From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Archbishop of Canterbury's Inter-religious Dialogue Address

Date 06 May 1996 06:12:30

Canon James M. Rosenthal, Director of Communications
Anglican Communion News Service
157 Waterloo Road, London SE1 8UT, England
Tel. 44 0171 620-1110
Fax 44 0171 620-1071

#742 ACC 

Archbishop of Canterbury's Address at the Committee for Inter-
religious Dialogue - Khartoum

Sunday 9 October 1995, 8.00 pm

I am very glad that, in this short visit, we have been able to make
time in the programme to meet informally together as leaders of
different faiths with active communities in this country.

Some of you will have heard me speak yesterday at Green Square about
the importance I attach to dialogue between the faiths. We must
break down the barriers of fear and ignorance which so bedevil our
relationship now and I assure you that I am personally committed to
seeking ways of putting Christian-Muslim dialogue on the same
footing as Christian-Jewish dialogue. Indeed, not long before I left
for this visit to Egypt and Sudan, I visited the Oxford Centre for
Islamic Studies in England, to encourage them in their work and to
open a discussion with them as to how this relationship could be
furthered. So please know that dialogue which is based on mutual
respect, and which has a genuine concern to listen to and learn from
all partners has my fullest support.

It is particularly important here in Sudan because I know that in
the past relations between Christians and Muslims have been very
happy and friendly, and, indeed, in many parts of the country at
local community level, they remain so today.

However, it is absolutely clear to most people outside Sudan that at
an official level relationships have deteriorated very badly in
recent years. Clearly, some people believe that the aim amongst some
radical Moslems in this country is the eradication of Christianity.
Others see considerable pressure being put on Christian communities
to make it difficult to build new churches for instance, or to be
recognised as genuine religious groups alongside their Muslim
brothers and sisters. There are real fears about the implications of
the Voluntary Societies Act for churches. Why should Christian
Churches be treated differently from Muslims? Perhaps you all agree
with me, in which case, I hope the honoured representatives of Islam
will join with their Christian brothers and sisters to explain to
the Government what is wrong.

But perhaps these perceptions are wrong. If so, one of the positive
effects this committee could have in this country would be to make
it clear that they are wrong and why they are wrong. My
understanding of Islam - and I do not pretend to be an expert at all
- is that Christianity has a place of honour amongst the great world
religions. I can certainly assure you that, in spite of the fact
that our history suggests otherwise, the Christian tradition has the
greatest respect for Islam.

So what are the grounds for dialogue?

a) Cherishing Creation: Common to all mainstream faiths is an
acceptance that this world is a sacred trust and is to be cherished.
Its resources are to be used, but not in such a way that what is
natural and vital to our well-being is destroyed. In a world
changing so rapidly, in which our population is growing and
resources diminishing, religious communities can and must act
together to defend our environment.

b) Understanding of Faith: We belong to strong mission-oriented
faiths. We need to acknowledge this, and to recognise each other's
integrity. Our task in talking to one another about our faith is to
do away with ignorance and misunderstanding. I firmly believe in
Jesus Christ as Lord, and I want you to know why that is so.
Equally, of course, Muslims will want to explain to me what it is
that energises their faith. I want to hear your story, and I ask you
to listen to mine.  It is ignorance which breeds contempt. To share
is to enrich.

c) Common Action: Regardless of our differences, there is common
ground in our commitment to action on behalf of humanity. We
recognise and proclaim a God who is just and loving and
compassionate, and who calls us to be the same.

Our world needs peoples of such faith to stand together against
injustice, and to work together to relieve the needs of those who
face violence, starvation or oppression of any sort. The world
requires us to show that Muslims and Christians can live together in
mutual trust and respect, that we can create a society which is
tolerant, and which rejects intolerance, where people are completely
free to express their faith with joy and without fear of repression.
In many places that is happening. Your own people need to see it
happen here. Many are suffering - Muslims, Christians and people
from traditional African religions. They look to you in their hour
of need - and they look to their brothers and sisters around the
world as well. That was why I launched an appeal for the Sudanese
Church after my visit to the South last year - an appeal which
provided support - no more than a drop in the ocean - throughout the

A few weeks ago, I had a meeting at the United Nations in New York.
We had an interesting discussion about the role of religion in
international politics. This is a subject of growing concern, but
also an area in which there is great opportunity for faith
communities, with their commitment to justice, peace and
reconciliation. A book, published last year in the USA, called
Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft, and coming out of the
Washington Institute for Strategic Studies, recognises well the
tensions, and in one of the essays, issues this challenge:

"Religious communities will have to take a long hard look at
themselves and, when appropriate, admit that not everything said in
their tradition points in the direction of peace, but rather some of
it produces strife ... Confession and contrition for the infirmities
of religion are inherently difficult to undertake, but the process
is necessary, nonetheless."

That challenge should pierce all our hearts, but we must face up to
it. The reality of inter-religious violence - whether in Bosnia,
Ireland, Sri Lanka or here in Sudan - undermines our faiths. The
rewards of friendship and collaboration are surely enormous, and
fundamental to the future peace and security of our fragile world.
So I appeal to you. You wish to create a healthy climate of dialogue
and action. Work together for religious freedom. Do not allow one
religious tradition to impose itself on others. Islamisation is no
more acceptable than would be the imposition of Christianity on an
unwilling population.

I am sure that a nation which builds its life on good religious
foundations, will be a nation which enjoys greater justice for all
its people, greater freedom for people to express their faith,
greater tolerance of difference, a deeper fellowship between people
of different race, tribe, colour and creed, and a climate of
forgiveness and reconciliation when hurt and damage are done. May
that be the experience of your people and mine.

The world is watching Sudan with deepening concern. The Sudanese
people long to regain their honoured place in the world of
international relations. You, as people of faith and goodwill, have 
a key role to play in enabling that to happen.

Perhaps I might close by using some words from a prayer attributed
to St Francis of Assisi.  Assisi, in Italy, has become associated
with prayer for tolerance and understanding between world faiths,
ever since a large group of religious leaders met there in 1986, at
the invitation of the Pope. These words perhaps sum up what our
dialogue should be about.

"Make me an instrument of your peace
where there is hatred, let me sow love
where there is division, unity;
where there is error, truth
where there is injury, pardon.
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, let me not seek so much to 
be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
in pardoning that we are pardoned;
in dying that we are born to eternal life."

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