01-02-2007 - Traces, n. 2
New York Oasis

Along the Troubled Paths of Witness

This past January, a conference was held at the UN on the topic, “Peoples and Religions.” The event–that marked the launch in the United States of the magazine Oasis–was opened by Archbishop Celestino Migliore, and hosted the talks of Cardinal Angelo Scola, Carl Anderson, Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and Rabbi Israel Singer

by Maria Laura Conte

If God is Love, if man is created in the image of God, then shouldn’t men and women, though of different faiths, work together to create what Pope John Paul II called “the civilization of love”?
A question like this must have rung strangely in the ears of old hands at the United Nations in New York, more accustomed to discussions about human rights or war and peace. Questions of faith and religion are usually kept outside the door, as if that will make it easier to achieve general agreement.
Yet, on January 17th, this very question was the focus of a dialogue on the theme, “Peoples and Religions.” It was opened by Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Nuncio of the Holy See to the UN. The speakers were Cardinal Angelo Scola, Patriarch of Venice; Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of Columbus; Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Professor at George Washington University; and Rabbi Israel Singer, President of the World Jewish Congress.
The event was organized by the Crossroads Cultural Center. It marked the launch in the United States of the twice-yearly multilingual magazine Oasis and the Study and Research Center of the same name (www.oasiscenter.eu). With headquarters in Venice, it is supported by a network of international contacts.

The same belonging
Today’s troubled world, “a desert in need of an oasis,” was the keynote of the contribution by Professor Nasr, a Muslim of Iranian origin. In his address, he accredited religion with a fundamental role in the quest for peace. “If we wish to continue to live in this world,” observed the professor, who left his homeland in 1979, “we have to create peace between peoples. And this in turn is possible only if there is peace between religions, which in turn can be achieved only if each religion is able to preserve something of its absoluteness, of its permanence.” Professor Nasr stressed, “Men and women, whatever their religion, belong to God. We may be certain our own path leads to God, yet at the same time we have to accept the possibility that other paths may also lead to God.”
In this acceptance, a fundamental part belongs to reason, a “gift of God,” said Professor Nasr. He agrees with Pope Benedict XVI that secularization is one result of the split between reason and revelation. “Reason in itself is a reflection of the divine intelligence, a property of God Himself, manifested as what we call reason on the human plane.”
When reason is wedded to faith and religion it prevents violence from grabbing new territories and spaces. Rabbi Singer then took up this same theme, citing the Grand Mufti of Al-Azhar and his speech against extremism in the Muslim world. “I subscribe to the ‘‘revolutionary’’ declaration of the Grand Mufti,” he stated firmly. The rabbi, today chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, stated, “The Mufti defends faith from those who seek to transform it into something else. God works in unexpected ways and through different men and women. Oasis is a project that I see as a vehicle for this work. Our paths do not have to meet in order to create a dialogue. We each remain who we are... and continue to explain our differences in mutually respectful ways.”

Personally involved
The urge to explain ourselves in order to understand each other underpinned the series of speeches in the United Nations auditorium, thronged with officials and ambassadors, journalists and onlookers. The encounter concluded with the words of the Patriarch of Venice. He again asked how men and women of faith can undertake the all-absorbing task of social edification, at a time when history makes us protagonists of a process of hybridization between civilizations and cultures. “The path I would humbly like to suggest,” stated Scola, “is the one that has led to the foundation of the magazine Oasis and the Center that promotes it. We can identify it in the theme of witness, understanding this category in all its theoretical and practical force. Witness challenges every man and every woman, inviting them to become personally involved, to pay with their persons, not to prejudge the limits of what can be achieved through encounter and dialogue with others. No one can ever evade witness, by virtue of the risk involved in freedom, which can never be defined a priori. Human freedom can never be ‘‘deduced,’’ because its full significance only appears in the act which attains it.”
The Cardinal concluded his contribution by stating, “Oasis seeks to follow the troubled paths of witness. These can never be identified a priori. It is for this reason that Oasis is always a work in progress.”

Oasis: Network of Relationships

The Oasis International Study and Research Center can be described as a “network of relationships.” Founded in September 2004 by the Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Scola, as part of the Studium Generale Marcianum (www.marcianum.it), the Center is a setting for exchanging experiences and judgments between different ecclesial communities: certain European churches, one the one hand, and certain Christian communities in countries with Muslim majorities, on the other. As communal polities, their relationship with Islam is naturally an inescapable horizon. Oasis locates itself within this horizon, examining the specific ways in which the communities relate to believers in the Muslim faith, with a view to constructing a personal and social “good life.”
The Center employs various instruments: its magazine, published twice-yearly in four bilingual editions (Italian–Arabic; English–Arabic; French–Arabic; English–Urdu); its website, www.oasiscenter.eu, which publishes articles, testimonies, and contributions that, thanks to its international network of relationships, come to the Center from all over the world, dealing with themes and issues related to Oasis’s fields of concern; a series of books, with three titles published to date (Edizioni Marcianum Press): The Promise by Cardinal Lustiger; Christians and Muslims, Brothers Before God? by the Jesuit Father Christian Van Nispen; Which Way is Indonesia Looking? Christians and Muslims in the Country of the Smile by Maria Laura Conte; and a new free newsletter that can be received by writing to oasis@marcianum.it.
The magazine and books published by Oasis can be found in Catholic bookstores or ordered via Internet at www.oasiscenter.eu.