Pope's Audience with Members of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies

«At the heart of everything is the need of an adequate formation so that, steadfast in ones own identity, we can grow in mutual knowledge.»

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Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s address to members of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies at the Vatican on Saturday.

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Dear Cardinals,

Dear Brother Bishops and Priests,

Brothers and sisters,

I receive you with pleasure at the conclusion of the conference organized to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening in Rome of the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic studies. I thank Cardinal Grocholewski for his words addressed in everyone’s name, and Cardinal Tauran for his presence.

In the last few years, despite some misunderstandings and difficulties, steps forward in interreligious dialogue have been made, as well as with the faithful of Islam. For this reason the exercise of listening is essential. That is not only a necessary condition in a process of mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence, but also a pedagogical duty in order to “acknowledge the values of others, appreciate the concerns underlying their demands and shed light on shared beliefs» (Evangelii gaudium, 253).  At the heart of everything is the need of an adequate formation so that, steadfast in one’s own identity, we can grow in mutual knowledge.

We must be careful to not fall into a facile syncretism that, in the end, is empty and a harbinger of totalitarianism without values (ibid., 251; 253).  A convenient, accommodating approach, “that says “yes to everything in order to avoid problems” (ibid., 251); it would end up becoming “a way of deceiving others and denying them the good which we have been given to share generously with others.” This invites us, in the first place, to return to the foundations.

When we draw near to a person who professes their religion with conviction, their witness and their thought challenge us and brings us to ask ourselves on our own spirituality. Therefore, in the beginning of dialogue there is the encounter. From there the first knowledge of the other is generated. If, in fact, it is assumed that we all belong to human nature, prejudices and falsehoods can be overcome and an understanding of the other according to a new perspective can begin.

The history of the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies goes in this direction. It does not limit itself to accept what is said superficially, resulting in stereotypes and preconceptions. The academic work, the fruit of daily effort, goes to investigate the sources, to fill in the gaps, to analyze the etymology, to propose a hermeneutic of dialogue, and through a scientific approach inspired towards amazement and wonder, is capable of not losing the compass of mutual respect and reciprocal esteem. With these premises we tip-toe towards one another without kicking the dust that obscures the view.

The 50 years of the PISAI in Rome – after its birth and early developments in Tunisia, thanks to the great work of the Missionaries of Africa – show how much the Universal Church, in a climate of post-conciliar renewal, has understood the impending need of an institute explicitly dedicated to the research and formation of workers of dialogue with Muslims. Perhaps now more than ever it is needed, because the most effective antidote against all forms of violence is education to the discovery and acceptance of differences as richness and fruitfulness.

Such a task is not simple but is born and matured from a strong sense of responsibility. Muslim-Christian dialogue, in a particular way, requires patience and humility that accompanies a thorough study, because approximation and improvisation can be counterproductive or even a cause of discomfort and embarrassment. There is a need for a lasting and continuing commitment in order to not be caught unprepared in different situations and different contexts. For this reason, a specific preparation is required, that is not limited to sociological analysis, but has the characteristics of path among people who belong to religions that, although in different ways, refer to the spiritual fatherhood of Abraham. Culture and education are not secondary in a true process of rapprochement towards each other that respects in each person «his life, his physical integrity, his dignity and the rights deriving from that dignity, his reputation, his property, his ethnic and cultural identity, his ideas and his political choices» (Message for the End of Ramadan, July 10th, 2013).

This Institute is very precious among the academic institutions of the Holy See, and has the need to be recognized more. My desire is that it becomes more a point of reference for the formation of Christians who work in the field of interreligious dialogue, under the auspices of the Congregation for Catholic Education and in close collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. In the path of an in-depth study of the truth, towards the full respect of the person and his dignity, the PISAI can establish a fruitful collaboration with the other Pontifical Universities, with the centers of study and research, both Christian and Muslim around the world.

On the happy occasion of this jubilee I hope the PISAI community never betrays its primary task of listening and dialogue, based on its clear identity, on passionate, patient and rigorous research of the truth and beauty, spread by the Creator in the heart of every man and woman truly visible in every authentic religious expression. I ask you to please pray for me and I invoke my heartfelt blessing upon you.

[Translation by Junno Arocho Esteves]
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