WASHINGTON (March 22, 2005)—Thirteen Catholic bishops attended a specially designed three-day program on Islam and Catholic-Muslim relations, February 28-March 3, 2005. This is the third year that the Institute has met with funding provided by Catholic Near East Welfare Association. The Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities also provided a supplementary grant for this year's Institute.
Facilitating the 2005 program were Archbishop Michael L. Fitzgerald, M.Afr., President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; Dr. John Borelli, Special Assistant to the President for Interreligious Relations at Georgetown University; and Rev. Canon Francis Tiso, Associate Director, Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Archbishop Fitzgerald served at the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies in Rome for several years before serving for sixteen years as Secretary of the Holy See's Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. In 2002, Pope John Paul II promoted Archbishop Fitzgerald to President of the Pontifical Council responsible for relations with Muslims and peoples of other faiths. While he was leading the Institute, Archbishop Fitzgerald was invited by university president Dr. John J. DeGioia to speak in Georgetown University's Pacem in Terris Lecture Series on Monday, February 28. Archbishop Fitzgerald spoke on "Peace in the World: the Contribution of Interreligious Relations."
The 2005 Institute convened with an orientation and a presentation on the Qur'an by the Dean of Georgetown College, Dr. Jane D. McAuliffe. Dr. McAuliffe serves on the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims, which Archbishop Fitzgerald chairs. Over the following three days, several other Georgetown University faculty members gave presentations on Muhammad and the early history of Islam, Islamic law and theology, modern movements in Islam, and Islam in America. Professor John Esposito, founding director of Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, spoke on the importance of Catholic-Muslim relations at a dinner hosted by President DeGioia on Monday evening following the Pacem in Terris lecture.
On Tuesday evening Dr. Borelli spoke on Christians in the Qur'an and the history of Christian-Muslim Relations. Canon Tiso, a priest of the diocese of Isernia-Venafro, Italy, who holds a doctorate from Columbia University, spoke on ethics and values as ways for Christians and Muslims to draw closer together based on the experience of the Muslim-Catholic dialogue in the United States.
Each day's work began and ended with a reflection on a selected Qur'anic text. The morning session was guided by Imam Yahya Hendi and the intervening session by Archbishop Fitzgerald, who is a scholar of Arabic.
In the final session, the bishops offered their evaluation of the Institute. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, commented: "I was very grateful to be able to attend this well-organized and thought-provoking training program organized by the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the USCCB and by Georgetown University. In view of the fact that interreligious understanding is an indispensable feature of the life of the Church, we bishops need to be well-informed on Islam and the other world religions. In this way, we can shepherd our people toward a new vision of harmony and collaboration."
Bishop Dale J. Melczek of Gary said: "I deeply appreciated the opportunity to spend the better part of a week with brother bishops in exchange with top-notch scholars. There was a real advantage in being at Georgetown which has a well-established department on Islam. The scholars and the imam were very enlightening. I very especially appreciated the presence of Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald for the duration of the Institute and his very significant presentations and commentary."
Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski of Metuchen observed: "The USCCB and Georgetown University sponsored an informative and well-organized workshop for bishops on Catholic-Islamic relations. I am deeply indebted to the organizers for the information on Islam that was covered; it will certainly be helpful to my ministry here in the Diocese of Metuchen. A fine experience," Bishop Daniel A. Hart, retired bishop of Norwich, added: "The workshop on Islam was well done in every way."
The USCCB Subcommittee on Interreligious Dialogue sponsored this year's and the previous two Institutes which met at the Center for Continuing Formation at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore and at Vallombrosa Center, Menlo Park, California.
Bishop Tod D. Brown (Orange, CA) chairs the USCCB Subcommittee on Interreligious Dialogue and was present for the Institute. Other bishops in attendance were: Theodore Cardinal McCarrick (Washington, DC), Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski (Metuchen, NJ), Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros (Melkite Diocese of Newton), Bishop Ignatius A. Catanello (Brooklyn, NY), Bishop Matthew H. Clark (Rochester, NY), Bishop Francisco Gonzalez, SF (Washington), Bishop Daniel A. Hart (Retired Bishop of Norwich, CT), Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb (Mobile, AL), Bishop Dale J. Melczek (Gary, IN), Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan (Brooklyn, NY), Bishop John W. Yanta (Amarillo, TX), and Bishop Patrick Zurek (San Antonio, TX).