(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Wednesday with English Cardinal Vincent Nichols and four Muslim leaders from Britain who came to highlight the deep-rooted interfaith relations among the different religious communities in the UK today.
For the past three decades, Nichols and other Catholic leaders have been working to develop strong ties with local Muslim communities. Among some of the practical, grass roots initiatives that have resulted are the setting up of shared food banks for the needy and the welcoming of newly arrived refugee families.
Just two weeks ago, Cardinal Nichols stood side by side with the Archbishop of Canterbury plus Muslim and Jewish leaders in London to condemn the terror attack at the Houses of Parliament. As prayers were said for the victims, the cardinal read out a message from Pope Francis offering condolences to the grieving families and solidarity with the whole nation.
Just ahead of the papal audience in the Vatican, Philippa Hitchen sat down with Cardinal Nichols and two of the Muslim leaders on the delegation, Muhammad Shahid Raza, originally from India and Syed Ali Raza Rizvi, originally from Lahore in Pakistan. They highlight the importance of standing together to combat hatred, intolerance and violence in the name of religion
Moulana Muhammad Shahid Raza begins by saying they bring a message of “thanks and gratefulness for the kindness and sympathy the Muslim community has always received from Vatican”. He also highlights their “great appreciation” for Cardinal Nichols and the Catholic Church in the UK which made the audience possible.
The cardinal notes that Muslim leaders like Muhammad Shahid Raza have been working on interfaith relations in Britain for the past 30 years and he hopes the papal audience will serve to encourage that work. He also thanks the pope for his message of solidarity following the incidents in Westminster two weeks ago.
Moulana Syed Ali Raza Rizvi says that “when people see the reality of faith leaders together,” it shows clearly that “what a few criminals are doing is different to what faith leaders are saying”. Standing together, he says, “has a very positive reflection” showing that faith does not divide, but rather it unites people.
He continues by noting that “in difficult times, people look to faith communities” and the projects that Muslims and Christians are working on together, especially with refugees “gives a very positive image of faith in the 21st century”. In recent years, he adds, the cardinal has helped “not just [to] bring us together but [to] create a friendship and that has made us increasingly respectful of each other and our communities”.
Cardinal Nichols says he and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby are seeking to “create a platform from which the Muslim voice can be heard in the UK” . Following the recent terror attack, he says, “Muslims all over the country stood up and said not in our name, Islam is a religion of peace and we condemn these actions” but that voice is not heard. He says he hopes that one of the tangible results of the papal audience is “the right amplification of this voice in our midst”.
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