Journey To Churque (Church-Mosque) Begins In Rome?

A joint document at the end of the meeting affirmed that the believers of the two religions "should go beyond tolerance" and keep working together.

Faith and reason are both gifts of God, do not contradict each other and are by nature nonviolent, even if sometimes they have been used to justify violence.

This appears to the central conclusion of the meeting held at the Vatican between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Iranian Islamic Culture and Relations Organisation.

Participants at the three-day colloquium centred on the relationship between faith and reason were received in audience today by Benedict XVI, and issued a joint statement in which they agree that "faith and reason are both gifts of God to mankind", and that "faith and reason do not contradict each other, but faith might in some cases be above reason, but never against it".

Faith and reason, the document continues, "are intrinsically non-violent. Neither reason nor faith should be used for violence; unfortunately, both of them have been sometimes misused to perpetrate violence".

The two sides also say that they agree in the desire to cooperate further "in order to promote genuine religiosity, in particular spirituality, to encourage respect for symbols considered to be sacred and to promote moral values". Christians and Muslims "should go beyond tolerance, accepting differences, while remaining aware of commonalities and thanking God for them.

They are called to mutual respect, thereby condemning derision of religious beliefs". "Generalization should be avoided when speaking of religions. Differences of confessions within Christianity and Islam, diversity of historical contexts are important factors to be considered".

"Religious traditions cannot be judged on the basis of a single verse or a passage present in their respective holy Books. A holistic vision as well as an adequate hermeneutical method is necessary for a fair understanding of them".

"The participants expressed their satisfaction with the level of the presentations and the debates as well as the open and friendly atmosphere during the colloquium. The participants were honoured and pleased to be received at the end of the colloquium by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, who was particularly satisfied with the choice of the theme and the venue of the meeting".

The next encounter will be held in Tehran within two years.

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Are The Eastern Catholics and Orthodox Church Heading For Unification?

Has the Patriarch of Constantinople proposed a path toward communion between Eastern Catholics and their Orthodox brethren? Could it be a breakthrough?

Reports are circulating, in circles which are intensely attuned to the continued warming of relations between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, of a statement and proposal allegedly made by Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople.

If they are confirmed, it may signal a major move toward communion between Eastern Catholics and their Orthodox Brethren.It may also open the path to dialogue on communion between the Churches even wider.

The Religious Information Service of the Ukraine, associated with the Ukranian Catholic University, was cited as one source for the articles. Another was a German Ecumenical Journal named after the great Bishops Cyril and Methodius.

Both of these sources allege that the Orthodox Patriarch made an unusual gesture toward Eastern Catholic Churches which are in union with Rome, proposing that the members of those Churches somehow “return to Orthodoxy without breaking unity with Rome”.

Eastern Catholics actually believe, in some respects, that they have already done just what the Patriarch suggests. They are in full communion with Rome, and therefore with the Chair of Peter, while still remaining faithful to Orthodoxy, in their profession of faith, liturgical worship and practices.Some actually refer to themselves as "Orthodox in Union with Rome". Of course, the Orthodox have not seen it that way at all.Fortunatley, old animosity has often been replaced by a growing desire for restored communion.

Further, it is reported that the Patriarch spoke positively of a similar proposal for a form of “dual unity” made by the Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Archbishop Lubomyr Husar.Does that also suggest a warming in dialogue concerning concepts for a way toward communion?

These same sources indicate that the Patriarch may be proposing an approach to communion which would allow for some sort of “dual communion”, the details of which are not clear. Further, that he has suggested that the discussions between the two sister Churches look to the first millennium model of the relationship between Rome and Constantinople for pursuing this model of communion.

The Servant of God John Paul II, wrote regularly of the two Churches, Orthodox and Catholic, as being the “two lungs” of Christianity which must breathe together again in the Third Millennium. He dedicated much of his Pontificate to promoting communion between them.

His successor, Pope Benedict XVI has also dedicated his Pontificate to promoting this communion between East and Western Christianity in the Third Millennium. He has made regular overtures toward the Orthodox Church which have received warm and hopeful responses.

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Islamophobia Sweeps Thru Australia

There is a new face of Islamophobia in Sydney.

Gone are the images of angry young men draped in Australian flags and brandishing beer bottles as they rampage through Cronulla terrorising anyone who looks Middle Eastern.

In their place is middle-aged, earnest-looking Kate McCulloch, wearing a large Akubra hat plastered with Australian flag stickers. She tells the TV cameras that she is not racist, but Muslims take our welfare, do not live by our rules and are not welcome in Camden.

They are different faces, but their message is the same. They do not want Muslims on their beaches, in their streets, in their suburbs.

"You heard the news and saw the people," says the treasurer of the Qur'anic Society, Ahmed Chami, whose application to build an Islamic school in Camden was knocked back last week. "They said, 'Go back home. We don't want you here'. "

When Camden Council unanimously rejected the application for a 1200-student school last week, it insisted the decision was purely about planning control. But protests before the decision, which culminated in pigs' heads being left on the proposed school site, have left the impression that it has everything to do with religion.

Whatever the truth, experts say the Camden affair is the latest sign of worsening Islamophobia in Sydney, and will only add to intolerance.

Ms McCulloch, who runs a local business, says: "The school is just the thin edge of the wedge. You only have to look at those countries that have accepted Arabs and other Islamic people to see how they've come in and waged violent campaigns to try and displace locals."

University of Western Sydney human geography professor Kevin Dunn calls the steadily worsening intolerance to Muslims cumulative Islamophobia.

Professor Dunn, who as part of a PhD studied applications to build mosques in Sydney in the 1980s and 1990s, says almost every mosque is opposed by local councils and communities. But in many cases, this is overturned in the courts, he says.

The Qur'anic Society has already said it plans to appeal against the Camden decision.

"In those places where there was opposition to mosque development and where councils catered towards that intolerance, there's no doubt community relations worsened," Professor Dunn said.

He says Camden is no more Islamophobic than many other places in Sydney. In a 2001 survey under the geographies of racism project that Professor Dunn leads, 52.9% of people in Camden and its surrounding suburbs said they would be concerned if a close relative married a Muslim. Sydney-wide, the figure was only slightly lower at 52.8%.

Last year, NSW Police established a new position to look at the force's response to hate crimes. Inspector Chris Keane, of the community contact unit, said he had not seen any increase in reports about attacks on Muslims in particular but said that after 9/11 the whole community felt under pressure.

NSW Anti-Discrimination Board president Stepan Kerkyasharian says he firmly believes Camden Council knocked back the school on planning grounds.

"But we've got people using that opportunity to express jubilance, and to present it as if it was the success of an anti-Islamic campaign," he said.

He agrees anti-Muslim feeling has been increasing in recent years and the situation in Camden will make it worse. There has been a trend since 9/11 "but more importantly since Bali and then Cronulla" where particular groups take advantage of situations to promote anti-Islamic messages.

"It would be fairly disheartening for the Islamic community to see the kind of images that were on TV and to hear the anti-Islamic comments by residents. It sows the seeds of doubt in their mind about the reasons for the school's rejection."

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