Thursday, September 30, 2010

Religious Liberty and Islam

By Auxiliary Bishop Rutilio del Riego
Diocese of San Bernardino

On September 11 we marked the 9th anniversary of the terrorist attack that killed close to 3,000 people, injured thousands more and destroyed the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York City. This crime against humanity was executed by people who professed to do this terrible act in the name of God. All of them were Muslims. From the first moment after the attack, the U. S. President and practically every official and religious leader expressed their conviction that this was not a crime committed by all Muslims and that Islam was a religion of peace.

The relationship between Americans with Muslims in the U.S. since then has been respectful for the most part and even cooperative. However, in the last few months new unrelated issues to the September 11 attack have poisoned the nature of the relationship; from this development, no one has gained, except perhaps the radicals who claim Islam and can interpret this in the worst possible light.

The proposed construction of an Islamic Center (The Cordova House) in Manhattan two blocks from what we call Ground Zero has been the main cause of this difficult situation. Another irritant has been the proposed burning of the Quran by Rev. Terry Jones, Pastor of Gainesville’s Dove Center Church in Florida. Furthermore, in several cities people have protested the building of new mosques, including one in our diocese in the City of Temecula.

What should be our attitude as Catholics when confronted with this issue? As with other issues the Church has a moral and religious perspective and does not engage in political posturing. Our view as Catholics is based on the teachings of Christ and on the tradition and interpretation of those teachings by the Catholic Church. In the Declaration on the Relation of the Catholic Church To Non-Christian Religious, the Second Vatican Council says “The Church has [also] a high regard for the Muslims…The Sacred Council …urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding; for the benefit of all men, let them together preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.”

One principle that Jews, Muslims and Christians hold in common is that we should not do to others what we don’t want to be done to us. In our history, Catholics have been denied religious freedom because of our faith. This has happened in our country and in many other countries in the world under different systems of government, especially communist regimes. We maintain that Muslims have a right to worship freely and peacefully. We maintain also that, like all of us, they have a right to build cultural and religion centers respecting always the laws of the country and the local building regulations.

As I have for the past several years, I was again honored in September to attend the Islamic Center of Riverside’s annual Iftar Dinner, held during their holy month of Ramadan. It is always an opportunity to exchange dialogue and goodwill with the local Muslim community and leaders of other faith traditions. It is a good reminder that we have much in common.

As for the building of the Islamic Center on a place so close to where the terrorist attacks caused such human carnage, we believe there should be consultation and dialogue to reach a consensus as to whether building on this location offends the legitimate sensibilities of the relatives of those who were killed on 9/11. As for the insane proposition that Qurans be burned, we are very relieved that it did not happen. There was absolutely no reason for such a savage and hateful action, not in the twenty-first century and not in the name of a Christian Church, of the Christian faith.

As the Church of Christ, we are called to be signs and instruments of peace, reconciliation and justice. We think this way because we believe that this is the best contribution the Catholic Church can make to the building of a world in peace. We believe this is what Jesus, the Reconciler and the Prince of Peace, would want his followers to do.