Catholic and Muslim leaders meet at Ampleforth

 At the end of a unique three-day Catholic-Shi'a Conference at Ampleforth Abbey in North Yorkshire, prominent religious leaders promised to continue their dialogue and look for ways to further develop the relationship between the Catholic and Shi'a communities. The Conference had been organised by Ampleforth Abbey & College, Heythrop College, University of London, and the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute in Iran's largest seminary city, Qum. Many of the Shi'a Muslims present had flown in especially from Iran for this Conference. It had begun with a one-day event held at Heythrop, before the delegates moved up to Ampleforth for three days of intensive discussion. The Conference ended with delegates making a number of suggestions on how to continue the dialogue and involve more people in this important conversation. Suggestions included a joint Catholic-Shi'a retreat for participants using scriptures and mystic texts from both religious traditions and intensive exchange courses offered by Heythrop College, University of London, Ampleforth Abbey, and the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute, Qum. Future discussion could focus on 'The role and concept of prayer in the Catholic and Shi'a traditions' and spirituality and its relevance to both traditions. There was also a clear call for learning more about the different religious traditions and the publication of papers from the Conference. The first part of this unique Catholic- Shi'a engagement, bringing together experts from Heythrop, Ampleforth, and a number of Iranian institutions, had been held on Saturday 9 July in London. There delegates were welcomed by the Principal of Heythrop College, John McDade SJ, who had himself been on the Edgware Road tube on the fateful Thursday morning. He said the events gave a sense of the "fragility of life and a sense of a world in conflict". In response to the many people who had asked him if the Catholic-Shi'a Conference would still be held, he replied: "It must take place because we are peoples of peace and we are friends. On us, on this on-going dialogue, a great deal depends. Where there are signs of terror", he went on, "Christians and Muslims should be first in standing side-by-side to challenge evil by their thoughts and words. We offer silent witness that evil can be defeated if we have the right attitude and the right words". Thursday's events were condemned by the Director of the Islamic Centre of England, Hujat ul-Islam wal-Muslimeen Moezzi, who told delegates: "Two days ago we all observed the blood of innocents being shed in London, and many families mourned. The pictures we have been watching on TV these days...shock and sadden the hearts of any human being, especially we believers who believe that killing one person is the same as killing all of humanity. I take this opportunity to strongly condemn this atrocity which took place in London, and whoever has done this certainly has not been a true follower of his religion. And I also express the abhorrence of Muslims towards the murder of innocent people, and express our condolences to the families of the victims, and hope that followers of different faiths in this country will be able to live together peacefully like in the past". The link between Heythrop College, Ampleforth Abbey and the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute in Qum was established almost five years ago and has resulted in a number of exchange visits and the first groundbreaking Catholic-Shi'a Engagement in July 2003, under the title: A Catholic-Shia Engagement: Sharing our spiritual and cultural resources in the face of contemporary challenges. This time the focus was on Faith and Reason in the Catholic and Shi'a religious traditions and how they impact upon authority and morality and praxis. In a message to the Conference, written before the events of 7 July, the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, spoke of faith as the "human response to God" and the curious nature of the human mind which searches to understand the world. "In trying to come to grips with empirical reality", he wrote, "an attempt will be made to produce a synthesis which satisfactorily makes sense of all the data, but sometimes there will be a residue which refuses to fit into the theoretical framework. New reflection is required in order to offer an improved synthesis. From a Christian point of view, such theological endeavour is to be encouraged . ....I express my satisfaction that [Faith and Reason in theory and practice] has been selected for study and that both its practical and theoretical aspects are to be examined. I wish you very fruitful exchanges". peakers at Ampleforth Abbey included the President of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue in North America Abbot Mark Serna OSB; Dr Ghasem Kakaei, Professor in the School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Department of Islamic Education, Shiraz University; Dr Mohsen Javadi, Lecturer at the University of Qum, and Director of International Relations; and Dr Patrick Riordan SJ, from Heythrop College, University of London.

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