London: conference on Christian/Muslim relations in Africa

CAFOD and Heythrop College hosted their first conference on Christian/Muslim relations in Africa last week. Coming immediately after the Second African Synod it followed the theme of ‘The Church in service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace’.

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald M.Afr, Papal Nuncio to Egypt and the Arab League guided a reflection which revisited 'Catholic Theological perspectives Islam and Muslim Christian Relations since Vatican  II'. Theology is integral to the ideology that underpins religion. So where religion matters theology matters. Given that both Christianity and Islam are represented in such large numbers, the theologies that drive relations between the two can be drivers of peace or conflict in various contexts in Africa. 

Anthony O'Mahony, Reader in Contemporary Christianity and Theology following Archbishop Fitzgerald gave a global perspective to Christian Muslim relations. He noted that there is a global religious resurgence. Africa's part is  important and a deepening of diplomatic relations is an essential part of that process.

Archbishop Ignatius A. Kaigama of Jos: Nigeria, Archbishop Boniface Lele of Mombasa, Kenya,  Abune Tesfaselassie Medhin; Catholic Eparchy of Adigrat, Ethiopia,  Bishop Daniel Adwok, Archdiocese of Khartoum, Sudan and  Bishop John Garba Danbinta, Anglican Diocese of Gusau, Nigeria, came directly from the African Synod II to share their insights drawing on their own experiences. Since Vatican II there has been a movement  to embrace those of other faiths and denominations especially in the “dialogue of life” . It was touching to hear their experiences  both positive and negative. Hope, collaboration and dialogue were key words even in Sudan with their “dialogue of survival”.

Other experts who were  also actively involved in development, working with Muslim leaders and communities were  present Abba Hagos Hayish, Sister Pauline Nthenya, Sister Kathleen McGarvey and Mgr Matthew Kukah- a political analyst, gave further insights.

Sr Kathleen McGarvey from the Srs of Our Lady of Apostles,  lectures in Inter-Religious Relations, in Kaduna Seminary, Nigeria. She focussed on the growing need for  womens' greater participation  in this process. Sr Kathleen outlined the structures for  Inter-Religious dialogue  in Kaduna but noted that at present few women were actively involved. This is something to be redressed.

Sr Pauline Nthenya  from the Sisters of St Joseph of Mombasa, Kenya shared her experience as the AIDS/HIV Co-Ordinator for the Archdiocese of Mombasa. There is a close working relationship between Christians and Muslims in  the HIV/Aids Ministry   especially in the areas of education, HIV/Aids awareness training, testing, counselling, spiritual welfare as  well as caring for some 67,000 orphans. “It is amazing to see the changes that are taking place because we are working together”, said Sr Pauline.

Msgr Matthew Kukah from Nigeria,  a political analyst ,well known internationally  voiced  an African-Catholic perspective of  Inter-Religious relations in  Africa.  Among the major challenges  he felt crucial  were managing diversity in Africa, maintaining a rule of law and understanding constitutional citizenship. He saw these as vital for the future particularly for maintaining and bringing about lasting peace and reconciliation.

Inter Faith relations are a strategic issue for Africa. Religion and conflict can be intimately linked together and close down space for Development. Alternatively religions can be enablers of peace and more positive engagement on areas of difference as well as on areas of agreement.  For these as well as other reasons the Catholic Church in Africa is actively engaged in Inter-Religious relations in many parts of Africa. Given the context and the needs in Africa, the nature of this engagement may be driven by particularly African realities as well as the theological perspectives coming from Rome. The Church is and will continue to play a vital role in this area in Africa at many levels. It is  already developing a wealth of experience but faces a myriads of problems.

The Conference  aimed to situate  Inter-Faith  understanding and the work of CAFOD  together with other Caritas agencies and their partners. It is hoped that  common aspirations may enable more effective support for the Church in Africa, in this area, as well as encouraging support for the Churches' interfaith activity in CAFOD and the other agencies.  The findings of the Conference will be made available worldwide.

CAFOD said:  “Many people, both Christians and Muslims, continue to be poor in Africa. Communities suffer conflict and destruction. High level Inter-Religious dialogue between theologians is important. The Church’s efforts in; the theological sphere that informs practice, social outreach at community level and in moral and social leadership at all levels are both essential to and flow from this dialogue. Equally, the Church’s role in addressing the real causes of conflict and participating with communities in dispute resolution and peace building is vital.”

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