Pope Francis met with a delegation of Muslim leaders and praised their contribution to dialogue between different faiths and cultures.
“I like to think that the most important job we have to do between us, as humanity, is done with our ears, by listening,” Francis told the four-man group as he greeted them warmly at the Vatican for a private audience.
Just two weeks ago, Cardinal Nichols stood side by side with the Archbishop of Canterbury plus Muslim and Jewish leaders in London to condemn the terror attack at the Houses of Parliament. As prayers were said for the victims, the cardinal read out a message from Pope Francis offering condolences to the grieving families and solidarity with the whole nation.
Just ahead of the papal audience in the Vatican, Philippa Hitchen sat down with Cardinal Nichols and two of the Muslim leaders on the delegation, Muhammad Shahid Raza, originally from India and Syed Ali Raza Rizvi. They highlight the importance of standing together to combat hatred, intolerance and violence in the name of religion
“The ability to listen is so important. Those who have it speak softly, quietly. Those that don’t talk loudly, shout even. “Among brothers, all of us have to talk and listen gently, to seek the way together. “And when we listen and talk to each other, we are already on the path. I thank you for taking this path and ask almighty and merciful God to bless you. And I ask you, to pray for me.” The clerics at the talks were Muslims scholar Syed Ali Raza Rizvi, Moulana Muhammad Shahid Raza, an imam who heads the British Muslim Forum, Ibrahim Mogra of the Christian Muslim Forum and Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi, Director General of the Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society. Since his election four years ago, Francis has overseen a steady improvement in relations between the Vatican and the Islamic world, overcoming the acrimony caused by a series of spats under his predecessor Benedict XVI. The Argentine pontiff hosted top Sunni cleric Ahmed al-Tayeb at the Vatican last year and will meet him again when he visits the Al-Azhar mosque as part of a visit to Egypt at the end of this month.
Moulana Muhammad Shahid Raza begins by saying they bring a message of “thanks and gratefulness for the kindness and sympathy the Muslim community has always received from Vatican”. He also highlights their “great appreciation” for Cardinal Nichols and the Catholic Church in the UK which made the audience possible.
The cardinal notes that Muslim leaders like Muhammad Shahid Raza have been working on interfaith relations in Britain for the past 30 years and he hopes the papal audience will serve to encourage that work. He also thanks the pope for his message of solidarity following the incidents in Westminster two weeks ago.
Moulana Syed Ali Raza Rizvi says that “when people see the reality of faith leaders together,” it shows clearly that “what a few criminals are doing is different to what faith leaders are saying”. Standing together, he says, “has a very positive reflection” showing that faith does not divide, but rather it unites people.
He continues by noting that “in difficult times, people look to faith communities” and the projects that Muslims and Christians are working on together, especially with refugees “gives a very positive image of faith in the 21st century”. In recent years, he adds, the cardinal has helped “not just [to] bring us together but [to] create a friendship and that has made us increasingly respectful of each other and our communities”.
Cardinal Nichols says he and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby are seeking to “create a platform from which the Muslim voice can be heard in the UK” . Following the recent terror attack, he says, “Muslims all over the country stood up and said not in our name, Islam is a religion of peace and we condemn these actions” but that voice is not heard. He says he hopes that one of the tangible results of the papal audience is “the right amplification of this voice in our midst”.
Moulana Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi added: “I was deeply moved by the audience with Pope Francis. I could see the sincerity and love in his eyes as he offered words of encouragement to all of us as we came together in unity.
“This is an important meeting offering hope for everyone, regardless of religion. There is a common humanity to all of us. Some seek to divide people, religions, east versus west, but there is no east or west; there is just our common humanity as we seek a peaceful future for all based on justice and compassion.”
Here is a translation of the Holy Father’s greeting to the participants.
* * *I welcome you with joy. I like to think that the most important work that we must do between us, in humanity, is the work “of the ear”: to listen to one another — to listen to one another without hurrying to give an answer. To receive the word of a brother, of a sister, and then to think of giving my own — but the capacity to listen, this is so important. It is interesting when persons have this capacity to listen, speaking in a low, tranquil tone . . . Instead, when they do not have it, they speak loudly and even shout. Among brothers, all of us must speak, listen to one another, and talk slowly, tranquilly, to seek the way together. And when one listens and speaks, one is already on the way.
I thank you for this path you are undertaking and I ask Almighty and Merciful God to bless you. And I ask you to pray for me.
Thank you very much.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]