Msgr. Patrick Gaalaas, pastor of St. Bernard Church, and Sheryl Siddiqui of the Tulsa Islamic Society in Oklahoma, answer questions about their religions at a coffee shop in Tulsa in November 2008.
Muslim and Catholic leaders on the West Coast have been engaged in official dialogue for 13 years. Few people in the pews know about this hopeful fact.
Interfaith talks are not about changing one's tradition to achieve some forced uniformity. Rather, the two faiths in dialogue express their deeply held convictions then note convergences.
This spring in Orange, Calif. the talks turned to something Muslims and Catholics alike hold dear — prophets. Presiding were Bishop Carlos Sevilla, retired bishop of Yakima, and Imam Muzammil Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of Orange County.
Siddiqi identified the prophet Hud from the third millennium before the birth of Christ as living a few generations after Noah. Muslim tradition teaches that Hud, like Noah, was a model of uprightness and was chosen by God to warn the people of Ad to turn away from their descent into immorality. Hud, the imam said, gives hope that justice will prevail over oppression.
Father Alexei Smith lectured on the prophet Habbakuk in the Catholic tradition. In the manner of Hud, Smith said, Habbakuk emerges in history at a time of stress between God and people. The message conveyed to believers across the centuries is that God’s truth takes time to unfold even in the midst of evil. What is required is patience, which produces endurance and increases faithfulness and utter dependence on God, Father Smith explained.
The interfaith meeting also addressed qualities of the believer in Islam and Catholicism. Speakers from both faiths agreed, among other things, that faith without good works is weak.
"Certainly, the various religious traditions contain and offer religious elements which come from God, and which are part of what the Spirit brings about in human hearts and in the history of peoples, in cultures, and religions," says Dominus Iesus, a year 2000 declaration from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then led by the future Pope Benedict.
The document bearing the future pope's signature said prayers and rituals of the other religions are occasions in which the human heart is prompted to be open to the action of God.
Interfaith talks are not just something nice to do. The church teaches that God's plan is for human unity, even if that does not mean everyone worships in the same way.