations by Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant'Egidio, and Jawad Al-Khoei, secretary general of the Imam Al-Khoei Institute, started from the proposal to strengthen the threads of dialogue between two worlds, Catholic and Shiite, following the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani in Najaf in March 2021. This is what the director of the Holy See press room, Matteo Bruni, said on the occasion of this event: "The Holy Father met the Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Husaini Sistani this morning in Najaf.

During a courtesy visit, which lasted about 45 minutes, the Holy Father stressed the importance of collaboration and friendship between religious communities so that, by cultivating mutual respect and dialogue, they can contribute to the good of Iraq, the region and all humanity.

The meeting was an opportunity for the Pope to thank Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani for having, together with the Shiite community and in the face of the violence and great difficulties of recent years, raised his voice in defense of the weakest and most persecuted, affirming the sacredness of human life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people. In bidding farewell to the Grand Ayatollah, the Holy Father reiterated his prayer to God, the Creator of all, for a future of peace and fraternity for the beloved land of Iraq, for the Middle East and for the whole world.

Four sessions dedicated to shared human values, responsibility in the religious community, models of thought and the encounter between generations: the basis of mutual understanding between Catholics and Shiites. In the background, the commitment to peace, the relationship with politics and the State, spiritual life, the value of the family, the role of believers in contemporary society. 
With the aim of offering a way of dialogue that is not abstract, but practicable, capable of opening new horizons for the future in a delicate historical moment in the relations between Christianity and Islam, as well as between the West and the East.

Hence the idea - proposed by Jawad Al-Khoei and shared by Andrea Riccardi and Cardinal Louis Sako, Patriarch of Baghdad - of creating a permanent commission between Catholics and Shiites to address issues of common interest in a spirit of cooperation and brotherhood. A second operative proposal concerns the convening of a new meeting in Iraq, in Najafa.
This initiative has registered numerous positions, worthy of being remembered, although under rapid review.    
Zaid Bahr Al-Uloom, director of the Al-Balagha Academy, Imam Al-Khoei Institute, observed that "dialogue does not mean the fusion of religions, but mutual understanding" and that "the war of religions puts Muslims and Christians in the same trench."

This is why it is necessary to build bridges and tear down walls, in the opinion of Andrea Riccardi, who has just returned "from a long trip to Africa". Many countries are suffering from the effects of the war in Ukraine. No country is an island. The global world needs dialogue to find a soul it does not have".

In the same vein, Vittorio Ianari (Sant'Egidio) presided over the opening of the proceedings, invoking dialogue and culture, fundamental ingredients for opening up a perspective for the future in a troubled world.
With the audacity to propose the "simple and radical way of the Good Samaritan", in the words of Marco Impagliazzo, historian, president of the Community of Sant'Egidio: it is the way that "aims at universal fraternity as a choice without alternative".

So it is not possible to follow undaunted the steps that have made us sick, that have made the world sick. It is time to take different paths. It is time to assume the same logic that underlines the Gospel text, the logic that no matter what nation or tradition I am and you are".

The Church of Francis - concluded Impagliazzo - does not accept to shrink, to close itself, to be a community without dreams. It continues to speak so that the world may be different, so that the world may have a future".

Cardinal Louis Sako, Patriarch of Baghdad, proposed a joint appeal for peace in Ukraine by Catholics and Shiites, calling for more fruitful cooperation.

Cardinal Tolentino, Archivist and Librarian of the Holy Roman Church, stressed the importance of hospitality as "a theological and human place that profoundly unites religions, all of which respond to the emptiness and confusion of man. Let us not taste this gift. The sacred texts," he added, constantly present "a model predisposed to diversity, with a surprisingly new vision".

An ambivalence addressed to the Jewish and Greek worlds: "openness, welcome, hospitality" show that Christianity "has been plural from the beginning". Reflections were also at the heart of the speech by Ismail Al-Khaliq, director of the al-Khoei Foundation in Paris: "The Abrahamic religions that are moving towards freedom show how to free oneself from slavery and sin".

And on the fight against extremism and terrorism, Al-Khaliq recounted the French experience which, "in the name of Mary," has seen interfaith meetings in ten churches, mosques and public halls, the last one in St. Sulpice with 30 groups and communities. A path that will be replicated in other realities.

Lebanese professor Mahdi Al-Amin, citing the declaration of Nostra AetateHe said that a Koranic vision is needed "that recognizes religious otherness and establishes the basis for dialogue with it. To imagine spaces and ways of establishing religious and human relations that can develop a dialogue that recognizes the other". He recognizes that the Pope has taken important steps, but he hopes that a document will be drafted with the Shiites, along the lines of the Abu Dhabi declaration signed with Al-Tayyeb.

Among the main themes of the conference, the theme of freedom accompanied the reflections of Professor Armand Puig, rector of the Ateneo Sant Pacià in Barcelona, who recalled that "God chooses to set man free because he has faith in him. He believed in us before we believed in Him.

The beginning of the 21st century seems to be a continuous trail of huge failures. "However, this is not the story God has planned for his children, this is not the dream of peace that the children of Abraham want to share. The future of humanity cannot be a condemnation." It is necessary to reflect "on a model of thought in order to translate it into concrete life".

With regard to migrants, Daniela Pompei, head of Sant'Egidio for services to migrants, spoke, recalling the fruitful experience of the humanitarian corridors, crucial to ensure reception and integration.

Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, in addressing the care of the elderly in an increasingly "old" society, referred to the commission commission commissioned by the Italian government, which he chaired, and which drew up a document, endorsed by Prime Minister Draghi, on the rights of the elderly and the duties of society towards them. With emphasis on: the right to protection and dignity; responsible care and respect for the will of the elderly; the right to a life of relationship and the duty not to abandon them. And the importance of spiritual life in the last phase of life, in which religions play a decisive role. 

From the dialogue between Catholics and Shiites, of which the initiative of the Community of Sant'Egidio is an expression, emerges a firm condemnation of terrorism and religious extremism, phenomena that can be defined as the result of a distorted understanding of religion, the fruit of ignorance of the religion's own teachings, as well as ignorance of the other.

With the need for religions not to remain isolated, but to dialogue in encounter and visitation, through which plurality can better understand each other and contribute to a more peaceful world.

The authorAntonino Piccione

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