A thirteenth century spiritual master, and a twentieth century monk, exemplify the prayerful encounter between Christianity and Islam, said Cardinal Vincent in an address at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies on 27th February. St Francis of Assisi’s visit to the Sultan of Egypt in 1219 gave rise to a mutual esteem for the faith of each other. In the 1980s an Italian priest, Fr Paolo Dall’Oglio, restored an ancient Syrian monastery as a place of prayer and encounter for Christians and Muslims.
All too often, said the Cardinal, relations between Christians and Muslims have been characterised by armed struggle and war, which demonise opposing parties. The ‘dialogue of experience’ can counter this aggressive narrative: it is when we come to know each other, study together, pray side by side, that we can sustain a hope that overcomes division. This is not to ‘water down’ the truths of our faith; sure faith in Christ enables us to reach out in love and understanding.
Cardinal Vincent gave moving testimony to this relationship from his own career. In Birmingham in the aftermath of the 9/11 atrocity, faith leaders in the city came together in a sign of solidarity, and from this grew a new respect for each other. At Westminster, he has consulted with Muslim leaders, sharing experience of being a minority community and working together on issues such as education. Together the communities can speak to the political and social debates of our time, entering into a dialogue wherein faith both enriches and is enriched by the discourse of reason.
In the end, said the Cardinal, the dialogue between us will only be successful if it is a dialogue ‘underpinned by a quiet, contemplative approach to the beauty of each other’s belief, and a desire to live peaceably before God and together’.