Archbishop Hart meets with Melbourne Muslim Leaders at Australian Intercultural Society (2 November 2006)

Archbishop expresses commitment to Melbourne Muslims

2 November 2006

The comments made by the Holy Father, in his lecture at the Regensburg University on the 12th of September, had repercussions for Catholic-Muslim relations around the world. We are grateful to God, that here in Melbourne, the relationship was strong enough between our two communities to ride through this crisis.

The depth of this relationship was most beautifully expressed by Malcolm Thomas, the president of the Islamic Council of Victoria, in a letter to Bishop Prowse on 18 September. In this letter, he declared that “it is the position of the Islamic Council of Victoria that we consider the Catholic Church to be a close friend to the Islamic community in Victoria, we are all part of God's creation and the human soul is a gift from God which unites us all.”

Archbishop Hart also felt a need personally to express his support for the Muslim community in Melbourne. This opportunity came at a meeting held at the Office of the Australian Intercultural Society, an organisation which has been a dialogue partner of the Melbourne Archdiocese since 2000. Executive adviser of the AIS, Mr Orhan Cicek, organised the meeting, inviting Archbishop Hart to meet members of the AIS and other Muslim communities.

At the gathering Archbishop Hart said that the basis for our relationship is our common faith in the One God, the God of Abraham. It is this which characterises all our activities together. To allay all doubt, he wanted “to declare publicly and clearly the commitment of the Catholic Church in Melbourne to the work of interreligious dialogue.”

“Indeed,” he said, “in my Pastoral Letter of 2004 addressed to all the Catholics in Melbourne I listed as one of my priorities the outreach to members of other religious traditions. It is my earnest wish that Catholics should cooperate with Muslims…in every way possible.”

The Archdiocese has interacted with the Melbourne Muslim communities, and especially with the Australian Intercultural Society, in several concrete ways. During Ramadan in 2005, for instance, the AIS and the Archdiocese together sponsored and interfaith “Iftar meal” in Central Hall. In September 2006, the Australian Catholic University and the AIS together launched the Asia Pacific Centre for Interreligious Dialogue in the presence of His Eminence Cardinal Murphy O'Connor and AIS Honoury President His Eminence Mehmet Ali Sengul.

Archbishop Hart was very keen to correct any mistaken view that Pope Benedict maybe less than fully committed to Christian-Muslim dialogue. He recalled being present with Pope Benedict in Cologne, whether Pope met with the Muslim community and committed the whole Catholic Church to dialogue with Islam, saying that it was not “ an optional extra”, but “in fact, a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends”.

He highlighted the statement which the Pope made to ambassadors from Muslim countries at Castel Gandolfo on September 25:

“In a world marked by relativism and too often excluding the transcendence and universality of reason, we are in great need of an authentic dialogue between religions and between cultures, capable of assisting us, in a spirit of fruitful cooperation, to overcome all the tensions together.”

Drawing upon this statement, Archbishop Hart emphasised that it was incumbent upon both Christians and Muslims, as believing people to stand side by side against rampant secularism which would seek to drive God and all ideas of the transcendent from the public square.

“People will look upon our harmony and mutual respect,” he said, “and be moved to say that God must have revealed himself if Muslims and Christians, who are different in many ways, can come close in bonds of affection and mutuality. Our closeness is a sign to a secularised world that the God of Abraham is alive and active. They will see that we submit to the revelation that has come from the Almighty. They will see that we have contact, in some mysterious way, with the One who transcends the heavens and the earth and who has yet spoken to us and drawn us into his life.”

The Imams and leaders of the Australian intercultural Society had the opportunity to ask their own questions of Archbishop Hart. For instance, one Imam asked whether Pope Benedict was perhaps "less spiritual" than his predecessor Pope John Paul II. Of course Archbishop Hart was able to assure him that this was not the case, but that there was clearly a difference between the two in personality and ways of expression. “Just as it is, I'm sure, when one imam replaces another" he said. Another imam said that he is aware that Pope Benedict wishes to move the dialogue into a new phase of frank and honest discussion.

Imams who attended included Sheikh Rezhep Idrizi of the Carlton Mosque (President of the Board of Imams Of Victoria), Sheikh Issa Musse of the West Melbourne Mosque, Sheikh Riad Galil of the West Heidelberg Mosque, and Sheikh Ilham of the Shepparton Mosque.

Archbishop Hart was accompanied by Monsignor Peter Kenny (Episcopal Vicar for Ecumenical Interfaith Relations and the Chair of the Ecumenical Interfaith Commission), Father John Dupuche (Chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee), and Mr David Schütz (Executive Officer of the Ecumenical Interfaith Commission)

Click here to download a full copy of the Archbishop's message.


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