The Difficulties of Dialogue with Islam
By Archbishop Giuseppe Bernardini
Danish translation: Vanskelighederne ved dialog med islam
Source: The Angelus Online, October 2001
Published on June 19, 2018

His Excellency Bernardini, Archbishop of Izmir (Smyrna) in Turkey, gave this presentation to the Bishops' Synod held at Rome on October 26, 1999. These remarks appeared in L'Osservatore Romano (Nov. 17, 1999).

I have been living in Turkey for the past 42 years, a 99.9 percent Muslim country, and I have been the Archbishop of Izmir (Asia Minor) for the past 16 years. The theme of my intervention is therefore obvious: the problem of Islam in Europe today and in the future. I thank Bishop Pelâtre, who already spoke about this theme in this prestigious assembly, dispensing me therefore of a long examination and relative interpretations.

My intervention is to make a humble request of the Holy Father, above all. To be brief and clear, first I will mention three cases that, due to their provenance, I believe to be true:

A Muslim brigade of the Bosnian army on the march at Zenica, Bosnia (Dec. 1995).

1) During an official meeting on Islamic-Christian dialogue, an authoritative Muslim person, speaking to the Christians participating, at one point said very calmly and assuredly: "Thanks to your democratic laws we will invade you; thanks to our religious laws we will dominate you."

This is to be believed because the "domination" has already begun with the "petro-dollars" used not to create work in the poor North African or Middle Eastern countries, but to build mosques and cultural centers in Christian countries with Islamic immigrants, including Rome, the center of Christianity. How can we fail to see in all this a clear programme of expansion and reconquest?

Two young recruits to Islam, one from Belgium and the other from Germany, in training at a mujahideen camp (preparing for jihad) on Mount Igman in Bosnia.

2) During another Islamic-Christian meeting, always organized by Christians, a Christian participant publicly asked the Muslims present why they did not organize at least one meeting of this kind. The Muslim authority present answered in the following words: "Why should we? You have nothing to teach us and we have nothing to learn."

A dialogue between deaf persons? It is a fact that terms such as "dialogue," "justice," "reciprocity," or concepts such as "rights of man" and "democracy" have a completely different meaning for Muslims than for us.

But I believe that by now this is recognized and admitted by all.

3) In a Catholic monastery in Jerusalem there was—and perhaps still is—a Muslim Arab servant. A kind and honest person, he was respected greatly by the religious, who in turn were respected by him. One day, he sadly told them: "Our leaders have met and have decided that all the 'infidels' must be killed, but do not be afraid because I will kill you without making you suffer."

We are all aware that we must distinguish between the fanatic and violent minority from the tranquil and honest majority, but the latter, at an order given in the name of Allah or the Koran, will always march in unity and without hesitation. Anyway, history teaches us that determined minorities always manage to impose themselves on reluctant and silent majorities.

It would be naive to underestimate or, worse yet, smile at the three cases I have mentioned; I feel that their dramatic teaching must be considered seriously.

Pope John Paul II kisses the Koran.

This is not pessimism on my part, despite the appearance. The Christian cannot be pessimistic because Christ is risen and alive; He is God, unlike any other prophet or one claiming to be such. The final victory will be Christ's, but God's times can be long, and often are. He is patient and waits for the conversion of sinners: in the meantime He invites the Church to organize herself and to work to hasten the coming of His kingdom. And now I would like to make a serious proposal to the Holy Father: to organize as soon as possible, if not a Synod, at least a symposium of Bishops and those engaged in the pastoral care of immigrants, particularly Islamic immigrants, and open to the Reformed and Orthodox Churches. Its organization could be entrusted to the CCEE [Consilium Conferentiarum Episcoporum Europae—Council Conference of European Bishops], which has had a great deal of experience in this matter, in collaboration with the KEK [Konferenz Europäischer Kirchen—Conference of European Churches].

The symposium could be useful to study in a collegial way the problem of the Islamic individuals in Christian countries, and thus find a common strategy to face it and resolve it in a Christian and objective way. We must agree on the principles, even if their application will vary depending on the places and the persons. Nothing is worse than disagreement on principles!

I end this exhortation suggested to me by experience: do not allow Muslims ever to use a Catholic church for their worship, because in their eyes this would be the surest proof of our apostasy.