Vatican City, Mar 9, 2007 (CNA) - Today in the Vatican, Benedict XVI received participants in the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, which is presided over by Archbishop John P. Foley. Addressing them in English, the Pope expressed his thanks "for your commitment to the apostolate of social communications, the importance of which cannot be underestimated in our increasingly technological world.
"The field of social communications is fast-changing," the Pope added. "While the print media struggles to maintain circulation, other forms of media such as radio, television and the internet are developing at an extraordinary rate. Against the backdrop of globalization, this ascendancy of the electronic media coincides with its increasing concentration in the hands of a few multinational conglomerates whose influence crosses all social and cultural boundaries."
The Holy Father expressed the view that "much of great benefit to civilization is contributed by the various components of the mass media," and in this context he mentioned "quality documentaries and news services, wholesome entertainment, and thought-provoking debates and interviews." Internet too "has opened up a world of knowledge and learning that previously for many could only be accessed with difficulty, if at all."
"On the other hand, it is also readily apparent that much of what is transmitted in various forms to the homes of millions of families around the world is destructive." For her part, the Church, "by directing the light of Christ's truth upon such shadows, engenders hope."
Pope Benedict concluded his talk by referring to his Message for World Communications Day, dedicated this year to the relationship between the media and young people. "The responsibility to introduce and educate children and young people into the ways of beauty, truth and goodness is," he said, "a grave one. It can be supported by media conglomerates only to the extent that they promote fundamental human dignity, the true value of marriage and family life, and the positive achievements and goals of humanity. I appeal again to the leaders of the media industry to advise producers to safeguard the common good, to uphold the truth, to protect individual human dignity and promote respect for the needs of the family."
, Mar 9, 2007 (CNA) - The particular “feminine genius” of women must be recognized and appreciated, Archbishop Celestino Migliore told a United Nations General Assembly March 8. The archbishop said that true equality between men and women can only occur if the differences between men and women are accepted and understood in their proper context, appreciating the tremendous dignity of both men and women.
The Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN presented his message on International Women’s Day during an informal debate on the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women.
The archbishop warned against the “antagonistic approach” that has oftentimes dominated the quest for equality rights between men and women, creating opposition between the two. “This approach,” he said, “juxtaposes woman against man and vice-versa, while the identity and role of one is emphasized with the aim of merely diminishing that of the other.”
“Success in the quest for equality and the empowerment of women can best be achieved when such antagonism gives way to mutual respect and recognition of the identity and the role of one towards the other,” he said.
The archbishop also warned against the tendency is to blur, or sometimes even deny, the differences between men and women “as mere effects of historical and cultural conditioning.”
This blurring impacts the stability of society and of families and the quality of relations between men and women, he noted.
“Equality between women and men and the empowerment of women will be attained when the differences of the sexes are recognized and highlighted as complementary and the cultural element of gender is understood in its proper context,” he stated.
The archbishop also insisted that women must be involved in decision-making. “This ‘feminine genius’ will prove most valuable, as women increasingly play major roles in the solution of the serious challenges the world is facing,” he stated.
“Empowerment of women also means equal pay for equal work, fairness in career advancement, and equality of spouses in family rights. Likewise, it means that women who choose to be wives and mothers are protected and not penalized,” he continued.
The obstacles that penalize women and prevent them from being fully integrated into the various sectors of society must be removed, he argued.
Migliore also noted the need to empower women through the use of microfinancing.
“Studies have shown how microfinance has led to a wide-ranging improvement of the status of women,” he said. He pointed out that some Catholic institutions and agencies have been active in microfinancing for decades. He cited the example of Catholic Relief Services, which began such programs in 1988.
Now, CRS has microfinancing programs in 30 countries, with more than 850,000 clients, of whom about 75 percent are mostly poor, rural women.
“Education for women in particular remains the most vital tool in the promotion of equality between men and women and in the empowerment of women to contribute fully to society,” he underlined.
Hand in hand with education and microfinance is awareness-raising, especially at the level of the local community, he added.
Madison, Wis., Mar 9, 2007 (CNA) - Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison is expected to announce his decision regarding the future of St. Raphael Cathedral by the summertime.
The cathedral was damaged beyond repair in a fire two years ago. A subsequent investigation discovered that the fire was the result of arson.
The bishop has been welcoming input regarding the future of the cathedral from people throughout the diocese this past year. He has held town hall meetings, consulted with diocesan advisory bodies, and received many letters.
According to the Catholic Herald, the bishop seems to prefer a downtown site for the new cathedral. "Even secular Madison wants the cathedral downtown," near the Wisconsin State building, he added. However, he said he remains open to suggestions.
A feasibility study will be conducted to determine the funds that can be raised. The bishop said the new cathedral does not need to be a "golden temple," but it should be a beautiful place of worship.
It should also offer outreach to the poor and a place of dialogue for the political and university communities, as well as for people of other faiths, he said.
The theology of a cathedral was explored by Duncan Stroik, the world renowned professor of classical architecture from Notre Dame University, during a lecture in Madison yesterday.
Bishop Morlino will preside at a March 14 prayer service, marking the second anniversary of the fire.
The Herald reported that William Connell, 41, was arrested March 15, 2005, after allegedly admitting to police that he was the arsonist. He was charged with arson, burglary, and bail jumping.
According to the Herald, Connell has a history of symptoms of mental illness. On March 1, 2007, he told Dane County Judge Steven Ebert he agreed with a psychiatrist's report that said he was competent. As a result, work on a pre-sentence investigation by the state Department of Corrections can begin, followed by a sentencing hearing.
Washington D.C., Mar 9, 2007 (CNA) - The Pro-Life Secretariat of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has applauded Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) for co-sponsoring a congressional briefing on the risks egg harvesting poses to women's health and safety. Their briefing is titled “Trading on the Female Body”.
Deirdre McQuade of the Pro-Life Secretariat said the briefing is “timely in light of renewed efforts in Congress to fund destructive embryonic stem cell research.”
"If a treatment for a major disease ever were to arise from this approach, it would require moving beyond the so-called 'spare' embryos frozen in IVF (in vitro fertilization) clinics, to creating huge numbers of embryos (by IVF or cloning) solely for medical research,” warned McQuade.
“That means treating a great many women as egg factories, at great risk to their health and safety,” she added. Minority and impoverished women would be particularly vulnerable to exploitation, she warned.
Washington D.C., Mar 9, 2007 (CNA) - The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has joined a coalition of religious groups and refugee advocates in calling on Congress to address flawed provisions in national security laws that have blocked thousands of vulnerable refugees, freedom fighters, and victims of oppressive regimes from entering the United States.
Members of the coalition proposed an effective legislative response during a press conference this morning.
The coalition argues that the Patriot Act and REAL ID Act include provisions that may deny asylum, refugee resettlement, and legal status adjustment to anyone who has provided “material support” — even under threat of death — to a terrorist organization.
No exception is provided for victims who have been forced under extreme duress to provide a meal to warlords, pay ransom to guerillas to secure their freedom, or other coerced forms of support, the coalition said in a press release.
Furthermore, terrorist organizations are so broadly defined under the law so as to include the actions of groups who fought alongside U.S. troops in Vietnam and in Iraq, the coalition pointed out.
The coalition claims the Bush administration has failed to adequately address the issue.
“While limited waivers for some groups have recently been issued, a piecemeal response is insufficient and still continues to deny protection to victims of terrorist organizations officially labeled a threat by the U.S. Secretary of State,” the press release said.
“Individuals and groups from across the political spectrum agree this ‘material support’ policy needs major revision so that bona fide refugees and asylum seekers are not unjustly denied protection,” said Kevin Appleby, director of the Office of Migration and Refugee Policy at the USCCB.
“National security laws should make reasonable distinctions between those who are a real danger to our country, and those innocent refugees who need our protection and can also provide benefits to our society,” he said.
London, England, Mar 9, 2007 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Canterbury and Head of the Worldwide Anglican Communion, Rowan Williams told reporters in South Africa today that there is no immediate plan to reunited the Anglican and Catholic churches after a nearly five hundred year split, but that the two churches would continue their 40-year-old dialogue aimed at unity.
"There is no plan at all (to reunite)," Rowan Williams, spiritual head of the world's 77 million Anglicans, told Reuters after meeting South African President Thabo Mbeki in Pretoria.
"We will continue discussions as we have for the past 40 years," he said, when asked whether he wanted the two churches to merge, and whether he expected it to happen under his tenure as archbishop.
According to Reuters, Archbishop Williams, who is in South Africa for an Anglican conference on tackling poverty and HIV/AIDS, has been battling to save the Anglican church from schism amid a bitter debate about homosexual priests and same-sex unions.
Speculation arose prematurely last month when a supposed Anglican-Catholic statement was leaked. The report spoke positively of the possibility of reuniting the churches under the Pope, although they said merging could be a long journey.
Profound changes would need to be made before most Anglican provinces could be accepted into full communion with the Church of Rome. Not the least of which is the decision on the part of many bishops to allow the ordination of women and to support active homosexuality, blessing homosexual unions as marriages.
Also, while the Catholic Church is a hierarchical system with the successor of St. Peter, the Pope acting as first among equals, the Archbishop of Canterbury is only a focal point and each province has autonomy.
Rome, Italy, Mar 9, 2007 (CNA) - A 22 week-old baby that was aborted after his mother was told he might be deformed died at a hospital in Florence after several hours of intense suffering. Doctors said the baby survived the abortion procedure and that afterwards they discovered he was completely healthy.
The baby weighed only 17 ounces when the abortion was performed last Friday. Medical records indicate that the unborn baby underwent tests during the 20th and 21st weeks, which indicated he might have had a rare disorder that affects 3 out of every 1,500 babies but that can be corrected with surgery in 90 percent of the cases.
In statements to the Italian daily La Reppubblica, the director of the department of Gynecology at the Careggi Hospital, Gianfranco Scarselli, said that after suspicions that the fetus might be deformed, doctors recommended the woman undergo a CAT-scan in order to be sure.
Nevertheless, according to Scarselli, the woman “was convinced she should have an abortion,” and she did not undergo further tests.
Once the abortion took place, the doctors noticed the baby’s heart was beating and they determined that he was not suffering from any deformation. At that point they decided to revive it. The baby fought for his life for several days but died of heart failure. Doctors have not revealed the abortion method that was used.
In Italy abortion is legal for any reason during the first three months of pregnancy and afterwards only in cases of a threat to the life of the mother, fetal deformation or, a threat to the physical or psychological health of the mother. Currently authorities are investigating the case in order to determine those responsible for the incident.
The Vatican’s official paper, L’Osservatore Romano, called the case “the miraculous struggle of a child that the world wanted to kill,” and it said that in this case “life has been thrown out, scorned, and ended in the horrible jaws of a culture that rejects any inconvenience rather than facing a path of suffering.”
The case has had a great impact on public opinion in Italy and came just weeks after the case of Amillia Taylor, who was born at 22 weeks and has become the most pre-mature baby to ever survive.
Vatican City, Mar 9, 2007 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, celebrated Mass this week before the tomb of the Servant of God John Paul II and prayed for his beatification and for national reconciliation for Poland.
“We pray for wisdom and reflection as well for those who suffered injustice during Communism, that they may not be carried away by emotions, but rather that they might look to Christ who from the Cross grants forgiveness,” the Cardinal said during the Mass that was concelebrated by 50 priests.
In recalling the suffering of the Church in Poland, the cardinal prayed that John Paul II would intercede for the Polish people and that they might receive the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. “We also direct our prayer to the Father in heaven together with the new Servant of God, who visited the prison at Rebebbia to forgive Ali Agca in person, even though he did not ask him to,” Cardinal Dziwisz said.
Santiago, Chile, Mar 9, 2007 (CNA) - Pro-life groups in Chile are pushing for legislation to give legal status to human embryos and to the unborn at any stage of development and to assure their proper burial in case they are aborted.
Veronica Santa Maria of the Network For Life and the Family said her organization, together with other pro-lifers and with Congressman Francisco Chahuan, are working on the details of the legislative proposals.
The initiative began after a number of aborted babies were found in the city of Valparaiso and were given Christian burial. Pro-lifers pointed to the incident as evidence that no legal norm exists allowing for possession of the fetus after an abortion in order to give it proper burial. “This is because in Chile there is no juridical statute that regulates the rights of the embryo,” Chahuan said.
Chahuan revealed that the measure would be sent to the floor during the first week of the new legislative session. He explained that his office is working with pro-life groups to come with norms that would grant legal protection to embryos. “There are a series of norms that would have to be modified and we would need to create a unique juridical statute,” he emphasized.
Bishop Gonzalo Duarte Garcia de Cortazar of Valparaiso will celebrate a Mass for the intention of the new legislative measure at the local cathedral. Pro-life activists said they would also organize a march in support of the effort.
Lima, Peru, Mar 9, 2007 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne, said this week in order for participation in Sunday Mass to be central for all the baptized, it will always be necessary to deepen understanding of the Eucharist.
During his weekly program, “Dialogue of Faith,” the Cardinal explained that the Mass “is the visit Jesus Christ makes to us, it is the invitation to live anew that which is most important in our life; through the Word of God, through the offering of His life He makes to the Father, through His death on the Cross and His Resurrection.”
“By participating in the Sunday Mass we experience an important, vital and central part of our lives,” Cardinal Cipriani said. Therefore, for Catholics, the Holy Mass and the Eucharist can only be spoken of on our knees, in silence, and with respect. The contrary is called blasphemy,” he said.
Lima, Peru, Mar 9, 2007 (CNA) - Health officials in Lima have adopted a new norm at one of Lima’s state-run hospitals that would permit therapeutic abortion. The new norm, pro-life leaders say, gives a green light to legal abortion in Peru.
According to the Peruvian daily “El Comercio,” health officials authorized the directive at the beginning of February. Nevertheless, it was only now made public through a statement by the anti-life organization Center for the Promotion and Defense of Sexual Rights (PROMSEX).
PROMSEX argued that the norm could be applied in all of the medical facilities of the country, but sources at the Ministry of Health consulted by El Comercio said it would only be applicable at the Instituto Materno Perinatal in Lima—one of the city’s principal state-run maternity hospitals.
The policy stipulates that “therapeutic termination of pregnancy” can take place up to the 22nd week and identifies 17 health conditions or illnesses that would qualify a patient to receive an abortion.
According to PROMSEX, “this protocol will guarantee a safe procedure for those women whose pregnancies should be terminated for medical reasons, thus protecting their lives and their health.”
However, Peru’s former Minister of Health, Luis Solari, said therapeutic abortion was a euphemism for legalizing abortion for any reason.
“Under this guise they are introducing a giant list of illnesses that have nothing to do with endangering the life of the mother. With this logic any child with Down’s Syndrome will be killed before he is born,” Solari warned.
Enrique Varsi Rospigliosi, an expert in bioethics, warned that the norm couldn’t be taken “as a precedent for performing therapeutic abortions in the country.” He noted Peru’s extensive legal framework protecting the right to life, including the Constitution, the Civil Code and even general laws on public health.
Rome, Italy, Mar 9, 2007 (CNA) -
The future of Christians in the Middle East and the creation of a society in which Muslims, Christians, and Jews can peacefully coexist lies in an internal struggle between the peaceful Muslim majority and a minority of fundamentalists. A successful change will require the emergence of leaders in the Muslim world who have the religious importance to promote a different reading of the Koran and the life of Mohammed. So says Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, an Egyptian Jesuit, who is one of the Church’s leading experts on Islam.
Fr. Samir, who teaches Islamic studies and the History of Arab culture at the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut and at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, is the founder of the Centre de Recherche Arabes Chrétiennes and president of the International Association for Christian Arabic Studies. The Jesuit priest sat down with CNA recently to discuss several interconnected issues regarding the Muslim world.
Samir touched on the difficulties experienced by Christians in the Middle East, hopes for the future, the foundations of Islam, and the struggle between fundamentalists and most Muslims.
Christians in the Middle East
Fr. Samir said the reality for Christian communities in the Middle East is “very, very difficult.”
“To be honest there is a very pessimistic vision in most all countries of the Middle East. Christians are feeling its more difficult everyday to remain in the countries where we are. I’m thinking first of Iraq, where a lot of Christians are fleeing, going out of Iraq because they feel they have no place.”
Fr. Samir said that all indications are of an emerging Iraq, which will be divided between Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish Muslims, “and the Christians have no place because there are small communities spread everywhere.”
Iraqi Christians, he noted, are now fleeing to Jordan, Syria, and – to a lesser extent – Lebanon. At the same time, he added, most of them are going to other Middle Eastern countries simply as a first step towards the United States or other countries.
The same, he said, holds true in Israel. The Jesuit pointed to the recent plea by Patriarch Michael Sabbah of the Latin Archdiocese of Jerusalem, asking Christians to remain in the Holy Land. It’s extremely difficult for Christians to remain, he said, because they are “in between…the Islamic fundamentalist movements and the Jewish fundamentalist movements.”
Fr. Samir lamented that the emigration problem is the same in Lebanon, where following the war in July and August, scores of Christians fled, many of them choosing not to return. “The whole situation of the Middle East makes the position of Christians very delicate, very difficult. How to help them stay in there is difficult, to oblige them, to tell them it’s a moral obligation to remain, because every person is thinking of his own family,” he said.
“If we think as a group,” Fr. Samir continued, “it’s a catastrophe because we are going towards - in 50 years [or so] - towards a reduction of the Christianity in the whole area as we have seen in Turkey…or Iran.”
The priest noted that his homeland of Egypt still has strong pockets of Christianity, as does Lebanon. But, he said, if “the proportion of Christians in Lebanon continues to go down, I’m not sure that in 50 years people of Lebanon, the Lebanese, will say, ‘Okay, we are a country built on two religions, one Islam and Christianity,’ As it is the case today.”
“So even the Lebanese project, which is a [model] maybe for many other countries, for the humanity, it’s a message as Pope, the late Pope said, maybe this message will no more be concrete, practical.”
Changes in Lebanon
Fr. Samir, who teaches in the heart of Lebanon, directly addressed the fundamental changes he has seen in the country as it has shifted from being primarily Christian to predominantly Muslim
The changes really began in 1989, the priest pointed out, when the government was even further adjusted to distribute power between the President, the Prime Minister, and the Head of the Legislature.
“The feeling of Muslims today is that they want Christians to remain and they feel how positive it is for Lebanon to have a nation built on two different communities working together. I am personally convinced that this is the orientation of most all Muslims.”
However, Samir said, “the facts are playing against this. It is not that there is a proposal, a plan to make Christians emigrate, it’s the difficulties, the situation. We don’t have the same vision of the Middle East.”
“For instance,” he said, “Hezbollah thinks in terms of the Muslim Ummah.” Through this worldview of a united Muslim people, standing together against the rest of the world, it becomes possible to sway Lebanese Muslims When they prepare to defend Palestine you can agree on that if you are Lebanese. I say Palestine is Palestine. It’s not, there is no question of Arab world, of Muslim world, like Israel is not a question of Jews. “
“So the feeling is that Muslims tend always to think in terms of the Muslim Ummah and what happens in any part of the Muslim Ummah is important to our Muslims in Lebanon, or elsewhere.”
Understanding differences, making changes
“It would be a great help, if really at the international level we make a clear distinction between these two approaches, the religious and the political. And help Muslims to understand that their role in the [international community] is not because they are politically a power as Muslims, but rather that they are spiritual movement and each Muslim country is a single country.”
Another aspect to consider, Fr. Samir said, is the economic one. Traditionally Christians function best in a liberalized economy, he noted. Therefore, when wars are present or situations arise, such as the current one wherein, “Syria is trying to have control over Lebanon, Christians are the first to feel we have no more place in this country. So, it’s the structure of the area which changes the situation of Lebanon.”
“We really need to have a definitive peace,” the priest said. “And peace can only be based on rights and international rights and laws, and not on the power of any country or countries, whether it be Syria, Iran, the United States, Egypt, or Israel, this cannot be the basis of international peace or a regional peace. We need this regional peace to start to develop in our countries.”
Fr. Samir also decried the high level of illiteracy in most Muslim countries. “Even Egypt,” he said, “which is the biggest Arab country, still has around 60% illiteracy.” Even if our government says only 35%, in fact we know that it’s much higher because a lot of people who go to school are not literate, cannot read and write after ten years.”
As a result he continued, those who do not read, follow the leaders who speak the loudest, “who shout more. You follow television and so on.”
Islam: a religion of peace?
Fr. Samir also addressed the connection of Islam and peace. “Islam certainly does not seek for violence,” Fr. Samir said, “but Islam includes, in some cases, violence. The Koran includes stories of violence, as does the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible.”
“Mohammed, the founder of Islam, used violence, though it was the normal thing at that time, in the 7th century in the Arab area - the Arabian Peninsula,” Fr. Samir said.
However, he continued, “if you take the Koran literally, and if you take the life of Mohammed, who is the model of all Muslims, literally, then you say he made wars against the unbelievers, so we have to make wars against the unbelievers. And if you defined that this or that group as unbelievers, then you are allowed to make war. If you say we have to defend the borders of the Islamic Ummah, because the Ummah must always develop geographically - it’s a political vision – then to defend it, we make war…to permit to Islam to expand. “
“This is also the theory of some Muslim theologians based on either the Koran or the life of Mohammed, the Sunnah as we say.”
“So, there is a problem in the sources of Islam, the Koran and the Sunnah. And there will never be a solution, unless we reinterpret the founding texts as a lot of Jews reinterpreted the Hebrew Bible, according to their own spiritual evolution. And this must be done over centuries and more. So,” he said, “this is the main problem.”
“A lot of Muslims, I would say the majority of Muslims, want to live in peace with everybody, with their neighbors, and with the other countries,” Fr. Samir emphasized.
“I came back yesterday evening from a meeting in Tunisia organized by the Muslim faculty of theology in Tunisia the Zitoona, with the collaboration of the German foundation, Komrade Adanauerschiftung and it was clear that the aim of this meeting was to promote a new vision of religions, in accord, in coherence with modern civilization. This was the title: Religions and culture towards a new vision, civilized vision, of religion and culture.”
“This,” he said, “is the aim of most everyone. But you have a minority, which is growing, unfortunately, over the last 30 years, you have a minority of Muslims who are teaching another vision, a political vision of Islam.”
“It is true that Islam was born in Medina as a spiritual movement and a political movement. In Arabic, we say that Islam is religion and politics. And this is the motto, the slogan, for instance, of the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1921, which is still very strong in this fundamentalist tendency.”
Islam’s internal struggle
Therefore, the priest continued, “the struggle is not first between Islam and the West. The struggle is between a minority of Muslims who see Islam as a political movement aiming to convert the whole world, politically also, to Islam, and a majority who would like to live according to their personal approach of life, of human groups, of nations, in conformity with their own spiritual vision of religion.”
“But,” he added, “this majority has no leader.”
“There are leaders, you have some thousand leaders, but they’re not Islamically strong enough to be confront the imams.” Most of the Imams, “more than 90% of them,” he said maintain a “traditional, literal, fundamentalist reading of the Koran and of the Sunnah.”
“This is the real problem and terrorism is a consequence.”
“So if we want to fight terrorism, which is an important issue, we have to go to the source of it. That is the teaching given in radio, in television, in the schools, in al-Alzhar school in Saudi Arabia, schools of formation of imams, who are spreading a violent Islam, a conquering Islam, a political Islam based on a literal reading of some passages of the Koran and of the life of Mohammed.”
Therefore, Samir, continued, the main conflict is in the vision of what Islam is, “and the consequence could be violence or peace, terrorism or peace. But it’s a process which cannot be resolved in five or ten years, it’s a long process.”
Some nations, he said, such as Tunisia, Morocco, and some others are moving in the right direction. They are forming imams and schools of theology, which have another vision of their own religion.
Realistic encounters with the west
For Fr. Samir “almost the only hope we have” is for more Muslims to gain a realistic experience of what “the West” really is.
“’The West’ we speak about in the Muslim world,” Fr. Samir said, “is a theoretical West, a West which is either beautiful and wonderful, or awful.”
However, the Jesuit continued, “the Muslims who live in the West know the West better.” Those Muslims who live in the United States, Europe, or other Western countries, Samir said, are able to discover the true meaning of “human rights, democracy, equality between all people, all races, between men and women. You discover that solidarity with other people is not bound by religion or by culture. Really, when there is any problem somewhere in the world, then all people in the West are doing their best to help them. They could be Buddhist or Muslims or even without religion, it makes no difference.”
Those Muslims who live in the West, he continued, “discover that there is also dialogue and a real community of thinking between believers and unbelievers, or atheists, which is, for us in the Muslim world, something difficult to understand. So, all that is a positive aspect.”
The priest admitted that there are, however, some negative aspects of having Muslims experience the Western world first hand.
“Islam is very close to Christianity in its evaluation of the values, the moral values, especially the family, the relation between man and woman in the family, within the family. So, at that point, [Muslims] are shocked by the secular countries - and Europe is mostly a secular area.”
“But,” he said, “their experience, in general, is a positive one. It is certainly much better than their own experience in their own Muslim country.”
This becomes very obvious, Samir said, “by the very fact that almost nobody, after a couple of years, goes back to Egypt or Morocco or Turkey or elsewhere.” This, he said, “proves that they find it’s better in Europe or in the States than in their own country, Pakistan, Bangladesh – not only on the economic level, but also because of the values. This is something sure.”
Western values and western failings
“Now, based on this experience - which is not a theory but an experience - I think Islam is making an evolution. They understand that these are also values, even if they are not written in the Koran because the Koran has another context, sociological and cultural context. So they will find in the Koran what confirms this visions, this democratic vision which is well developed in the West. And [those Muslims who live in the West] could be the model to change the Muslim societies,” Fr. Samir said.
This, however, takes time. “And it could be a better testimony if the West itself reexamined its own positions, especially towards the values of the family and rethinking a little bit the liberty, what should be the limits to liberty.”
Using as an example, the Danish Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, which depicted the most revered figure of Islam and caused massive riots in the Muslim world, Fr. Samir said there must be an examination of where wisdom and prudence should be exercised regarding freedom of speech and the press. “I personally support, absolutely, freedom of the press and thought and so on, I was very critical to the opposition against the caricatures. But, at the same time I wrote and I said, there must be some limits.
The priest said the goal should always be the building up of a pluralistic society in which people are respected. “We have to write to criticize, yes. But, there are limits if really we want to make a country and not simply a joke between groups attacking each other.”
This maintaining of respect for spirituality and religious values was precisely the aim of Pope Benedict’s controversial speech at Regensburg. The Pope, he said, was not proposing that the world go back to before the Enlightenment, but simply realize that there are some “negative consequences” of Enlightenment thinking, “which is the secularization of the society - the separation between rationality and spirituality.”
“And, in fact, what [Pope Benedict] means is a reintegration of the Christian vision of rationality, the relation between both rationality and spirituality, the integration of the moral values, the ethics, the Christian ethics, and so on. And I’m sure, by my experience with the Muslims in the Muslim countries, as well as in the Western countries, that this is exactly what they are looking for.”
Most Muslims, he said, want to be modern, “but not at any price.”
And, Samir continued, “in many ways Christians in the East have the same vision as the Muslims. The want to say yes, of course, we want modernity, we want liberty, but we want also solidarity. If liberty means the richer the stronger can impose his will on the others, this is not what we want. If liberty means we can do whatever we want, they are very much shocked by the sexual liberty in the West. This is what we refuse, and so on.”
Progress between Israel and Palestine
Fr. Samir also briefly discussed current progress between the State of Israel and the Palestinians.
What has happened recently, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert taking steps to agree on a “roadmap” in late February, is “a positive step,” he said.
Samir says the setting of borders for Israel, the cessation of violence, and a lasting agreement would be the minimum first steps. But, he said, “Israel has to recognize the other states, particularly Palestine, in its borders. Unless that is recognized, it’s a fiction.”
While on the other hand, “Palestinians say, ‘We recognize Israel, but we decide what ‘Israel’ means.’ So, the only official recognition is the borders defined by the United Nations, which is certainly not the case in reality, because Israel is still invading other countries. So it must be from both sides.”
“The same with violence,” he said. “There is the violence of Hamas, violence of other countries, like also Hezbollah in Lebanon. But there is also a violence of Israel. And we cannot say, ‘This is only a response to…’ Each side says ‘We are responding to…’ It must be an absolute, non-violence between both sides.”
Fr. Samir said the presence of the United States in talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials is positive, “but it’s not sufficient. It must be international. The United States is not international, not representing the whole world. But without them, certainly Israel will never start a discussion. But, I think we need to have something absolutely official in the United Nations – a definitive agreement- because the last step must be a definitive agreement according to all international decisions, between both states, recognized as official states.