|| Chicago center to offer Catholic-Muslim
By ROBERT McCLORY
The Vaticans recent assertion that non-Catholics are in a gravely deficient situation has apparently not dimmed the prospects of interreligious dialogue, at least not in Chicago. On Sept. 26 more than 100 supporters of such dialogue celebrated the inauguration of a Catholic-Muslim Studies Program sponsored by the Bernardin Center of Chicagos Catholic Theological Union.
The event, held in the offices of Jenner & Block, a downtown law firm, included readings from the Quran and the New Testament and congratulatory speeches from Catholic, Muslim, Protestant and Jewish representatives.
Talot Othman, of the Council of Islamic Organizations, viewed the initiative as a gift of God and noted that Catholics and Muslims comprise almost half of the worlds population today.
Passionist Fr. Donald Senior, president of Catholic Theological Union, called the program a unique first step -- educating a new generation of Catholic leaders to understand and respect their Muslim neighbors.
The director of the new program, Scott Alexander, recently joined the Catholic Theological Union faculty after teaching on the relationship of Christianity, Judaism and Islam at Indiana University. He said he first became transfixed by Islam as an undergraduate at Harvard University and has carried on a love affair with Islam alongside a deepening commitment to Catholicism. At the inauguration he spoke in both English and Arabic.
The document, Dominus Iesus, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was not mentioned during the program. But Alexander told NCR that he sees no reason why it should impede Catholic-Muslim discussion, though he believes it may have a serious, negative impact on ecumenical discussions between Catholics and other Christian denominations.
The document missed the mark in its implication that a great many involved in interreligious dialogue are relativists, he said. They are not. They are deeply rooted in their own faith commitment. We have no illusions that the very significant distinctions between religions are breaking down. Islam as well as Catholicism has certain exclusivist and absolutist strains, and we have come to terms with that.
Nor, said Alexander, is it realistic or even necessarily a good idea for the human family to consider dissolving the distinctions that separate the great religions. Nevertheless, he added, interreligious discussions are often marked by a measure of evangelization on the part of Catholic participants and some understated invitation on the part of Muslims.
Interreligious dialogue is never just an academic thing, he said.
The new studies program, funded for its first three years by a grant from Catholic Theological Union supporters James and Catherine Denny, has a variety of goals: educating leaders and others whom the Muslim community can respect as worthy dialogue partners; convening Muslim and Christian leaders for discussion; providing information about Islam and its people; and serving as a public advocate for peace and social justice.
National Catholic Reporter, November 10, 2000