A new national Catholic-Muslim dialogue hopes to counter Islamophobia in the United States

Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski spoke of the need for a national dialogue to counter Islamophobia. Credit: Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops hopes that a national dialogue with Muslims can change perceptions of Islam in the United States.

In the past, efforts to foster Catholic-Muslim have succeeded at local levels. But in the face of rising Islamophobia, Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, of Springfield in Massachusetts, who chairs the committee, said a wider conversation was needed.

As the national conversation around Islam grows increasingly fraught, coarse and driven by fear and often willful misinformation, the Catholic Church must help to model real dialogue and good will,” he said in a statement.

This national dialogue will begin at the start of 2017. In the Midwest, Catholic-Muslim dialogue began in 1996 and meets once a year. The co-chairs represent both faiths. One document produced explored how Muslims and Catholics interpret revelation.

In the Mid-Atlanic, a representative from The Islamic Circle of North America co-chairs the yearly meetings that started in 1998. Out in California, a number of Islamic Societies join the yearly dialogue which began in 1999. They co-published Friends and Not Adversaries: A Catholic-Muslim Spiritual Journey in 2003.

A 2014 directive reaffirmed a commitment to Catholic-Muslim dialogue.

How Catholics view other faiths changed following the Second Vatican Council. In 1965, the then Pope Paul VI, delivered the Nostra Aetate, Latin for ‘In Our Time’. This revolutionary document shifted the ‘default position of hostility‘ to reconciliation. For Jewish communities, the Catholic Church moved away from collective blame for Christ’s death. In 2011, Pope Benedict X further exonerated the Jewish people in a theological intervention. Such a stance hoped to end centuries of Catholic-inspired antisemitism.

The Nostra Aetate document had warm words for Muslims and their devotion to God. It spoke of difference but mentioned that:

Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

The Pew Research Center found a slight decline in Catholics in the United States. The 2014 figure stood at 20.8 per cent (down from 23.9 per cent in 2007). Muslims in the United States represent almost one per cent of the general population.

This national dialogue will compliment, not replace existing examples of Catholic-Muslim dialogue. Archbishop Blase Cupich of the Diocese of Chicago will co-chair this national initative. There’s no announcement yet on who will act as the Muslim co-chair.