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"Wings of Unity"

A programme of mutual acquaintance, which becomes communion

 


 


“The results of this seminar have by far exceeded our expectations. These have been three unforgettable days,” said Roberto Catalano of the Focolare’s Center for Interreligious Dialogue, at the conclusion of the first event of the "Wings of Unity" study group in Sophia.

 

The idea of meeting in Loppiano from 8-10 July was formed way back towards the end of last April. Prof. Mohammad Ali Shomali (Director of the Islamic Centre of England) had been invited then, to give a lesson at Sophia to the students of the course, “Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Religions in the Contemporary World,” coordinated by Prof. Frizzi on the theme, the unity of God and unity in God. But the roots of the initiative go deeper: we could say it had to do with the story of friendship, solidarity and mutual trust that sparked up 19 years ago between Prof. Shomali and his wife, Prof. Mahnaz Heydarpoor. She had come into contact for the first time with the Focolare in England, and the relationship grew with time up to the trip last April.


At that time, the rapport of esteem and mutual comprehension led to foresee a new step that could construe a joint testimony of fraternity, interweaving daily life places with academic research. So "Wings of Unity" came into being with 14 participants, five of which were Shiite Muslims, with Sophia’s Rector Coda and Prof. Shomali codirecting the event.

 

Sharzad Housmand, Iranian theologian and teacher at the Gregoriana Pontifical University,  and an expert in Christian-Islam dialogue, underlined several times the novelty of the themes proposed. Another participant, Arooj Javed, a Christian student of Sophia from Pakistan, said that she could never have imagined that such a vital spirit of communion and also openness and transparency between Christians and Muslims would be possible.


On the Christians’ side, Prof. Coda and Prof. Catalano started the dialogue by introducing some passages of Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare.  These focused on the theme of unity with all, as children of a sole Father. On the Shiites’ part, Prof. Shomali dug into the Koran and  later traditions, texts, and realities that amazingly echoed the Christian themes. As time passed, each felt the “harshness” of diversity slowly fade away, making all clearly feel the hope that emanates from a real practice of listening and comprehension of the respective theological fundaments and life experiences.

 

Also much appreciated were the speeches of Professors Callebaut and Ropelato, on the fertility of a lifestyle based on the centrality of love that unites the various human life aspects, up to the indication of new lines of action for social, economic and political life. Then the contributions of the Shiite guests, once again opened out new scenarios with a profound reflection on the experience of unity which, in those days – to use the words of Piero Coda - became "kairos, the right moment.” Prof. Mahnaz Heydarpoor evidenced important reasons on why the education of the new generations to interreligious dialogue, increasingly acquired more importance in the life of the religious communities. 

 

What the Seminar participants signed up for was an courageous agenda or research on the difficult phase Europe is undergoing, wherein religions are most often increasingly seen as obstacles to the encounter between people and culture. Also among the initiatives discussed was the interreligious Summer School for the youth in Sophia, to be held in the summer of 2017. The main objective would be to give continuity to the “boot camp” of communion and exchange inaugurated during the seminar. At the conclusion, one of the Muslim participants said, “After so many years spent in building trust among us, the new generations must no longer linger behind: we want to do all that is possible to make them experience this unity which has so intensely filled our hearts and minds.”

 

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