Church in Europe Looks at Muslim "Fact of Life"

3-Day Discussions Conclude in Turin

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By Chiara Santomiero

TURIN, Italy, JUNE 2, 2011 (Zenit.org).- With 11 million Muslims in Europe, the co-existence of religions is a fact of life, but also a theme for discussion.

Thus, a second Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE) meeting of delegates for relations with Muslims in Europe is concluding today.

The three-day event was held in Turin, with the aim of considering not only the relations of Church, state and Islam, but also the theme of Islamophobia.

"There are 11 million Muslims in Europe: Their presence is a fact in the life of countries and parishes," observed Monsignor Duarte da Cunha, CCEE general secretary, speaking at a press conference before the meetings. He said this also means there are "many experiences of dialogue."

Monsignor Da Cunha explained that this week's meeting was "purely pastoral," with the objective of "intra-ecclesial reflection" -- in contrast to previous meetings with representatives of other Christian confessions and Muslim communities.

Living in Europe

Father Andrea Pacini, secretary of the Commission for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue of the Piedmont-Val d'Aosta episcopal conference, noted that Muslim life in Europe is an ongoing process.

Europe represents "a great occasion for Islam to enrich itself and to express again its purely religious identity, beyond juridical and social policies," he proposed.

Unlike in nations that are defined politically by Islam, Muslims in Europe do not have to express a political dimension, but rather, "must be able to express themselves as religion."

Father Pacini said this is a challenge for Islam, but he also noted the need for "relations between religious communities to be able to contribute in the best possible way to a peaceful and harmonious coexistence within all the societies."

And dialogue occurs because of shared space -- such as "hospital, military, penitentiary and university chaplaincies," he observed.

Father Pacini spoke of a need for Islam to develop "a 'theology of inculturation,' dialoguing with the most salient points of reflection offered by the European context."

Common ground

Archbishop Maroun Lahham of Tunisia, meanwhile, spoke of the influence of culture in finding common ground.

"It is easier for me," he said, "to come to an understanding with the mufti of Hebron than with the bishop of Stockholm, given that for Palestinian and Arab Christians, the fact of having shared 15 centuries of history with the Muslims of the Middle East makes us conscious of belonging to the same culture and mentality, and this is a strong factor of coexistence."

"Islam is not a monolithic block," the prelate recalled, "and there are many differences according to the contexts."

He lamented a secular coexistence that "equates the Christian with the West and its political and economic choices."

"The family, the mosque and the school -- the three principal institutions of the Muslim world -- do not do much to define Christians," Archbishop Lahham observed. "They do not even speak of Christians but of 'non-Muslims.'"

North Africa revolutions

The archbishop of Tunisia also expressed his confidence in regard to the revolutionary movements of North Africa, which he said are being carried out "by educated young people, clever in the use of the Internet and who could no longer put up with the regimes that dominated them."

"It is necessary to always look with optimism at these pro-democracy movements, and to trust these situations that will apply also to Christians, certainly in Tunisia but also in Egypt," he said. "I'm convinced that we must not be afraid."