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SYNOD-DIALOGUE Oct-7-2009 (540 words) xxxi

North African bishops urge synod to pledge dialogue with Muslims

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church, especially in North Africa, is called to be a church in dialogue with the world and particularly with its Muslim neighbors.

Addressing the Synod of Bishops for Africa Oct. 6, several North African bishops urged the synod to replace fear of the Muslim community with real efforts to understand and learn from Islam and to collaborate with Muslim leaders to promote development and peace on the continent.

"We all know that fear is a bad counselor," Bishop Maroun Lahham of Tunis, Tunisia, told the synod.

While the freedom of the tiny Christian communities of North Africa is not always respected fully, they are not persecuted, he said, and they usually are welcomed as important partners in efforts to provide the people with education and health care.

The church of North Africa "is a church that lives in Muslim countries where there is the beginning of critical thinking regarding rigorous and fanatical Islam," he said.

The bishop added that the Catholic community is called to stand alongside and support Muslims who are working to promote authentic and peaceful forms of their faith.

North African Catholics' experience of dialogue with their Muslim neighbors "could enrich the experiences of dialogue lived elsewhere -- in Europe or in sub-Saharan Africa -- and defuse the reactions of fear and the rejection of Islam" found in some countries, he said.

Bishop Giorgio Bertin of Djibouti, who also serves as apostolic administrator of Mogadishu, Somalia, where warlords have kept that country in a state of almost absolute anarchy since 1991, also addressed the synod.

While the majority of Somalia's population is Muslim, as are the warlords, Bishop Bertin said Christians cannot overlook the fact that the majority of people who are suffering and the majority of those who have given their lives to save others are Muslims.

The bishop proposed adopting July 9 -- the anniversary of the 1989 murder of Bishop Salvatore Colombo of Mogadishu -- as a "day to remember that many people of various beliefs have sacrificed their lives for more justice, more fraternity and more peace in Somalia."

He said Catholics must "cooperate with Muslims of good will to isolate and neutralize the evil work of radical Islamic groups that are the cause of problems" that affect Muslims most of all.

Bishop Bertin also called on the international community to make greater efforts not only to fight the piracy that is funding the Somali warlords, but also to work to rebuild the country.

Maronite Bishop Francois Eid of Cairo, Egypt, urged the synod to emphasize the importance of educating seminarians and priests to be leaders of dialogue in their communities.

The continent, he said, needs to move from "dialogue between cultures to a culture of dialogue."

Dialogue not only promotes peaceful relations between communities, but it forces people to learn more about their own traditions and to nourish their faith with insights from the other, he said.

Synod officials announced Oct. 5 that Archbishop Michel Cartateguy of Niamey, Niger, had to excuse himself from participating in the synod because he and the imam of the mosque in Niamey were "conducting negotiations aimed at overcoming the serious differences between the government and the opposition of Niger."


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