Event helps mark 50th anniversary of Second Vatican Council’s Nostra Aetate document
Troy — Fifty years ago, Muslims and Catholics gathering over pastries and coffee to discuss religion in the halls of a local parish would have been unthinkable.
“Before Nostra Aetate 50 years ago, we wouldn’t be inviting Muslims to a Catholic church for a dialogue,” said Fr. Jeff Day, ecumenical and interfaith relations liaison for the Archdiocese of Detroit, who presented along with Imam Yahya Luqman of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community during an Oct. 18 interfaith forum at St. Thomas More Parish in Troy. “On the other hand, if Muslims were having a dialogue and invited Catholics, we wouldn’t have attended.”
The pastor of St. Fabian Parish in Farmington Hills said the Second Vatican Council’s half-century-old Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions paved the way for much of the modern dialogue between Catholics and those of other faiths, from the popes all the way down to the local level.
The event at St. Thomas More was jointly organized by the South Oakland Vicariate Justice and Peace Committee and the Rochester-based Muslim community. Nearly 140 people gathered for presentations by Fr. Day and Imam Luqman on the similarities and differences between the two faiths regarding Jesus and his mother, Mary, followed by table-based discussions.
“There are many similarities that we find with regard to Mary and Jesus all throughout the holy Quran, as well as in the traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him,” said Imam Luqman, who added that while Muslims revere and respect both figures, one obvious difference is that Muslims do not consider Jesus to be God.
Fr. Day explained the Catholic belief in Jesus as the son of God and the worship given to him as truly present in the Eucharist. He said Catholics do not worship Mary, but like Muslims, give her high honor for her faithfulness to God’s plan. Another common thread, he added, is the sense of profound respect both religions afford to things divine.
“Both Catholics and Muslims have this very deep sense of being reverent in the sight of God and the presence of the divine,” Fr. Day said.
Turning to more contemporary topics, Imam Luqman said those who perpetrate violence in the name of Islam ultimately betray the foundations of their faith.
“To call ourselves Muslim, we have to believe in all of the previous prophets and those to whom Scripture was revealed,” he said. “By the very fact that I have to believe in Jesus, it should make me more understanding of people of Christian faith. By virtue that I have to believe in Moses and the Scripture he was given, it should make me more understanding of the Jewish faith.”
Interfaith dialogue can help lead members of all three Abrahamic religions to a greater mutual understanding and respect on a human level, said Fr. Day. That respect, he added, can start with a simple invitation to share a meal.
“I think that’s important for Roman Catholics to become friends with Muslims, because a lot of times culture is the way you let someone in and break down barriers,” he said. “Start with food. Everyone loves to eat.”
Understanding differences is important, Imam Luqman said, but the peace necessary for dialogue must come first and can begin with an understanding that everyone, Catholic or Muslim, was created by the same God.
“Of all the differences we have throughout humanity – race, gender, social status – whatever it may be, there’s only one unifying factor of humanity, and it’s that there is one God who created us,” he said. “If we realize this is the one unifying factor, that’s a place where we can start building relationships.”
Fr. Day pointed to ongoing local efforts such as the Interfaith Leadership Council and Religious Leaders Forum, of which Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron is a part, as examples of collaboration between various religions on common causes such as literacy, hunger and poverty in the inner city.
“You’ve got Catholics and Muslims together at the same table, along with other religious leaders, trying to promote the common good,” Fr. Day said. “That’s what people are looking for us to be doing when we are together: common things for the good.”
Following that example, the St. Thomas More event sought to raise money for Blessings in a Backpack, a local charity providing free weekend meals for hungry children.
Ultimately, interfaith dialogue isn’t about proselytizing or converting anyone, Fr. Day said, but rather finding common ground.
“When the Catholic Church enters into these kinds of dialogues, we do so from the perspective of trying to learn about one another,” said Fr. Day, who along with Auxiliary Bishop Francis Reiss is a member of the U.S. bishops’ Midwest Muslim-Catholic Dialogue. “That’s the way we learn to live in peace.”