MR-NET  News #11


24 January 2003   

  SVD Mission Research Network  
Mission Secretariat - Rome   

The 15th SVD General Chapter urged that all SVD mission researchers be in very close collaboration, and to focus their study and teaching on concrete issues that can help improve our missionary service, and make it responsive to present needs. And so, this occasional email bulletin shares ideas, opinions, resources and hopes about SVD mission research.

In this bulletin:






For some time I have wanted to encourage greater attention to Islam on the part of SVD's. It is evident that some of the most important intercultural and interreligious contacts at the beginning of this century are those between Christians and Muslims. In June of last year a trip to Poland offered an opportunity to meet with two confreres who share this concern, Adam Was and Stan Grodz, both doctoral students at Lublin. We met to brainstorm about forming an Islam Contact Group within the overall structure of the MR-Net. Since the number of SVD's with a particular concern with Islam is relatively small, it was thought that an interzonal group is what will be necessary for now. The MR-Net offers a modest but helpful "umbrella" under which such a group might be able to be formed.

Proposed Steps: The emphasis was on "going slow" and working to build up relationships among those interested in Islam. Both Was and Grodz mentioned that they didn't think a showy structure, with a logo and a publication, etc., were what was needed at the very beginning. The steps that were proposed are:

1) Inventory - of SVD's interested, of centers, of publications.

2) Contact - encourage the various interested SVD's to get in touch with one another, especially through email, letters, etc. Perhaps there will be opportunities to meet one another in the course of other meetings, etc.

3) Publication - for now it would be best to publish items of interest in the current publications of the Society - whether in the MR-NET News,  Arnoldus Nota, Verbum SVD, etc.

4) Meeting - eventually some sort of international meeting may be helpful if a particular reason emerges for it. Often times, a meeting of people face-to-face gives a lot of energy to carry on with projects and networking.

Purpose of the Contact Group: There are two possible purposes of the contact group.

1) Encourage - The members of the group can encourage SVD's to take an active interest in Islam. In particular they could help to mentor some of the younger confreres who might consider formal studies in Islam.

2) Advise - The group members could advise, when asked, about the following concerns:

When asked about the possibility of forming such a contact group, the General Council opined that this was certainly worth following up. Will this turn out to be a significant initiative? Only time will tell. If you are interested in being part of an Islam Contact Group please contact Adam Was and/or Stan Grodz. Their comments are included below.

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During the Second Vatican Council the Roman Catholic Church recognised the spiritual values in other religions and encouraged Catholics to work with members of these religions for the attainment of common human goals. The SVD is trying to respond to this challenge and in so doing, needs qualified members ready for cross-cultural and inter-religious work. Therefore, the basic policy of the congregation should be clear: to prepare highly qualified and experienced staff for the teaching programme and for an encounter, especially with other religions among which Islam plays a crucial role.

My personal interests which have developed in the particular framework of my life experience go along with the general SVD policy. I will never forget an encounter with an old sheikh in a small, poor and remote village of Malkadaka in the northeastern part of the semi-desert of Kenya. When I went to present myself to the elders and religious leaders of the community, I was told that the mission was welcome to build a school or a clinic or any social facilities, but if we tried to build a chapel, the first member of the community would be killed before entering it. It was my first direct contact with Islam in Kenya and I was shocked.

Since then I have met various Muslim religious communities, and have had more positive experiences with their leaders. However, the simple story of Malkadaka raised many questions about Islam and its multi-dimensional society. I asked myself: "What made the religious leader act in that particular way?" I wondered if he was perhaps a victim of religious manipulation?

From the real life experience I moved to systematic studies. I spent three years at PISAI in Rome; did two summer language courses: one in Cairo and the other in Tunis; and finally I spent a full academic year at Al al-Bayt University in Mafraq (Jordan). All this in order to understand the complexity of Islam and its dynamism in daily reality. These various experiences made me develop a particular interest in the Arabic Language and Islamic Studies.

In spite of having spent the last three years in a non-Muslim environment in Poland, I see the importance of committing myself - and hopefully with some others SVDs - in the field of encounter with Islam. I personally wish to deepen my knowledge of Islam with special reference to the modern period. I hope to comprehend the mechanisms of the modern trends in it, knowing that in order to understand the contemporary Islamic reality one has to turn to its roots.

In so doing, I hope to identify more clearly the spiritual values in Islam, which were recognised by the Second Vatican Council, and to work with Muslims – different than the old sheikh in Kenya – for the realisation of common human goals. I also hope that an Islam Contact Group, which might take shape within our congregation, will respond to the new realities in which Islam – especially after the dramatic events of September 11th, 2001 – plays a crucial role and challenges our missionary activities and SVD’s attitude towards it.

[For more information contact Adam Was at: .]

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I found Tom’s initiative to talk about the SVD involvement with Islam and Muslims interesting enough to travel to Warsaw just for a meeting with him and Adam Was. Although our present SVD involvement is rather limited, all three of us shared a common opinion that encounter with Islam requires deeper reflection and greater attention on our part. We thought that trying to get in touch with all the confreres who work with Muslims, or pursue their academic interests in the field of Islam, or who are just interested, would be a first step in this direction. If we could share with others what we do, and where our interests are, concerning Islam we would get a better picture of the present state of affairs. Then we could figure out what we could do next.

My interest in Islam is mainly academic for the time being. I did some research on the history of Islam in West Africa during my theology studies in the seminary. Then I did my M.A. in Islamic Studies at the Centre for the Studies of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations (CSIC), University of Birmingham, England, focusing on issues concerning Christian-Muslim relations. My dissertation (its revised version will appear in “Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations” in July 2002) showed my "West African slant" because I wrote about an early stage of friendship between Amadou Hampate Ba, a West African Muslim and Theodore Monod, a French Protestant. At present I use the few opportunities I have to present to confreres and to the general public (conditioned by media to think that Christian contacts with Islam and vice versa are only hostile) a better side of Christian-Muslim relations in history and at present.

[For more information contact Stan Grodz at: .]

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John Prior presented a paper on work with indigenous peoples of Asia in October 2002 at the Pontifical Council Culture's Asian Convention. His title was: "Dignity and Identity: The Struggle of Indigenous Peoples in Asia to Preserve, Purify and Promote Their Cultures." The paper has recently been published as No. 104 of the FABC Papers.

The introduction to the paper spells out John's concerns. "In the first section I ask the basic - yet complex - question of who the Indigenous Peoples of Asia are, taking up descriptions used by United Nations Agencies and other international bodies. Only then will it be possible to identify key characteristics of Indigenous cultures. In the second section I work with the comprehensive theology of evangelization from Conciliar and post-Concilar sources and list certain opportunities that need to be taken up and the challenges that need to be faced. At issue are the crucial questions of human dignity and cultural identity."

John concludes by focusing attention on three areas for urgent attention and intercultural dialogue. "Firstly the urgent need to reconstruct community in the face of disintegration. Secondly, the need to evolve a culture of cosmic compassion in the face of communal violence and extremism. Thridly, the need for an eco-friendly way of believing and living in the face of ecological destruction."

He offered three questions for group reflection that might be helpful for many other parts of the world.

1) Identify the main Indigenous groups where you live and work. Describe their more important cultural characteristics. Would you describe them as a "culture of the inarticulate" or a "culture of the articulate"?

2) Identify key cultural issues that the above Indigenous groups are facing. Also note significant cultural issues that challenge the non-Indigenous Church in the same area or diocese in relation to them.

3) Name three pastoral policies that could be initiated in order to facilitate the promotion and enhancement of the Indigenous cultures where you live and work.

[For more information contact John Prior at: To get a copy of the article please contact: Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences - FABC \ 16 Caine Road, Hong Kong. Some earlier issues of the FABC Papers are online at:]

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