WINNIPEG — Two Winnipeg faith communities — Mary Mother of the Church Roman Catholic Parish and the Manitoba Islamic Association — met recently for two sessions of dialogue on the topics of “The Name of God is Mercy” and “The Problem of Suffering.”
The conversations were led by Rev. Peter Genger of the Archdiocese of St. Boniface and Dr. Nazir Khan of the Islamic community. The purpose of the events was to offer the two communities an opportunity to communicate their truths to each other — not just to learn about each other, but also to learn from each other.
The concept was born out of a concern that when terrorist attacks are allegedly committed by Islamic groups, it gives rise to the notion that these actions are motivated by the Muslim religion and have in turn led to suspicion and mistrust of the Islamic faith community.
On the evening of Sept. 14 more than 200 people gathered at Mary Mother of the Church. Genger started by stating that from the Catholic perspective, mercy is about recognizing that humanity is wounded and is in need of compassion. When we show mercy to others we transform ourselves and each other.
Khan shared the Muslim concept that the word for mercy is also a word that refers to a mother’s womb, and a mother’s love for her child is an example of what it means to be compassionate. He made it clear that any action that is not compatible with compassion, justice and wisdom is not authentic Islam.
On Sept. 21 a gathering was held at the Grand Mosque on Waverley Street in Winnipeg’s south end. All were invited to join the Muslim faithful in the sanctuary for their evening prayer.
After prayer, Genger observed that while we suffer, we are invited to walk in faith. Suffering is not caused by God but arises out of our woundedness. Suffering is to be accepted, not as a defeat but as a way toward God.
Khan said that life’s sufferings are a part of the human journey, and every time one sees evil one also sees an opportunity.
Small group discussions followed to talk about the problem of suffering. Each group was asked to consider a time of suffering, for example dealing with the death of a close relative. The participants were invited to work on a response to the problem, appoint a spokesperson and report back to the larger group.
The exercise was the highlight of the evening as Muslims and Catholics actively engaged and spoke to each other, sharing their faith perspectives. It was a powerful moment in interfaith dialogue and, in the end, it was a public witness that two faith communities were willing to dialogue with each other honestly and respectfully.