Christian-Muslim relations highlighted at international conference in Geneva
At the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (the ‘Geneva Centre’) earlier this month, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, joined a panel speaking on the theme ‘Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working jointly towards equal citizenship rights’.
A statement from the Geneva Centre indicated: “The goal of the Geneva Centre’s initiative was to highlight the many convergences that exist between Islam and Christianity, to recognize the potential of a ‘great convergence’ between both religions, and to mitigate and to reverse the social polarization between affiliates of these two religions and the resulting marginalization of religious minorities, discrimination, xenophobia and violence.”
A FILM OF INTERRELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE
Religion News Service’s Frederick Nzwili has reported that a bus attack in northern Kenya during which Muslims shielded Christians from al-Shabab militants is now the subject of a fictional film adaptation, focusing on religious integration and co-existence. Entitled, Watu Wote – Swahili for ‘All of Us’ – it is based on the militant ambush of a Mandera bus in December 2015. The film is due for release next month. To say that what happened was a striking event would be to understate the event. It was not only striking but surely also deeply inspiring, a hugely exemplary acting out of all that is best in being human.
Regarding the 2015 event, Mr Nzwili reports: “Gunmen sprayed the bus with bullets, killing two passengers. But when they asked the 62 Muslims to identify the Christian passengers, the Muslims refused, telling the militants to kill everyone or leave.” He adds that a teacher who was shot during the incident and died weeks after, Salah Farah, became a symbol of unity.
The film’s director and a student at Hamburg Media School in Germany, Katja Benrath, commented: “We were touched by the story … that in a situation like this one humanity could win. In this life-threatening moment, people stood up for each other – not caring about the religion of the next person because they wanted to save and shield human beings.”
Earlier in 2015, al-Shabab had killed 148 people in an attack on Garissa University College; the militants reportedly singled out Christians and shot them, while freeing many Muslims, according to the BBC, the report adding that in 2014 a bus was attacked near Mandera by al-Shabab militants, who killed 28 non-Muslims travelling to Nairobi for the Christmas holidays. However, the BBC’s Nairobi correspondent, Bashkas Jugsodaay, commented that not only did the passengers on the Mandera bus show great bravery, but there was also another quality revealed
by their surprising decision to stand up to the gunmen – frustration. He wrote: “An attack [in 2014] in Mandera, in which Christians were killed after being separated from Muslims, caused the departure of more than 2,000 teachers, as well as many health workers who had come from other parts of the country. Perhaps the passengers felt that the region could simply not afford another such attack.”
People have all sorts of motivations, even for acts that are undoubtedly self-sacrificing, even heroic. Yet what happened when Muslim people risked their lives for non- co-religionists is a reminder that, even though people may be divided by deeply different faiths, we are all one humanity. Should we need such reminding? No, we shouldn’t – but we do need it. It is all too easy for people to view those who are different from them in fundamental ways as somehow less than human. That is part of what happened in the holocaust and, at a time in the Western world when immigration has become a highly controversial subject, it is important to be reminded that all human beings belong to the one human race. The ‘Joy Bells’ of Waterford epitomized this truth and became a global phenomenon precisely because Dean Maria Jansson’s initiative struck a deep human cord.
The film, Watu Wote, promises to bring both light and inspiration in a world in which many people are sadly turning in on their own peer groups. It is called sectarianism – a retreat into the group of those are like oneself and a growing sense of hostility towards anyone outside that group. For that reason, the Geneva Centre conference, reported on our page 1, signals a welcome opening up of thinking in a very serious and intentional way. As the Gospel of Christ undoubtedly calls us, we are to reach out to all people with a love that speaks of Christ’s own love, in giving himself to the uttermost for every human person.
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Letters to the Editor
Bethany Home and the Irish Church Missions
THE FORMER Irish Church Missions Superintendent (2003-2016), the Revd Eddie Coulter, accuses me of having been “grossly misleading” about abuse in the ICM’s Manor House home in Lisburn (Letter, Gazette, 17th March).
In my letter, published in your 3rd March issue, I had cited the Northern Ireland Historical Institutions Abuse Inquiry (HIAI) report on a “systemic failing” and a “systemic failure” in relation to preventing, detecting and disclosing physical and sexual abuse.
Mr Coulter picked out parts of the HIAI report he prefers. Readers can access the report online and may judge for themselves.
Perhaps we can agree that the current ICM Superintendent, Canon Brian Courtney, was “misleading” (Letter, 10th February) in failing to note Manor House’s “paedophile visitors” and the peer abuse admitted now by his predecessor, Mr Coulter.
In that spirit of hoped for agreement, I welcome also Mr Coulter’s paraphrasing of a minute from the General Committee of the ICM.
The minute, as reported, appears to state a request that the ICM take over running the Bethany Home in Dublin, which indicates at least a perceived commonality of purpose between the organisations, notwithstanding that the request was not acted upon.
Without investigation of what else the minute states (if anything) and the surrounding context, a judgement on its import is sadly not possible at this time. In the spirit of more sharing, is it possible for me or my nominated representative to research these minutes and other material in the ICM archive?
Mr Coulter thinks that I exaggerate ICM involvement in the Bethany Home, though the only Church of Ireland clergy on its management Committee were clergy also associated with the ICM.
Surely Mr Coulter errs too far in the other direction, arguing that the basis of that participation was in a “voluntary, private capacity”. Surely, its adherents participated in the ICM itself on the same basis. I don’t see a distinction worth a difference in relation to two organisations with broadly similar purposes and a significant membership crossover.
Having said that, and in the spirit of openness, is the ICM in a position to reveal deaths of children in its care for, say, the past hundred years?
Is it possible to find out where any such remains may be buried and the cause of death?
Is there a source, or are there sources, where this information may be obtained?
Having already worked on this for 23 years, I have commenced some further research. I hope the ICM can assist in making it as accurate and as comprehensive as possible.
Chairperson, Bethany Survivors, Rugby Warwickshire
HAVING READ the Revd Peter Rutherford’s extra information about Bishop Poyntz, that extraordinarily energetic man, in Peter’s letter in the 17th March Gazette, it prompts me to mention yet another facet of his ministry.
Bishop Poyntz served as the Mission to Seafarers’ Liaison Bishop for the Church of Ireland over many years.
When I combined being Priest- in-Charge of Clonmel union of parishes, Cobh, with Mission to Seafarers Chaplain, Port of Cork, 1986 to 1992, Bishop Poyntz was already Liaison Bishop based in Cork. When I followed to Connor Diocese shortly after his translation, he was still very active in this role and remained so until his retirement.
I always experienced Bishop Poyntz as someone who gave decisive leadership, but who could accept disagreement and even being countermanded if you made a convincing case.
I appreciated his pastoral leadership in both the Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, and the Diocese of Connor and, like Peter Rutherford, his “assistance to military chaplains” when I became an Officiating Chaplain to Forces on my move to the Diocese of Connor. An appointment I cherish to this day.
I imagine this is another aspect of Bishop Sam’s ministry that may not be well known to many and I for one am thankful for his enthusiasm and encouragement. Colin Hall-Thompson
The Mission To Seafarers (NI), Princes Dock Street Belfast
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