May this Ramadan lead to peace!
WHEN Blessed Pope John Paul II kissed the Koran in 2006, he respected the belief of Muslims in their sacred book. Then no one could imagine that a group of people would misinterpret some passages of the Koran to wreck havoc on human life. Then the Islamic State of Iraq and Syrian (ISIS) was not a public knowledge. Then, no one could predict that in the nearest future, terrorism would become a global network. The Pope had longed to go to Iraq because Abraham is claimed as a father in faith by Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Pope John Paul II was fully aware of the depth of man’s inhumanity to his brothers and sisters. He was aware of the violence in the world and how the degradation of the human persons has been painted in human blood. He was aware of how some world leaders had manipulated religion to their selfish and political advantage. His many Mea Culpas on behalf of the Church and the world had created a new understanding between peoples of different faiths and promoted dialogue, tolerance, and cooperation in the place of anathemas, persecution, and rivalry. He acknowledged Abraham as a figure of unity to enhance a political change for a better world.
The Holy Father received a delegation that included the Shiite Imam of Khadum Mosque, the Sunni President of the council that operates the Iraqi Islamic Bank, and a member of the Iraqi Ministry of Religion who saw this encounter as a grace from heaven. Although Iraq has been accused of violations of human rights, this Islamic state was known to be tolerant of Christians. Many Catholics held positions in government, commerce, education and other establishments in Iraq. The Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon (Iraq), His Beatitude Raphael I Bidawid, who was a major spokesman for the delegation, applauded the Pope’s actions and words as a true sign of concern from the Successor of St. Peter. In Islam, a gift represents the giver so the Muslims gave to the Pope what is most dear to their heart and most important to them, their holy book. This was why the Pope showed his deep appreciation to this intimate self-donation, by bowing and kissing the Koran as a sign of respect. The Pope appreciated the suffering of the Iraqi people, particularly the women and children. The Blessed Pope John Paul II respects the culture and traditions of every nation hence he kissed the ground of all the nations he visited in his sojourn on earth.
The Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue (PCID) has never failed to send a good will message to Muslims all over the world during Ramadan. This is an expression of how much the Church regards the Muslims in the declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions (Nostra Aetate), proclaimed by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965, that: “The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the Day of Judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Muslims, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind, social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom” (Nostra Aetate 3).
In this Ramadan, 2015, I join my voice to that of the Universal Church to wish the Muslims all over the world and the Muslims in Nigeria in particular a grace-filled Ramadan. To our Muslim brethren, I pray that as you begin your fast and penance, “In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful; praise be to Allah, the cherisher and sustainer of the world; most gracious, most merciful; master of the day of judgement. Thee do we worship, and thine aid we seek. Show us the straightway, the way of those on whom thou hast bestowed thy grace, those whose portion is not wrath and who go not astray” (Al Fǎtihah); may your prayers and penance be acceptable to God who is the author of life and desires to sustain the life he has created by teaching all men and women the message of peace.
May this holy season open the gate of peace to the whole world! May the gate of hell be firmly locked for all good people who worship the true God and surrender to him on the right path! In this season of mercy and compassion may the heart of men and women be completely transformed to such an extent that no one may ever qualify any aspect of Islam again with “terrorism”. May Allah bless and protect all the Muslims who are making efforts to rescue Islam and other religions from the dungeon of some politicians who have taken the advantage of the sensitive nature and the vulnerability of religion to their own egoistic whims and caprices. Almighty Allah, your religion has been abused and manipulated to promote violence whereas your name Oh God is love, mercy, compassion, peace and all that is good. In you Oh God, there is no wrong nor can you be associated with the evil of killing innocent people. Prove to us in this Ramadan that you do not enjoy violence and that no one is allowed to kill in your name. Teach us again that we are brothers and sisters from a common source and like a father; you do not enjoy the sight of your children killing one another in your name. Do not allow any one creates you in his image and likeness for many fight in their own name and claim that they are fighting in your name.
May this Ramadan change the heart of everybody from evil to good so that our world will once again enjoy love and peaceful coexistence! O God of peace and love, any bomb blast, killing and kidnapping of innocent people at this sacred season of penance and fasting will contradict the spirit of Ramadan and the faith of Islam. Touch the hearts of all the sponsors and executors of terrorist activities to cry to you God of mercy and compassion so that you may look with pity upon them. Put into their hearts and mouths the song of the prodigal son: “Yes I shall arise and return to my father,” If they truly repent, accept their penance and contrite heart like you did to David when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and killed her husband Uriah, the Hittite. In your compassion, blot out their offence. Wash them more and more from their guilt and cleanse them from their sin (Psalm 50:1)! It is still fresh in my mind how we used to look forward to Ramadan. I cannot easily forget how we celebrate with Muslims during their festivals in the past. I pray that this culture of peaceful co-existence will be experienced in the whole world and in Nigeria in particular again. Beloved brethren, as you begin the Ramadan, I wish you love and peace!
• Fr. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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