Around the Archdiocese

Sr. Anne Clifford gives ISU Catholic studies lecture

Focuses remarks on relations between Catholicism & Islam

By Sue Stanton
Witness Correspondent

AMES — The annual Monsignor James A. Supple Catholic Studies lecture series kicked off the year with its first lecture given by Sister Anne Clifford, religious studies and philosophy professor and endowed chair at Iowa State University in Ames on September 27th.

Sister Anne delivered a lecture titled “Catholicism and Islam: Seeking Deeper Understanding.” She spoke to an audience of over two hundred students, many of whom were Muslims, as well as faculty staff of Iowa State University and the general public.

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Using as inspiration for her lecture the efforts by Pope Francis, Clifford said he has affirmed the importance of dialogue and engagement with Muslims by Catholics so urgent in the world today.

“I seek to build bridges between people,” Sister Anne began, quoting Pope Francis who has recently sought to bring Muslims and Catholics together in a wide variety of settings, particularly those involving one on one encounters. Perhaps one of the most highly praised and publicized events was when he washed the feet of both male and female Muslim refugees on Holy Thursday earlier this year. He also traveled to greet refugees from the world’s most pressing humanitarian disaster who were stranded on the island of Lesbos after fleeing destruction and war in Syria.

Sister Anne said that by doing this Pope Francis, “linked his commitment to Jesus and to refugees when he said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you were a refugee, and had to leave your home and the bombing there, how would you like to be treated by others?”

In addition to hosting days of prayer with multiple religious traditions, the ways and means by which Pope Francis has brought high level officials from Islam and Catholicism together has also been stunning and Clifford wasted no time telling her audience of his attempts.

“There is no structure in Islam like we have,” she said, “But Pope Francis did invite a meeting with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar mosque in Cairo, Egypt who had broken off relations with the Vatican after hearing a talk given by Pope Benedict. Ahmad el-Tayeb is recognized as the world leader of Sunni Muslims and when they met, Pope Francis was pleased because just meeting with him was important. He told the Pope he only accepted the invitation because of the Pope’s positive acts around the world. The meeting may not have been long but Pope Francis said afterwards, ‘the meeting itself is the message.’ So, the world is watching and listening to what we say,” she concluded.

The meeting of Pope Francis with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar was in itself, a historical event reminiscent of the saint from whom Pope Francis took his name.

In 1219 St. Francis of Assisi travelled to Egypt to meet with Sultan Malak al-Kamil in one of the least known public events of his ministry during the height of the Crusades. St. Francis sought to put an end to the serial wars that shook the entire region from Egypt to Syria — the Eastern edge of the Roman Empire. After his stay, St. Francis left to return to Italy—safe and unharmed and with an insight into Islam as a peaceful religion with many ideas shared with Christianity.

Using the themes of our common humanity, our shared understandings of God and our shared quest for peace, Sister Anne laid out a compelling side by side textual comparison between the Quran and the Bible where both religions reach common ground.

“There is an honoring of diversity as well as differences in the Quran,” she said, “it allows for an opportunity of growth and knowledge. But all knowledge is not equal. Pride and rebellion against God are important sins and therefore atonement is needed. Praying five times a day is required for this just as it was for our early Christian monks.”

The word ‘Salam’ means peace in Arabic and is commonly used among Arabs in greeting anyone. Sister Anne concluded her talk by referring to the UN Alliance for Civilizations mandate created in 2005. “There is lots of misinformation out there,” she said, “our hope for peace is shared by Muslims and Catholics for our nation and our world.”

Sister Anne Clifford talks at the first Iowa State University Msgr. James A. Supple Catholic Studies Lecture of the year in Ames Sept. 27. (Photo by Sue Stanton)