As I write this column, Catholics in Egypt and other Islamic countries are wondering what lies ahead. While columnists and “talking heads” debate the direction of the so-called Arab Spring and whether it will end with some form of a stable democratic future for the Middle East or the grim imposition of a new Shariah-based caliphate, Christians across the Arab world continue to be attacked, have their churches burned and bombed, and live under severe legal disabilities. It seems today that in the face of this strife, dialogue between Catholics and Muslims is unlikely to meet with success. And yet the very plight of Catholics in Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere underscores the need for the Church to engage in constructive and effective dialogue with the Islamic world, and for Catholics to learn as much as they can about one of the fastest growing religions on the planet.
To expand our knowledge of this undertaking for the Church, we have an interview this month with Father Samir Khalil Samir, a Jesuit priest from Egypt and an expert on Catholic-Islamic dialogue. I hope that you find his thoughts helpful.
The Pope has been a strong advocate both of dialogue with Islam and also of speaking out about the basic rights of Christians and minority faiths in Islamic countries. It is a demanding and also delicate enterprise. As he said in 2009 while visiting the Holy Land, “While the differences we explore in interreligious dialogue may at times appear as barriers, they need not overshadow the common sense of awe and respect for the universal, for the absolute and for truth, which impel religious peoples to converse with one another in the first place.” He is offering, as Father Samir notes, an “alliance of civilizations.”
Last month, I had the sad duty of reporting that Marcus Grodi was stepping down as a columnist for TCA after many years of faithful service. This month, I am delighted to welcome Elizabeth Scalia to the magazine as a permanent columnist. Among other things, Elizabeth is the managing editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos.com and is best known for her widely read blog, The Anchoress. She is also a Benedictine oblate. I think you will enjoy her prayerful insights in her new column, “Ora Pro Nobis.” Glad you are with us, Elizabeth! TCA
Matthew Bunson, D.Min., M.Div., is editor of The Catholic Answer and The Catholic Almanac and author of more than 40 books. He is a senior fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and a professor at the Catholic Distance University. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.