Arab Scholar: Europe's Lack of Faith Surprising

Says Eastern Christians Remember Continent's Missionaries

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GRANADA, Spain, OCT. 1, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Europe's disassociation with its Christian roots is "shocking" to Eastern Christians who remember the continent's missionaries who evangelized the Americas, Asia and Africa, says a scholar of Arabic studies.

Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir, director of the research and documentation center for Arabic Christianity at the University of St. Joseph in Beirut, Lebanon, said Eastern Christians find it surprising that Europe is now "so removed from its faith."

He made this comment last week while in Granada for the 7th International Conference of Christian Arabic Studies, which was attended by some 180 participants.

The congress was held simultaneously with the 10th Symposium Syriacum. Both were hosted by the International Center for the Study of the Christian Orient.

Father Samir explained that the concept of secularity in the East is very different from the secularism of the West. He said that Western secularism "seeks to exclude the expression of the Christian faith in the public sphere, relegating it to the privacy of individuals."

In the East, he continued, there is "positive secularity," which seeks to "differentiate between politics and religion, but not separate them."

"We cannot leave religion out of political decision-making because religion represents an ethical tradition of humanity," the Jesuit priest said.

In regard to the dialogue between Christians and Muslims, Father Samir explained that "the struggle for this dialogue is internal, within Islam: between an extremist conception of Islam and a more open and tolerant conception."

"The relation between neighbors can be more or less good, according to the degree of tolerance or intolerance of the Muslim majority vis-à-vis Christians," he noted, though it is far from genuine religious liberty.

In this connection, the Jesuit appealed to the responsibility of the international community to commit itself to achieving this religious liberty for all people: "It is very important that powerful countries exert pressure on those that do not respect the rights of man, especially those that do not respect religious liberty."