ROCHESTER — About 350 people gathered in Sacred Heart Cathedral the evening of May 6 to mark the second anniversary of the Muslim Catholic Agreement of Understanding and Cooperation.
Dr. Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, based in Plainfield, Ind., spoke at the event and was effusive in his praise of the agreement, which is believed to be the only one of its kind in the world.
“Rochester is the ‘Vatican’ of Catholic-Muslim dialogue,” Syeed said during an interview.
He added that his society, which has more than 300 affiliates throughout the United States and Canada, wants to promote similar agreements elsewhere.
During his presentation, Syeed noted that Catholics and Muslims have a positive shared history that is often overlooked. For example, he said that the prophet Muhammad was sheltered by his wife’s Christian cousin. He also called the late Pope John Paul II “the fulfillment of prayers for centuries,” because he renewed positive relations between the faiths.
Father Francis V. Tiso, associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, also spoke at the celebration.
“For some people, diversity is no obstacle,” he said, noting that America is at its best when it respects peoples’ religious differences.
Muslim and Catholic leaders, including Bishop Matthew H. Clark, signed the agreement on May 5, 2003.
The agreement pledged the diocese and the Council of Masajid (Mosques) of Rochester to affirm rights of free speech, thought, conscience and religion; reject religious and ethnic intolerance; promote and encourage a deeper knowledge of and respect for the history, traditions and sensitivities of the two faiths; promote collaboration in providing services to those in need in the Rochester community; and implement the agreement jointly.
J. Patrick O’Connor, diocesan representative to the Christian Muslim Commission as well as the Muslim Catholic Alliance, and Imam Muhammad Shafiq of the Islamic Center of Rochester, also spoke at the celebration.
“How many places in this world can we do what we’re doing now here?” O’Connor said, a remark that drew applause.
In follow-up interviews, O’Connor and Shafiq both noted that about nine Catholic and nine Muslim representatives of the Muslim Catholic Alliance meet monthly at the Islamic Center to discuss issues of mutual concern.
“What we do here is only a drop in the ocean, but the ocean is made up of drops,” Shafiq said.Tags: Bishop Matthew H. Clark, Interfaith Relations