By Matthew Doeing
This past weekend The Lay Centre welcomed students from Cambridge Muslim College in the United Kingdom and Tübingen University in Germany, who are part of the “Christians and Muslims in Dialogue” program.
This program, conducted annually and co-ordinated among the two schools along with The Lay Centre, is a unique opportunity for Muslim scholars and aspiring community leaders to visit Rome, see its wonders, learn its history and experience first-hand its deeply rooted Christian identity.
These experiences have involved visits to churches, to the Vatican observatory, and a discussion-based trip to Sant’Anselmo Monastery for Mass with the Benedictine community there, as well as engaging in conversation and dialogue with Lay Centre students.
On Sunday night, over a shared meal, our community also welcomed four other guests who spoke to both groups of their experiences in Muslim-Christian dialogue: Father Diego Sarrió Cucarella, MAfr, Director of Studies at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI), Sister Carol Cooke Eid, DMM, lecturer at PISAI, and Alfons Kloss, Austrian Ambassador to the Holy See, and his wife, Anna Maria Kloss, who is a social worker and has lived in predominantly Muslim countries.
The focus of the talks ranged from an overview of the history of the PISAI institute, which was established in Rome in 1964 and its program in Islamic Studies, as well as an introduction to the Deir Mar Musa Monastery, located in Syria and home to the Al-Khalil monastic community.
Sister Eid, who is a member of Al-Khalil, which in Arabic means “friend of God,” explained that Muslim-Christian dialogue is among the community’s central charisms. As well, the monastery welcomes persons of all faith backgrounds in order that they may “get closer to God” by means of prayer and reflection within their own religious tradition.
The monastery, nestled in a set of mountains overlooking the desert, has in the past attracted up to 50,000 people a year, all of whom are invited to benefit from the opportunity for shared experiences with one another and with the resident monastics.
The community consists of both men and women, allowing families to come and feel at home.
Speaking of the recent devastation in Syria, Sister Eid said the Muslims and Christians of the Al-Khalil community have always enjoyed good relations with one another and, due to such friendships, many Christians in Syria have been saved by Muslims from potentially life-threatening situations.