By Paul Gray
While in Rome Pope Benedict was baptizing an Italian Muslim convert to Catholicism, in Melbourne members of the Islamic community paid visits to Catholic churches to watch the celebration of Easter Mass.
The church visits in Melbourne were the second organized show of friendship between Catholics and Muslims in Victoria in the space of eight days.
The first, on March 15, was a joint Catholic-Muslim meeting held to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.
The meeting was held at the Cardinal Knox Centre, a diocesan administration office of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.
The March 15 meeting was jointly organized by the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne and the Australian Intercultural Society, a Muslim organization.
Participants included Fr John Dupuche, chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee, and Prof Ismail Albayrak who holds the newly established Fethullah Gülen Chair for the study of Islam and Muslim-Catholic relations at Australian Catholic University.
“We will not gloss over the differences, but we shall not fail to see the similarities,” Fr Dupuche said at the March 15 meeting.
As well as acknowledging the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, the event was designed to explore the theme of the servanthood and submission of Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad.
Prof Albayrak, who is a Turkish Muslim theologian and expert in the Koran, stated at the meeting: “Servanthood in its most broad definition means that mankind should live in accordance with God’s commandments.
“In other words, human beings should live in harmony with the world around them, without being caught along the way, while walking towards God, through the mysterious corridor of the universe.”
Mr David Schütz, from the Catholic ecumenical and interfaith commission, drew attention to the theme of servanthood in Jesus’ teaching.
“Although he is clearly the master of the disciples, yet he declares that the greatest honour goes to the greatest servant,” Mr Schütz said.
The event at the Cardinal Knox Centre is the latest product of a three-year Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Australian Intercultural Society and the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne last July.
Meanwhile across Melbourne a week later, the Australian Intercultural Society organized visits by Muslims to churches to honour the Catholic celebration of Easter.
“While many people in our society are ignorant of many aspects of Islam and the practices of Muslims, many Muslims are also unaware of the practices of non-Muslims,” said the Society’s general co-ordinator, Emre Celik.
He said places of worship are one of the most important sites for better understanding, as they are often seen as “no-go zones” for the followers of different religions.
“Such activities play a vital role in overcoming prejudice and the stereotypes that all too often characterize the limited understanding that people of diverse faith communities have of one another.”